manifesto in BLAST

Stephenson, Blake

The type foundry of Stephenson, Blake and Co (situated in Sheffield) supplied many superb typefaces over the years, some even migrating to the age of the PC – like Impact (which was launched in 1965). I am interested in the styles termed ‘grotesque’ which were launched from the tail end of the nineteenth century. The grotesques were characterised by a lack of serif, and a lack of decoration (which surely is where the term comes from), yet it is a solid, sincere font which communicates its message in a direct manner. The majority of these fonts would have been used for advertising, harnessing that truthfulness and fresh-faced clarity of diction. But as tastes changed in the twentieth century, Grotesques were seen to represent the new, the revolutionary, and the democratic. For example, Stephenson, Blake Grotesque No 9 of 1907 was chosen by Wyndham Lewis for the manifesto pages of BLAST. (See featured image for a picture of two of the pages from this). BLAST was urging a complete change in taste and styles, away from the traditional Victorian, to a more modern, abstract form in art, illustration, poetry and writing. It appeared in 1914, and it was one of the main controversies in 1914 London, which was unfortunately brought to a temporary close by the start of the First World War that August.

manifesto
Two pages of the Vorticist manifesto in BLAST

So the early pre-First World War Grotesques – some produced by Monotype and some by Stephenson, Blake, are now hugely important styles. They represent the first move towards a cleaner, simpler non serif, and were used for inspiration by the new generation post-war font designers like Eric Gill and Pierpoint. The Gill faces were a remove from Grotesque, with its consistent stroke width, but Pierpoint stuck with variable stroke and produced the Monotype 215.

The following is a summary of when the first Grotesques appeared from Stephenson, Blake:

Font Name Year Notes
Grotesque No. 6 1880
Grotesque No. 7 1890
Grotesque No. 8 1920 Appears in catalogues out of sequence in the 1920’s but originally designed pre-war?
Grotesque No. 9 1907 Chosen by Wyndham Lewis for the manifesto pages of BLAST at Leveridge & Co (printers) at Harlesden in 1914

Acknowledgements: Thanks to devroye.org.

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