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Sherlock, Windsor and 1970s typography

2011 August 7

Lakewood had an Arts Festival yesterday. Beautiful day for it. Naturally, the first place I went was the library to bargain-hunt at the warm, stuffy basement book sale. I know, I know. (I did look around the rest of the show, however, and found this artist’s work which is very innovative and cool.)

I spent about $5 at the book sale, and brought home a few things. I was able to expand my Sherlock Holmes collection by a couple of items. One was the bizarre artifact of The Doyle Diary; billed as “The last great Conan Doyle mystery” it’s an annotated replica of the sketchbook of AC Doyle’s institutionalized father. The editor’s attempt to present his investigations into Charles Altamont Doyle’s life as a “mystery” are probably a bit over-done, but they make for interesting reading and the sketchbook itself is delightfully odd, funny and often quite beautiful. I wasn’t really quite sure what to make of this when I discovered it, but I remembered Mike‘s advice that the time to buy something rare is when you see it.

A Slight Trick of the Mind, also among my purchases, is a more conventional addition to the collection, being a recent addition to the vast number of novel-length Holmes revivals. In this case falling into the subcategory of “elderly Holmes during the WWII era.” The image at the publisher’s site has a different cover design; I picked up a hardcover featuring a more-abstract cover:

Me holding up 'A Slight Trick of the Mind'

This is called 'it's Sunday and I'm too lazy to get out my real camera'

And, loosely-related to my Holmes collection, while browsing the books I made something of an odd typographic observation: the popularity of the typeface Windsor Elongated on books from the 1970s. This was used on the dust jacket of The Exploits of Sherlock Holmes, purchased at a previous sale. At yesterday’s sale, I also found it on an early hardback edition of The West End Horror; the cover of my recent paperback reprinting is not a masterpiece but at least eschewed this lumpy, ugly, melty lettering.

I nonetheless encountered it again and again, yesterday, on a variety of books, mostly published in or around the 70s judging from their appearance. Why? Was it actually considered cool or trendy? I grant that, judged on its own, it isn’t quite in the same category of irredeemable awfulness as Comic Sans (what is?) but in context it never seems to look remotely good. Did Linotype or someone accidentally overproduce Windsor Elongated phototype at some point and end up giving the stuff away? Is bad acid to blame?

I note that myfonts.com sells multiple digital versions of the homely thing, even now; yeuccchh.

I keep an eye on contemporary book cover designs and, honestly, struggle to identify any real big trends these days, other than the persistent popularity of straight-sided condensed gothic capitals. I’m sure that, all the same, much will look dated 30-some years from now. I’m not sure, however, that anything is going to look quite as bad as the apparent 1970s fashion for Windsor Elongated.

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