A new framework for assessing the sans serif in nineteenth-century printed ephemera: Birmingham and Bridgnorth case-studies

Osbaldestin, David Joseph (2023) A new framework for assessing the sans serif in nineteenth-century printed ephemera: Birmingham and Bridgnorth case-studies. Doctoral thesis, Birmingham City University.

David Osbaldestin PhD Thesis published_Final version_Submitted Aug 2021_Final Award Aug 2023.pdf - Accepted Version

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The contemporary revival of Grotesque typefaces highlights the prevailing popularity of sans serif printing types across a 200-year history. This thesis investigates the extent to which early sans serif typography was used in advertising by provincial jobbing printers; and presents a new narrative that reveals the history underpinning its cultural connotations. The literature of ephemera studies informed a new methodology that tracks the ascendancy of the sans serif both in terms of its frequency of use and its position within the typographic hierarchy of printed ephemera. To analyse its usage, the sans serif was aligned to the categories of ‘Commercial Life’, ‘Information’ and ‘Instruction’: to educate the emergent working and middle classes; to communicate through new forms of information design; and to measure its visual impact.

In the rapidly expanding industrial towns of the Midlands, the deployment of Grotesque sans serifs was widespread. Contrary to the negative reception the sans serif received from nineteenth-century print historians, such as Thomas Curson Hansard, between 1816 and 1851, it was embraced commercially by Birmingham’s 693 jobbing printers. Surviving printed ephemera was used to build historical case studies based on the industrial towns of Birmingham and Bridgnorth. From analysis of data from the British Book Trade Index (BBTI), these independent case-studies, represented two vibrant print centres in the Midlands. These towns were diverse in their industries and were identified to represent print activity within a primary case-study of an industrial metropolis, and a secondary study of a rural market town built on its river traffic. A Typefounders handlist of sans serif types evidences the scale of production of new display faces, demonstrating the rapid economy in the supply and demand for printing types. In their use of the new display typefaces, local printers contributed to advancement of typographic composition for printed ephemera.

The new methodology presented combines three approaches for the interrogation of typography in printed ephemera. Firstly, the class of document type that sans serif printing types were used in, shows if there was a bias towards a particular class of document, and how the sans serif contributed to the development of new forms of printed information and typographic compositions. Secondly, themes and categories were identified based on the textual content of the documents, showing how it was used and what it was used for. Finally, measuring the percentage of sans serif types and their position in the visual hierarchy showed how the sans serif was used within the typographic composition, and how it increased in popularity over time. In combination these approaches form a new methodology for other historians working with typography in printed ephemera.

The rise of the sans serif reflected wider changes in society, and forms part of the identity of emergent middle and working classes. These cultural associations being transferred respectively through the progression of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. The sans serif was the face of ‘Commercial Life’, ‘Information’ and ‘Instruction’ but most significantly it was a typeface for the people.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
31 August 2021Submitted
3 August 2023Accepted
Uncontrolled Keywords: Sans Serif, Typography, Letterpress, Display Types, Advertising, Printing History, Printed Ephemera, Nineteenth Century, Birmingham, Bridgnorth.
Subjects: CAH19 - language and area studies > CAH19-01 - English studies > CAH19-01-01 - English studies (non-specific)
CAH24 - media, journalism and communications > CAH24-01 - media, journalism and communications > CAH24-01-03 - publishing
CAH25 - design, and creative and performing arts > CAH25-01 - creative arts and design > CAH25-01-03 - design studies
Divisions: Doctoral Research College > Doctoral Theses Collection
Faculty of Arts, Design and Media > Birmingham School of Art
Depositing User: Jaycie Carter
Date Deposited: 14 Nov 2023 11:22
Last Modified: 14 Nov 2023 11:22
URI: https://www.open-access.bcu.ac.uk/id/eprint/14936

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