Cast it: spreading the type

Fournier’s ‘Avis aux amateurs de l’art de l’imprimerie’ is the subject of the latest issue of Cast it, the publication created to discuss the history and culture of type and to display CAST Foundry’s typefaces. Previous issues feature original texts in German, English and Italian respectively

Cast it is a periodical displaying CAST typefaces making use of texts from the history of typography as specimens. It is a series of 48-page booklets prefaced by an expert on the subject and co-produced with the independent Italian publisher Lazy Dog Press.

The Cast it series from 2016 to 2020.

The first issue (December 2016), with a foreword by James Clough, features the entry ‘Fonditore di caratteri da stampa’ (Typefounder) from Francesco Griselini’s Dizionario delle Arti e dei Mestieri (vol. 6, 1769). The second issue (December 2017) is dedicated to John Smith’s Printer’s grammar (1755), a practical manual for compositors which is the first handbook for printers in any language, a part from Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick exercises, as remarked by James Mosley in his foreword. The third issue (December 2019) features ‘Der Schriftgiesser’ (The typefounder), an excerpt from Jonathan Samuel Halle’s Werkstäte der heutigen Künste oder die neue Kunsthistorie (vol. 2, 1762); Dan Reynolds provides the foreword and the first translation in English of Halle’s text. ‘Der Schriftgiesser’ can be considered the earliest known description of typefounding written in German, just like the entry ‘Fonditore di caratteri da stampa’ from the Dizionario delle Arti e dei Mestieri is the first in the Italian language.

The fourth issue deals with Fournier’s preface to his Modèles de caracteres de l’imprimerie (1742) and also includes Harry Carter’s English translation (1930) with notes by James Mosley (1995). The foreword by Sébastien Morlighem provides information about the author and his work as well as a comprehensive overview of Fournier studies.  

Let’s discuss this unconventional series of type specimens with some of its creators and contributors.

What is Cast it?

Riccardo Olocco – It’s two in one: the revival of a historical text introduced with a critical note written by an expert on the subject; and of course, it’s also a showcase for our typefaces at work.

How did you come up with such a hybrid publication, half specimen and half essay rolled into one?

RO – In 2016 we had to start promoting and showing our typefaces. Instead of putting out a usual printed specimen, we opted for a periodical publication dealing with the history of type.

Given our predilection for research and how we use history in designing our typefaces, we decided to use historical documents in order to get an effective ambience to present our types.

Massimo Gonzato – We believe that Cast it has been and still is the right answer: it’s undoubtedly a specimen to show how our typefaces work, but it’s also an original contribution to the spread of the culture of type and typography.

Four issues have come out so far. Who took part in the editorial work? Who selected subjects and contributors? 

ROCast it is a quasi-annual publication. We launched it in December 2016 and we’ve come up with a number each year except for 2018. In January 2017 we also started CAST Articles and both projects show our inclination towards historical research and technical discussions. Massimo Gonzato and I worked on the editing of all the issues of Cast it. James Clough, in addition to having been the forerunner with his foreword to Cast it #1, has always assisted us in editing, and our art director Andrea Amato joined the staff starting from Cast it #3

The choice of contributors is up to me, and the subject is usually discussed and chosen with them. Once we have identified the historical text to be published and the approach of the foreword, we can go ahead. Each Cast it is a new experience from a graphic design standpoint too. The layout passes from hand to hand from one issue to another: D’Ellena (Cast it #1); myself (#2), Tipiblu/Andrea Amato (#3) and Esterson (#4).

Cast it #4 (2020) includes Fournier’s preface to his first specimen (1742) and its English translation by Harry Carter (1930) commented by James Mosley (1995). Sébastien Morlighem wrote the foreword.

How did you conceive Cast it #4?

RO – We started the series with an Italian text, followed by an English text and then a German one. This time we decided to opt for a French text, so I asked Sébastien Morlighem to take part in the new issue. I’ve been in touch with Sébastien since we first met in Reading almost ten years ago and we often meet at events such as international conferences. When he suggested the choice of Fournier’s ‘Avis aux amateurs de l’art de l’imprimerie’ as a subject, I agreed immediately. Then, besides the original text in French (4,000 words), we included Harry Carter’s English translation as published in Mosley’s facsimile of Fournier’s Manual (the Darmstadt edition), including James’s notes on Carter’s translation (5,200 words altogether).

We asked for a comment from Sébastien Morlinghem.

How did you approach your contribution to Cast it #4?

Sébastien Morlinghem – Writing this foreword for Cast it #4 was an opportunity to plunge back into a part of the history of typography that I hadn’t seen in a very long time. When Riccardo invited me to contribute, I had initially thought of texts that were little-known or even unknown, but which turned out to be too short. Little by little, the figure of Pierre-Simon Fournier became the most obvious one to approach 18th century French typography.

I have reread some of Fournier’s writings, notably the letters he sent to the newspapers of the time when a new controversy broke out over the counterfeiting of his italics or questions about the (then still embryonic) history of typography. It has also been beneficial to reread the few studies or articles devoted to him in order to appreciate once again their relevance or to note their obsolescence… 

One might think one has had a look around Fournier, but it is undeniable that there is still a lot of work to be done in order to get to know and appreciate his work better. Fortunately, most of his books have been digitised and are easily accessible, notably on It would also be great to republish certain texts and critical editions such as the Manuel typographique, supervised by James Mosley.

Cast it #1 (2016) takes the article ‘Fonditore di caratteri da stampa’ from volume 6 of Dizionario delle Arti e de’ Mestieri (Venice, 1769) as a specimen to show CAST’s typefaces. According to the foreword by James Clough, this text is the earliest known description of punch-cutting and type-founding published in Italian.

Here’s a question for James Clough, who wrote the foreword to Cast it #1.

You say that much information found in ‘Fonditore di caratteri’ was translated from Fournier. Was this French punchcutter and typefounder so influential in late 18th century Italian typography?

James Clough – Yes indeed. Fournier did have a big influence on late 18th-century Italian typography. Bodoni published his first specimen book, Fregi e Maiuscole incise e fuse da Giambattista Bodoni… in 1771 and we immediately notice how the title page resembles that of Fournier’s Manuel Typographique. But, much more significantly, in his preface the young Bodoni (he was 31 at the time) explicitly states his preference for Fournier rather than Baskerville: ‘The typefaces shown here are derived from Fournier, and those who are knowledgeable will not deprive me of an exact imitation.’ In the following 42 years of his career in Parma, never again was Bodoni to own up to imitating another punchcutter’s work, even though he was not above plagiarism – far from it. Fournier’s influence on Bodoni’s romans and italics can clearly be seen forty years later in the Manuale Tipografico (Parma, 1813) and I discuss this in my piece for CAST Articles, Bodoni and his roman and italic types

Although Bodoni gave up the rococo style for his title pages quite soon after 1771, in the 1760s the press in Saluzzo run by his father made use of decorative ‘rococo’ typefaces in the Fournier style for title pages, as did all of the Piedmont printers at the time, including the Royal printing establishment in Turin. Fournier’s rococo typefaces were used by printers in Milan and Venice at least up to the 1780s too. And that is another area that would be worthwhile researching.

Thanks to Dan Reynolds, Cast it #3 (2019) provides the first English translation of Johann Samuel Halle’s ‘Der Schriftgiesser’, a description of typefounding included in volume 2 of Werkstäte der heutigen Künste oder die neue Kunsthistorie published in Leipzig in 1762.

Compared with Cast it #1 and #2, contents in #4 and #3 seem to be more articulated: they feature not only the original text but also its English translation…

RO – That’s true. We added the English translation to the original text chosen for the specimen starting from Cast it #3. Dan Reynolds was in charge of the foreword. He’s an American researcher and teacher based in Germany and he specialises in the history of German typography. He suggested Halle’s text and its translation, he was particularly interested in translating it into English, because nobody had done that before. Besides being a great researcher, Dan is also a very good translator of German, a language he knows well.

MG – Reynold’s commitment to Cast it #3 was much appreciated. Indeed the back cover reads: ‘Thanks to Dan Reynolds we now have Halle’s text for the first time in English. This comes with the only commentary on its contents ever published in any language.’

So let’s hear about it from Dan Reynolds himself.

What about your contribution to Cast it #3?

Dan Reynolds – I owe my involvement with the Cast it series to a pair of design conferences from late 2018 and early 2019. Riccardo Olocco and I were both present at these. After the first conference, we struck up something of an e-mail pen-pal friendship. It is a pity that he and I do not live closer to each other. Riccardo asked me if I knew any early German-language texts on typefounding that Cast it could republish. In my doctoral research, I’d run across the 1922 edition of Johann Samuel Halle’s 1761 essay on typefounding. Woellmer, a Berlin-based type foundry, had reprinted this in a limited edition. The publication intrigued me, since the 1920s were a flourishing period for historical research on typefounding in Germany, just as it also was in Britain and the United States (think Updike, Morison and Warde, etc.).

After my idea was approved, I translated Halle’s text into English. In the process, I discovered that whole parts of Halle’s essay simply paraphrased two earlier German-language texts on punchcutting and typefounding, which had each been published in 1740. Working on Cast it #3 allowed me to go down a rabbit hole I had seen during my doctoral research, but which I hadn’t had enough time to investigate properly.

Once I had finished my manuscript, Massimo, Riccardo and I went through many rounds of edits. This collaboration was a real career highlight of 2019 for me. I wasn’t able to glean the same kind of joy from the day-job I had at the time, where I was only churning out font-marketing copy. I’m thrilled that the Cast it series has continued, and I’ve already bought a copy of Cast it #4. I’ll be proud to have been part of this series for a long time. James Clough, Sébastien Morlighem and James Mosley? There’s no better company I could ask to join.

Cast it #2 (2017) presents chapters 1 and 2 of The printer’s grammar, a manual for compositors written and published by John Smith in London in 1755. In his foreword James Mosley adds some details on the whole book and its author.

What about your co-production with Lazy Dog Press?

MG – In 2015 Lazy Dog was working with James Clough on the publication of L’Italia insegna / Signs of Italy, in which I was also involved as an editor. For this fascinating and well documented book on outdoor lettering in Italy, James asked us to use Zenon accompanied by a prototype of Arzachel (a serif and a sanserif face designed by Riccardo Olocco and released by the Foundry in November 2015 and April 2017 respectively). Thanks to that experience the idea of a co-production between the publishing house and the Foundry took off.

Riccardo Bello, head and founder of Lazy Dog Press, adds more information.

Why did you take part in this series? What are its main specifications? Who are the readers of Cast it?

Riccardo Bello – Typography is among our main editorial focuses at Lazy Dog. With Massimo, Riccardo and James I share the same great passion for letterforms. When I heard from them about a specimen supposed to be not only a specimen, but also, I’d say, an excuse to talk about the history of typography, I was fascinated. We are living in the digital era and it is so important, I would say essential, not to forget where we all come from (I mean publishers, printers, and typeface designers).

Since the beginning the only specifications for Cast it were the format, number of pages (48 pages, self-cover) and the binding. I found a way to give a hint of more traditional booklets by applying a cloth band on the spine, which also hides the simple wire stitch binding. We eventually decided to keep the print run limited to 500 copies, without foreseeing any reprint. This gives the publication more authority in our opinion, it’s not something to be thrown into an ‘Amazon-like’ indistinct ocean, without any cultural frame, but it is rather something that really matters.

Our readers are professionals involved with letterforms: graphic designers, book designers, teachers and students, or simply typo-lovers. After a slow beginning, when they were mostly from Italy, issue by issue they are gaining a more international profile, mainly from all over Europe and the US.

Arcugnano (Vicenza, Italy), 16 November 2016. Cast it #1 on the press with Lazy Dog’s Riccardo Bello checking the start of the print run at the Tipolitografia Campisi.

The masthead with Cast it typeset in Macho Modular is minimalist and the covers are always very rational. But as soon as you get through the pages that follow the foreword in each issue (the real specimen), you perceive a strong increase in the intensity of the visual noise and reading becomes an act of will. An impression that only fades in Cast it #4

Andrea Amato – Each issue of Cast it has its own treatment of the contents. There are two souls facing each other: text and visual. They both have relevance. In Cast it #4 there was a need for order because there were three texts from different authors, excluding the foreword. Esterson chose an extremely rational, magazine-like approach. Nonetheless, even the current text works well as a specimen by displaying the features of the typefaces in perfectly readable compositions. This design focused on finding the correct size for each font in order to visually match different x-heights. This apparent simplicity found in the specimen pages contrasts with the characters in big sizes which show their design as clearly as possible. All this without ever choosing specious or meaningless words for the compositions. Indeed, meaning is what guided the entire project.

RO – Despite their different layouts, if we examine all the issues of Cast it so far they show a consistent identity. The foreword (together with opening page, back cover and colophon) is typeset in a rather conventional way, while the pages displaying the historical texts are treated as an actual specimen, usually emphasising the variety of bodies, weights and style on the same page or spread. 

MG – The other settled points are the use of a second colour, the absence of illustrations or figures, and a cover that together with the title, subtitle and authors always includes the index of all typefaces with the names of their designers and the page numbers on which they appear.

What about the next issue?

ROCast it #5 will feature ‘The Processes of Type-making’, the first chapter of Plain Printing Types, a book written by the American scholar-printer Theodore Low De Vinne and included in his four-volume treatise The Practice of Typography (1900–1904). The text was suggested by Paul Shaw, who will also write the foreword.

MG – Besides this, we’ve commissioned Paola Fortuna and her visual design studio +fortuna to look after the layout. ‘Fortuna’ is the easily understandable Italian word for ‘luck’, which seems to be a good omen for the continuation of our series.