The Perfect Capital
Eric Gill’s presence doesn’t just restrict itself to the contents, but pervades the whole look and feel of the book: the heavier than normal paper, exposed spine, sewn binding and “tracing paper” dust jacket evoke the story’s artistic content. The spine title, slightly askew and in some places pierced by thread, suggests hand craftsmanship. Inside, you notice the unusually wide margins and ragged right edge. Story and design work together. The love affair is described graphically and the graphics are designed lovingly. The book is tactile and pleasing to hold, as solid and smooth as a piece of polished stone. There are previously unpublished images of Gill’s lettercutting as well as notes on the typography at the back.
“A novel immersed in the art form it reflects so lovingly. Wallace masterfully brings to life a time, place, and lifestyle.”
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A Note on the Typography
If you look after goodness and truth beauty will take care of itself. The truth about books to Gill was that they are things to be read, not looked at. As an author seeks to immerse the reader in another world through the writing, so Gill sought to do the same through design.
The most immediately noticeable feature of the design of The Perfect Capital is perhaps the margins, particularly the very deep bottom. These margin widths derived from laying out the text according to the geometry of The Golden Ratio. First defined by Euclid and later described as “the precious jewel” by Johannes Kepler, this mathematical proportion appears in nature, art, and was once the norm for printed books. Whether intrinsically pleasing or not, it seemed to answer the physical reasonableness Gill required of book margins: to separate a page from the one opposite to it on the inner; from the surrounding landscape of furniture and carpets on the top; and to make room for the thumbs on the bottom and side. Hold a few recent books in your hand and see how your thumbs cover the bottom few lines of the very thing you’re supposed to be reading.
Equally, if not more, distinctive is the ragged right hand edge of the text. Modern book publishing rarely deviates from the industry norm of fully justified lines (the space between words varying so that lines come out the same width). Gill argued forcefully the other way, believing that even spacing between words facilitated easy reading: for the eye is not vexed . . . by uneven spacing.
Designed and used by Gill in An Essay On Typography, the font for the main text is Joanna. Not often seen, it has what Gill called the commonplaceness (lack of pretention) essential to a good book type. If you look at the words The and That at the beginning of a sentence, you’ll see how the capitals are shorter than the uprights of the lowercase bringing an evenness of colour to the page.
Roman and italic letters have different histories – the first descending from stone and the second from pen. Each was put to its purpose here. Perpetua Titling Light was used to represent stone carving, Joanna Italic to represent handwriting. These fonts were then applied elsewhere, avoiding the unreasonable mixing of different sorts of letters in the same book.
The Title Page is simple and set in the same style of type as the chapter heads. The title of a book is merely the thing to know it by; the title page no place for showing off.
The Copyright Page does not appear at the beginning, as is the norm. Such things [like the name and sign of the printer] should be placed at the end of the book where indeed they naturally come.
The Cover and Binding emerged naturally from the story itself. It was a happy coincidence that Gill agreed: As to binding:simply sewn with a paper wrapper is much to be praised.
Quotes are from Gill’s An Essay On Typography
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