An Essay on Typography

An Essay on Typography was first published in 1931, instantly recognized as a classic, and has long been unavailable. It represents Gill at his best: opinionated, fustian, and consistently humane. It is his only major work on typography and remains indispensable for anyone interested in the art of letter forms and the presentation of graphic information.

This manifesto, however, is not only about letters — their form, fit, and function — but also about man’s role in an industrial society. As Gill wrote later, it was his chief object “to describe two worlds — that of industrialism and that of the human workman — and to define their limits.”

His thinking about type is still provocative. Here are the seeds of modern advertising: unjustified lines, tight word and letter spacing, ample leading. Here is vintage Gill, as polemical as he is practical, as much concerned about the soul of man as the work of man; as much obsessed by the ends as by the means.

Written with clarity, humility and a touch of humor…timeless and absorbing.
Paul Rand, The New York Times

[A] classic work…[Gill] is authoritative. —The Independent

It is the form of this copy, its extreme simplicity, its unique ordinariness, that makes it an inspiration. —Mark ThomsonEye Magazine

[A] memorable and engagingly dogmatic work on unchecked commercialism, moral living – oh, and on typographic design too. —Mantex

A brilliant book, this still influences modern design with interesting relevance to the web. —Shapeshed

Eric Gill’s celebrated printmaking, typeface designs, and sculpture made him one of the most prominent members of the Arts and Crafts movement and earned him the title of Royal Designer of Industry, the highest British award for designers, from the Royal Society of Arts. His sculptures appear prominently on buildings and monuments throughout the United Kingdom. In addition, he designed many well-known typefaces, including Gill Sans, Perpetua, and Joanna, the latter of which he used to hand-set his book, An Essay on Typography. However, his work is now rightfully shadowed by the revelation of his sexual crimes, which only came to light when his diaries became public after his death. He sexually abused any vulnerable person who came within his influence, including his servants, his models, his younger sisters, his dog, and his own daughters, the latter of whom spent their entire childhoods enduring routine rape at the hands of their father – a father who was widely known for his astounding religiosity. The question remains as to whether it is morally right to admire the work of a man whose personal life was unequivocally monstrous – but there is no question that the world was irrevocably marked by his influence.