The Speckters lived in a postwar apartment near Gramercy Park in Manhattan. Their collection of printing presses lived in a rented apartment across the hall, a three-thousand-pound Columbian press balanced carefully across the beams under the floor. The couple were steeped in the world of printing: their kitchen hosted what they called the “Four Penny Press”, and their apartment(s) were visited by a parade of typographic celebrities such as Hermann Zapf and Steven Saxe.
As we head towards the holiday season, 2022 edition, good news for next year’s gift-giving conundrums: my esteemed editor, Mr Brendan Curry, has rubber-stamped the Empire of the Sum manuscript, which has now started its journey through the W. W. Norton publication pipeline. Between now and the summer of 2023 it will be copyedited, proofread, indexed, designed, typeset and many other things beside, and it will be much better for it.
Funny how time gets away with you in a late-stage pandemic, isn’t it? Here are a few somewhat recent stories of a typographic or emojinal (?) bent that Shady Characters readers may enjoy.
If you recall, the interrobang came into being back in 1962 and was immortalised just a few years later in Richard Isbell’s Americana typeface of 1967. As the first interrobang to take its place in a fully-fledged typeface, Isbell’s “open” version has a reasonable claim to being the canonical form of the character. The holotype of the interrobang, so to speak.
Long-time readers will remember that 99% Invisible, the wide-ranging podcast hosted by Roman Mars and produced in beautiful, downtown Oakland, California, featured an episode on the octothorpe back in December 2014. It’s a great listen: 99PI producer Avery Trufelman managed to track down Doug Kerr and Lorne Asplund, two of the engineers at Bell Labs who were instrumental in placing the ‘#’ on the then-new telephone keypad and later christening it as the “octothorpe”, to get the story behind the mark’s rebirth in the computer age.
Remember the interrobang‽ Of course you do! That’s the kind of rhetorical question for which the interrobang is perfectly suited. I’ve been thinking about Martin K. Speckter’s punctuation mark of late for a couple of reasons: first, a Google alert turned up an obituary of a Minnesotan poet named J. Otis Powell‽. I hadn’t known of Powell‽ previously — I’d have loved to have been able to ask him about his surname! — but Minnpost explains his unusual name as follows: