Listening to the Dead Through Type

Printing History: The Journal of the American Printing History Association has done a wonderful job of bringing significant scholarship to the design, type and printing worlds. (I wrote about how to get back issues back in March.) If you have been waiting to snatch those up, don’t wait for #22 to go out of print. It is an exciting issue, especially for its cover story: “An Aesthetic History of the Ouija Board” by Jesse Ryan Erickson. He conducts a typographic review of “the talking board” designed to connect us with the dead or spirit world.

There have long been two camps for this campy contraption: those who believe and those who don’t. I’m in the latter group, but I’ve also experienced some doubt, having heard from an old friend who during a Ouija experience apologized to me for stealing my credit card years before. That aside, one thing I’m sure of is that Erickson’s fascinating research has captured my interest. Particularly with quotes like this:

“The unique combination of writing and transcription through the reading aloud of words, one letter at a time from handwritten, stenciled, or printed letterforms, provides a model for complicating persistently held dichotomies that divide the oral from the written and the written from print.”

In addition to a beautifully concise history of its role in the spiritual movement and the mysticism of the 19th century, Erickson brings his discussion back to its graphic design, and especially the typefaces (including my favorite—Imre Reiner’s Matura from 1938) used for different boards with skill and elegance.

(Thanks to Printing History‘s designer Michael Russem for brightening my day with this issue. He must have read my mind.)

 

 


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