During the past three decades, graphic designers have been bombarded with books, exhibits, films and symposiums on the study of design history. The largest resource for historical documentation of Western and Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union is MoMA’s splendid collection of 1920s- and ’30s-era specimens of typography and graphic ephemera originally assembled and preserved by Jan Tschichold, and acquired by curator Alfred Barr.
Recently, the resourceful German design historian Patrick Rössler sent me his latest co-authored book, Revolutionäre der Typography (written with Mirjam Brodbeck), containing, for me, a completely different side of Tschichold’s advertising and typography study collection. This significant volume (regrettably, with text only in German) contains known and unknown artifacts by the familiar group of avant-gardists—including Herbert Bayer, Walter Dexel, John Heartfield, El Lissitzky, Ladislav Sutnar, Piet Zwart and others—but is also filled with names and work that are unknown to me. Tschichold was the curator of the era of New Typography, and his broad appreciation is exhibited in work that is less, if at all, published in most design histories, including pieces by Johannes Canis, Walter Cyliax, Albert Fuss, Emanuel Leistikow and Robret Stöcklin. Seeing this material for the first time is sublime, like finding a lost or forgotten Beatles record (or anything else that turns you on).
In this context, while the style is familiar, the visual language of the New Typography is fleshed out more than in many other contemporary histories that often rehash the same published examples.
The book release coincides with the opening last May of a big exhibition on New Typography that Rössler curated at the Schule Für Gestaltung in Basel. Even if the German language is alien to you, the visual content will widen your appreciation of the avant garde typography movement.
For me this new material is akin to rifling through Tschichold’s flat files and is invaluable as a record of how far-reaching and varied the New Typography was in Europe between the wars. For Rössler, “The collection was indeed a big surprise to me, considering that it was what Tschichold himself decided to keep. So I believe that, especially in connection with the website, this will be a valuable resource for future research.”