Kelly Gilchrist is a graphic designer, a maker, a creator and a thinker. Over recent years Kelly became particularly enamoured by (read totally obsessed with) the journal Typo, (produced from 1887-1897) as a key source for information on typography and printing in New Zealand at that time, and the publications editor Robert Harding Coupland.
Hi Kelly, as you know, I have been keen to profile your Typo research for some time! I think you did a fantastic job profiling Harding in the Design Assembly series, can you give us some background on the research – where did it begin?
It began with an introduction to Typo from a fellow Honours colleague. It was a rollercoaster ride after that, my obsession grew and grew - likely out of control now! After reading all 72 issues of Typo, and Googling almost every second word, person and object mentioned, I was officially hooked. His life, his knowledge, his passion was something I had never come across before. Typo was in fact the starting point but with everything I research, it is often not just about the text but everything that surrounds it.
What were your goals with this project?
As a neophyte, I really had an extremely basic understanding of New Zealand Design especially our design history. I wanted to understand the industry from the beginning and what better place to start than Harding’s typographical journal. My articles on Harding were in complement to the project, I realised early on that Harding needed to be known so what better place than the Design Assembly platform.
There were two parts to my Honours research, the first to collate a collection of typographical works that are available in New Zealand Libraries or online (and out of copyright) for future researchers which would end up part of the collection in the Tūhono Toa Hoahoa: The Advertising and Design History Archive Project by Dr. Alan Young. The second to discover the use and interpretation behind Harding’s and the other authors’ use of the terms beauty and harmony.
I was able to create a list, that future researchers are able to discover the title, author location and condition of a small amount of works that I was able to prove that Harding owned. The second part was a little more difficult to measure its success, as the reasons for the use of the terms were often subjective, I was however, able to document the frequency of the terms within the texts.
I love that Harding encouraged his readers to bind the 8-12 page Typo issues published each year into single volumes – it's a novel way to produce a periodical – I am aware of the digital archives, but am curious if there are there many surviving printed copies and if so are they single editions or bound volumes?
There are a very small amount of known surviving volumes and of those an even smaller amount have been digitally documented. I have seen the bound copies in the Alexander Turnbull Library part of the National Library of New Zealand, Auckland City Sir George Grey collections, Wai-te-ata Press and the State Library of Victoria.
University of Auckland, University of Waikato and the University of Otago all list that they also have a copy but I’m sure of the condition or whether they are a complete collection of issues.
I have also discovered a bound edition in the State Library of New South Wales which also has Harding’s own notes in the margins and a couple of un-published working issues. There is no way to know how many volumes are held in private collections, collecting dust in an attic somewhere, or on a shelf in a secondhand store but I do hope one day that my luck is exhausted and I can find my very own copy of Typo.
Kelly's Beauty & Harmony volume
You also produced a bound volume of your research, can you tell us a little about the production of this document? How - if at all - did your production mirror Harding's production of Typo?
The production is similar to that of what the issues of Typo were bound in. It is a black goat skin with raised bar binding supporting 24 carat gold gilding and German off white antique paper for the inner pages. The style mirrors the High Art often associated with the upper class binding, where money was of no object. The layout reflects that of the period’s large borders with small text, but is slightly simplified. Creating the work was nothing short of a game of patience, I spend most of my time practicing before I completed the books in just a couple of days. There is no record of Harding himself ever binding a book for his collection (all of the bound copies I have found, mentioned in the previous question, were bound by book-binders in either New Zealand or Australia). Although, in saying that Harding’s father was in fact a book-binder so, I have no doubt he knew how.
It has been said that Harding's collection of type and typographic specimen books/ephemera was extraordinary – but that it has been ‘lost’… In your research you note that he often traded Typo with international printers for their journals and specimen, I have heard speculation about what happened to Harding's type, and collection of journals/books... did your research uncover any tales of the fate of this treasure?
I am always interested to hear more about any rumours about the whereabouts of Harding’s collection so you must tell me the ones you have heard. The best reflection of Harding’s type collection is that of what he mentions of it within the pages of Typo. He meticulously recorded the type specimen he received from foundries around the world, describing what he liked and what was often referred to as absurd. As for their fate, I know of an auction catalogue that outlines his collection of books and specimens for sale in the 1920s, but there is no record of the buyers. Unfortunately, I had a limited amount of time to complete my Honours project, so I wasn’t able to dive deeper into the world of Harding’s specimens, but if they are out there to be found, I will let you know if I ever find anything!
You have said you grew to appreciate his controversial strong views, honesty (& bluntness), you remark his “expressive style of writing will never bore” and that Harding’s commentary made you both gasp and giggle. What are some of your favourite Harding-isms?
This question makes me so happy, these little remarks were the reason Typo was so readable! During Harding’s time these likely had a different connotation, however, reading them now you can't help but, yes, gasp or giggle. They are littered throughout Typo, but here is a few of my favourites:
- Harding was not pleased with the prospect of being replaced by a typewriter; “There is also (we regret to add), a specimen of the intolerable <<Typewriter.>> We had hoped that this Yankee atrocity would be confined to the land of its birth.” - 1889, Volume 3, Issue 29, page 47.
- Not all the type specimens Harding received were a welcome surprise; “A New York brewer sends Typo his circular and prise-list. A four-cent stamp wasted.” - 1888, Volume 2, issue 14, page 15.
- Harding was a big fan of condensed romans; “We lately read in a trade paper that condensed romans should always be avoided in titles. This is simply nonsense.” - 1887, Volume 1, issue 3, page 16.
- Blunt as always; “Our column of <<Recent Specimens>> this month is shut out.” - 1887, Volume 1, issue 4, page 28.
- Best to remember if you’ve designed that typeface perviously, before sending it to Harding; “It would be supposed that a [type] founder, in designing a new series [typeface], would naturally take into consideration the styles he had previously produced…” - 1887, Volume 1, issue 7, page 49.
Striving for classical simplicity, unity and harmony were Harding's tenants and yet in places Typo was daringly innovative for its time, and highly acclaimed for its beautiful typesetting… What was your stand-out discovery in Typo?
There are numerous things I could mention from the pages of Typo, however I think it best to share with you the feeling I got that I believe would be similar to that of an art lover seeing their favourite piece in the flesh for the first time. As with any piece of art, it has the ability to stop the world around you, I can't say for certain why this piece did exactly that but as I turned the page in the National Library everything stopped. The work, a title page that Harding produced (along with Wright and Eyre - who he was partnered with in Wellington) for J. H. L.’s title Potona or Unknown New Zealand. It features as a supplement in the September 1892 issue, it is, of course, by today’s standards quite over the top in decoration, but none the less it was everything Harding strived for. It was classically simple; text is centre aligned, the unity between the borders and the balancing imagery, harmony; in colour and in balance. If you know Harding, it is unmistakably Harding.
In producing Typo solo, Harding was doing an enormous amount of unprofitable side hustle each month while still managing his professional printery in Napier – what do you think fueled Harding's admirable passion for the work?
His professional printery in Napier during the early years of Typo, was what paid for the majority of the journal’s creation. Though, as he preferred to work on the journal, Harding’s obsession with Typo was ultimately what killed the project. As you will notice there where periods in the 10 year duration of Typo where Harding did not produce issues. I recently discovered the letters of William Colenso, arguably New Zealand’s first typographer, a mentor and very close friend of Harding’s. There were letters back and forth between the two discussing the project, often Colenso suggested changes or even picked up typos but also often advised Harding against continuing Typo - which Harding generally ignored - it really was a project of love.
In your research you note that Harding's intent with Typo was to educate and lift typographic standards in print “systematically detail the craft of printing, underlying principles in the construction of the design”. What should we be taking away from Typo today?
Harding generously described in terms of design what was either good or bad, but he not only informed his audience, he encouraged them to strive for those higher standards. In Harding’s day anyone with a printer and some type could be considered a printer, today, it is similar, anyone with a laptop and a piece of software can be considered a designer but we must remember the reason we do the work, the reason we live our life through design, the reason we live for design. Underlying Harding’s dedication to the visual outcomes of design was his passion and dedication to an industry that for many years before, years since and years beyond our generations, will have the power to preserve, dedicate, elevate and hopefully continue to change the world.
Now that you’re in industry what are you doing to continue your learning about type/design history?
I am always reading, reading, reading. Nicole, yes, Typographer’s Nicole, was kind enough to introduce me to a wide range of printing enthusiasts here in Melbourne, it is a great way to discover new and exciting secrets. I also spend most of my Saturdays at the State Library of Victoria. There is a large collection on printing in the State Library of Victoria so, it'll likely take me an unknown amount of Saturdays to get through it. I am planning another trip to Sydney, Adelaide and Canberra and possibly Wellington for later in the year to explore more of their collections.
You've recently moved to Australia – what differences have you observed between Aus and NZ design? And what are you enjoying about the Australian Design Scene?
I have noticed two prominent ones so far. The first being that naturally the design tends to be associated if only slightly to the culture of the country of origin - the Australian something is a key message seen through most media and identities. The second is Melbourne especially, has dedicated (and I mean dedicated) suburbs to design, the north of the city is covered - even physically - in design. It is a wonderful area to explore and you’ll be back a week later and there'll be something different to see.
And you're about to start one of Maria Montes Calligraphy Courses… What penmanship style are you most excited to learn?
I am so excited to learn Copperplate calligraphy, I had my first lesson on the 25th of February. I was a bit worried that my hand might fall of the next day but asides from that it was incredible. Surprisingly, after about an hour I felt an incredible calming which I never thought possible especially working with such a difficult lettering. Very methodical and highly recommended. I will be joining the next 2 day course with Maria for the Copperplate capitals later in the year.
Finally, where can people connect/stay in touch with you and your research?
Please keep in touch through my website; www.kellygilchristdesign.com or you can continue reading about my discoveries on Design Assembly. I would love to hear about your journeys and discovers, or share some of mine, so please feel free to send me an email; firstname.lastname@example.org.