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  • Book Review

    Revival Types: Digital Typefaces Inspired by the Past, by Paul Shaw New Haven: Yale University Press, 2017, 256pp. HB 9780300219296. $40.


    Reviewed by Misty Thomas-Trout

    Misty Thomas-Trout is Assistant Professor of Graphic Design at the University of Dayton.



    Revival Type is an episodic journey visualizing typographic revivals that connect the past with the present. Shaw, a graphic designer, typographer, and design historian, insightfully highlights examples of digital revivals from 1990–2016. Shaw’s interpretation of a type revival is one that exists digitally with characters that are “derived from a previous typeface or example of lettering” (3). Author of Blackletter: Type and National Identity and Helvetica and the New York City Subway System, Shaw’s new book is a densely-packed history that makes the complex subject of type revivals invigorating for experts and easier for novices to understand.

    Shaw offers insights into the approaches and processes designers use to develop and define a type revival. This book, however, is not a how-to manual. Instead it’s a terrific reference text. Shaw explains that all revival types must include the necessary characters and glyphs needed for contemporary communication, and shows how even so type revivals vary greatly from facsimiles, which are truest to the original typeface, to experimentation, but that all most. He demonstrates this variety in sixteen chapters of classifications, including French Oldstyle Types, Fat Faces, and many more, that showcase 108 typefaces. The content is descriptive, including, for example, detailed accounts of designers’ creative processes. Like the text, the bibliography is categorized according to each type classification and provides a wealth of resources for further research. The book’s intuitive organization and clear, comparative illustrations make it an ideal reference text.

    Shaw not only explains the historical frameworks of different types and the unique features that lead to their classification according to the systems developed by Francis Thibaudeau in 1921, and revised with subcategories by Maximilien Vox in 1925 respectively. Shaw also develops new classifications for a few of the more unruly typefaces. For example, the chapter on Late Victorian Types gathers the eclectic type revivals drawn from the Artistic Printing era (1870s) to the beginnings of Art Nouveau (1890s). The graphic design field has struggled to permanently define a set classification system due to the demands of the ever changing world of technology, and developing new classifications in an already imperfect system with no agreed upon permanent categories is risky. But it pays off. Shaw’s organization is logical and intuitive.  

    The author helpfully highlights the inspiration behind each revival, but his categorization of each as either spirit- or structure-based might have been more thoroughly explained. In the introduction, Shaw identifies Quatro as a specific typeface that captures the spirit of the original model and he suggests Garamond Premier Pro is an example of a structure-based revival adapted for current technology. One could argue that every revival captures the spirit of its original model if enough characteristics are visually translated into the new revival. So a more elaborate definition of the specific criteria behind distinguishing spirit- and structure-based would have been helpful.

    Shaw’s text is accompanied by ample illustrations that breathe life into every part of the letters and allow the reader to understand typography’s living history. For example, a detail photograph of Text Romeyn (1739) is paired with its digital revival DTL Fleischmann D designed in 1992. Both versions are stunning baroque-style transitionals that evoke the mark of the human hand. The visuals furthermore support Shaw’s thorough discussion of a given letterform’s historical and technological underpinnings. Pairing, for example,  Herbert Bayer’s Universal Alphabet, originally designed in 1925, with its 1997 digital revival, Architype Bayer allows the illustrations to do a great deal of comparative work. Such visual comparisons distinguish Revival Type from previous texts about type revivals, which tend to lack this kind of  visual power.

    Paul Shaw’s Revival Types: Digital Typefaces Inspired by the Past introduces helpful definitions and new approaches that will strengthen reader’s understanding of the history of graphic design and more specifically of typography and the complex subject of type revivalism. Robust historical context and explanation of how type influences visual culture and inspires contemporary type designers, makes this a valuable resource for any graphic design educator, type designer, or type aficionado. Shaw’s latest contribution to the field is a physical metaphor of how designers continually connect the past with the present, thus keeping the past everpresent, both within the discipline and within culture more broadly.