27 April 2014

Amid the rubble of CBS's forgery debacle, one consolation for type buffs has been the flare of interest in typefaces. There was hot debate for a day or two about when precisely Times New Roman might have been available for electric typewriters. Times New Roman is a very famous, much-used type, designed by the renowned typographer Stanley Morison in 1931.



        After I left Oxford nearly 40 years ago, my first job was at the Times Literary Supplement, at that time lodged in Printing House Square in London. Morison had long connections with the TLS and, though retired, would still come in to browse among the new books awaiting dispatch to the reviewers, at that time all anonymous. He would open a book, hold it close to his nose and sniff. Sometimes he would grimace, mutter something about "poor glue" and cast the book from him.



        These were the days of linotype machines, with the type cast in hot metal. Our reviewers were often prolix and wrote way over length. If we were near deadline and a big cut was required to accommodate some late-breaking item about Coleridge's prosody, I would run down to the print room, a vast area that looked and sounded like a machine shop, and hurry over to the lino machine operated by the TLS's compositor, Derek. It was strictly against union rules for me even to be on the floor, but no one minded. I would lean over, scan the metal type ready to be locked up, read the reverse type and then get Derek to haul out the over-matter with his tweezers, maybe 20 or 30 lines, which he would literally dump back in the melting pot of lead.



        I developed a keen interest in typefaces, which is why, in pondering the forger's arts, I have fond memories of the Hitler "Diaries" forged by Konrad Kujau, who dashed them off in school exercise books, then bought Letraset at the local stationers to put a majestic "AH" on each cover in old German script. The stationer had run out of the letter A, so Kujau bought F instead. Each exercise book had FH on the front. None of the experts reviewing the Diaries noticed.



        I mentioned Kujau and his F substitution in a column a couple of weeks ago, which got onto the Internet and soon had this exceedingly interesting exchange with a German scholar of typography:



        "Dear Mr. Cockburn,



        "Those initials on the Hitler Diaries will forever haunt me: At that time I had a keen interest in German typography, especially the typefaces of the '20s and '30s.



        "The typeface used by Kujau was the 'Old English,' and I will forever regret not having publicly asked at that time why Hitler would have used these types on his diaries -- I can think of no example of the 'Old English' being used in Germany before the Second World War.



        "'Old English' only came into use in Germany after the war because practically all 'German style' fonts literally disappeared. -- Tjalf."



        I promptly e-mailed Tjalf back, asking whether all old German fonts were destroyed in the bombings and Allied advances. Back came a prompt reply.



        "Dear Mr. Cockburn,



        "There was enormous destruction in the bombings, especially in Leipzig, Germany's old publishing center, where most of the set type for thousands of books, tons and tons of lead, were destroyed in one night. However, that could have been replaced over time.



        " -- the Nazis forbade (people) to use German fonts in '41, so used up and destroyed "German" fonts were not replaced during wartime



        " -- German fonts were so much identified with the Nazis that the Allies forbade them again after '45
        " -- the Germans were sick of themselves (with good reason, one might argue) and did not use those fonts anymore, one might say in a form of aesthetical scapegoating.
        "Best wishes, -- Tjalf."



        This posed another question, and once again, Tjalf was speedily forthcoming.



        "Dear Mr. Cockburn,



        "That's one of history's sick jokes. (To my knowledge, the Nazis exceptionally didn't even bother murdering anyone over it, so I think it can be called a joke.)



        "The official explanation (given by Martin Bormann) was that German Script (Fraktura) stemmed from what he called Schwabacher Judenletter (Jewish lettering from Schwabach), and had been developed and propagated by Jewish printers from Schwabach.



        'Schwabach is a city near Nuremberg, and that region, being immensely rich before the 30 Years' War was a center of printing and editing in 15th century Germany.



        "One theory has it that people in the occupied countries feigned not to be able to read the lettering, and the occupying forces did not want that conflict as well. My personal guess is that the Nazis were a lot more modern than anyone cares and dares to admit, and, as Fraktura was on its way out anyway (academics hated it from at least the French Revolution onward, scientific publishing in Fraktura was a no no from the 1880s onward), the Nazis for some reason decided to give it a good last kick.



        "That really hurt the feelings of the friends of Fraktura at the time -- quite a few of whom had happily rooted for the Nazis in the Thirties, believing they cared for German traditions. There even was a letter of protest from the mayor of Schwabach, who rightly stated that Jews in the 15th century (when the Schwabacher was developed) were not allowed to be master printers in Schwabach ... (or anywhere else in Europe, for that matter).



        "After the Second World War, the allies forbade Fraktura as well -- one only got a license to publish a newspaper if one did not use Fraktura -- and as that was equivalent to a license to print money, people obeyed.



        'That Bormann letter (not a forgery, by the way) is on the Internet somewhere, in case I find it, I'll send you a copy (in German).



        "As to all that Nazi propaganda in Fraktura, I think I will one day upload some socialist and communist propaganda in Fraktura to the Internet -- up to circa 1930, the thing was about as politicized as Greek script is nowadays in Greece.
        "Best wishes, -- Tjalf."



        Alexander Cockburn is coeditor with Jeffrey St. Clair of the muckraking newsletter CounterPunch. He is also co-author of the new book "Dime's Worth of Difference: Beyond the Lesser of Two Evils," available through www.counterpunch.com. To find out more about Alexander Cockburn and read features by other columnists and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate Web page at www.creators.com.
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