Tuesday 22 February 2022

A Gill Commission

 On the 140th birthday of that controversial figure, Eric Gill ('A terrible man, a terrible man, a terrible, terrible, terrible man,' as Vic and Bob would put it), this alphabet – blameless, I trust – is a reminder of what a great letter designer he was. Amazingly, the lettering was designed for W.H. Smith & Co, who at the time (1903) had as their chairman St John Hornby, Arts and Crafts patron, lettering connoisseur and proprietor of his own private press, the Ashendene. He commissioned Gill to go to Paris, where W.H.Smith had a bookshop and English tearoom, and paint the fascia board lettering and other signage. Smith's continued to employ Gill to paint its lettering for a couple of years, but in 1905, to save money, they handed the job to their in-house signwriters. However, the company stuck to the Gill design for many years (before it began its long descent into a trashy snack emporium and low-grade stationer). Gill's lettering was in fact an early example of something we now take for granted – corporate identity. 

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