A font too friendly for words…

At the end of a long day, I joined other members of the production team, for a spot of clubbing – Galley Clubbing to be exact. What do you expect from people who take their books far too seriously? For the uninitiated, once a month people throughout the book publishing industry come together to socialise and talk shop under the banner of The Galley Club. The most recent gathering took place at a central London watering hole during which we were privileged to receive the insights of Just My Type author, Simon Garfield. As speakers go his talk was a breath of fresh air: there was no limit to the diverse and disparate range of his subject matter. This included everything from man’s ‘best friend’, type faces and the album sleeve to The Beach Boys’ 1966 album Pet Sounds.

One of the things that left a lasting impression on me was Garfield’s take on a font that must be a serious contender for the title of ‘the friendliest typeface ever’, Cooper Black.

Cooper Black has been available to typographers for nearly a hundred years. It has been used for the closing credits of the 1960–70s TV comedy Dad’s Army and much more recently for the colourful logo of easyJet, though the jury is still out on its suitability for use in Folio books.

If you wanted to criticise, you could mention the fact that it is quite devoid of variation but, with those blunt and rounded forms, slanted counters and large x-height. it has a comely appearance and provides one with a sense of comfort and warmth usually found in sans serifs. As for Garfield, he sums up Cooper Black as ‘the sort of font the oils in a lava lamp would form if smashed to the floor’.

With its warm, fuzzy, and reassuring character, it’s hardly surprising that easyJet took such a shine to Cooper Black. But then this is no coincidence. Its creator Oswald Bruce Cooper designed this face for advertising, to fit the needs of ‘far-sighted printers with near-sighted customers’.

Despite its ongoing popularity, here in Production we really struggle to use such a soft cuddly font in our precisely defined character set. With its lack of contrast, Cooper Black is more suited to short bursts of information rather than continuous text. Viewed better from afar, it flies in the face of the very notion of settling down in your favourite chair with a good book.

If you can think of an example of Cooper Black ever having been used in a Folio book, please blog away!

And just before I sign off, I have just heard that we were awarded the runner-up prize at the PrintStars 2011 ceremony in Stuttgart. Our own lovely Kate Grimwade, Limited Editions Production Manager, is on the right and the magnificent Sharpe’s Birds of Paradise is on the left with the team from Beltz in between.

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Comments from others

  • seanachie says:

    It would be appropriate, given its ubiquity throughout the 60s and 70s, for a book from that period, especially one that personifies it – Slouching Towards Bethlehem, The Electric Kool-Aid Test or One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, should they ever appear in Folio.

  • Frank Karabotsos says:

    According to Folio 60, Cooper Black has only been used once, in January 2002, as a display type for Josephine Tey’s The Franchise Affair. In my copy of the 2002 Prospectus, I can see it used for the title on the spine and indeed it looks quite appropriate. After all, it was first designed or released in 1924 (Precision Type Font Reference Guide, page 113), so it is a good fit for a story that takes place, I believe, in the 1940s.

  • Frank Karabotsos says:

    Cooper Black was also used in the spine titling of Cider With Rosie in December 2003.