Reading and Writing

Philip “It’s Canada 150! Who doesn’t want to celebrate Canada 150?”

David “Me?”

Philip “Well, the show pen is going to be a Canada 150 celebration: restrained, elegant, red ripple. And it needs to be on the imprint, too.”

The imprint on a pen is a funny thing. Some people like it, some people don’t. And some people only like it when it is very, very minimal. But imprints on pens are as old as fountain pens themselves.

Early advertising pen: Birk’s Jewellers.

In the early days, pens (or “pen holders”, as they were called) were often used as advertising, much as they are today. In those days, a stamp was made with the manufacturer’s (or the sponsoring business’) name on it. The stamp was heated, and the design was pressed into the hard rubber body of the pen.

As the idea of branding took hold, pen imprints became more complicated. There are dozens of Parker imprints for the Duofold alone, and they changed so often that they are often used to identify the date of a pen’s manufacture.

But, when it comes to printing, and branding, typography can be a slippery slope. The way people take in information changes over time, and that includes what, and the way, they read.

An example of “American Artistic” printing, from the late 1800s.

Victorian printing was a busy, busy place. People read long, flowery prose, and they expected their advertising copy to be similar.

A sample from the American Type Founders 1923 catalog.

As time went on, tastes changed. With the “Arts & Crafts” movement of the early 1900s, simplicity became popular. Printing, tied up as it is in advertising, tends to move slowly. But printing was also a big part of the new artistic movement. So thanks to such influencers as William Morris and Elbert Hubbard, printing was grabbed by the scruff of the neck and propelled into simple elegance. And it never really recovered. Today, people are used to logos, and tend to read quick snippets of text.

What does this printing history have to do with our pen?

Just like decisions about typography in the past, there are quite a few considerations when it comes to what we put on the Scriptus pen:

  • Is the imprint simply informational, or should it have an artistic purpose?
  • Is it advertising? If so, what brand do we want to identify when people look at it? Do we have an exact logo to reproduce?
  • How much space is there on the ‘canvas’?
  • What do people expect to see on a pen?
  • What typographic rules, if any, do we follow?

Another issue is one of trademark law. When it comes to font design, the work is covered by trademark, not copyright. So if we want to use a particular font, we have to be careful to use one we have permission to use: either overt permission from the designer, or a purchased copy with such rights attached to the license.

So, we have a few design choices. (And by “few, I mean: a ton.)

Fortunately, modern reading habits work well on a pen, and the Scriptus logo is more the italic-set name than a graphic.

Philip wants something with a swashy feel to it. “A nice script” is how he put it. And it needs to include “Scriptus”, “Canada 150”, and the edition number “xx/150”.

When designing print for something small, there is no point making it computer-screen-big; it will look completely different when pen-barrel-small. So, here is what he had to browse:

The font style of the last one was chosen (Zapfino, a font by one of the most talented designers of the 20th century, Hermann Zapf. I approve.)

But the imprint will best if it matches the long, slim profile of the pen itself. Oh, and Howard doesn’t have Zapfino, so he will just substitute something else similar.

It’s the curse of the designer: you plan, and design, according to someone else’s aesthetics. The manufacturer receives the design. It falls apart when it hits the reality of the factory floor. You wait, and wait, and wait. And then you get to see the finished product on the same day as everyone else, when it’s too late to change anything.

Just think, there are some people who do this for a living.