The success of a book can be attributed to many things. It can be related to plot and characters. Illustrations can have a significant impact. Not always recognized is the importance of page design and typography. The shapes of the letters, the spacing, the size of the margins.
Edward Stratemeyer’s role as an amateur printer in the 1870s to make miniature story papers and chapbooks gave him some practical experience with all aspects of letterpress printing. This enabled him to communicate with publishers and typesetters on a level that few other authors could match.
He had occasion to buy back printing plates from publishers who could not sell his books well. This included volumes from A.S. Barnes and Dana Estes. He arranged for these books to be published by another firm, Lothrop, Lee & Shepard.
After working with Cupples & Leon since 1905, he worked on a plan to publish a large number of low-priced series where he would commission and own the plates (and illustrations). This lowered the investment cost by the publisher. In exchange, Edward would receive a higher royalty for each copy sold — the usual royalty plus a “plate royalty.”
When negotiating with plate making companies for these books, he expressed his preferences on typefaces, liking some (Caslon and Old Style) and disliking others (Scotch Roman). His orders for plates generally involved 11 point size with 2 point leading (the space between lines). A point is 1/72 of an inch.
By the time that some of the later series like the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew were published, Grosset & Dunlap was growing and becoming more complex. Frank Llewellyn Reed was the vice president and in charge of sales. Edward D. Crane was the book production manager and made most decisions involving the books.
Identifying a typeface for body text is challenging because many of the fine details require close comparison to distinguish one typeface from another. However, with some careful examination and context, it is possible to identify the typefaces used.
Certain letters and symbols have more distinction from one typeface to another. The capital letter Q often receives a type designer’s flourish as does the ampersand (&) and dollar sign ($). These alone can’t be used but they can help to confirm a candidate.
Perhaps the difficult way to identify a typeface is to use “type specimen” books. Producers of type would provide these as catalogs of what could be obtained. This included matrices for Linotype machines and individual characters for hand typesetting. Printers and binders for a publisher would also create volumes like this to indicate the spectrum of type they could use in publications. Kingsport Press, a printer and binder from Kingsport, Tennessee, that was long associated with Grosset & Dunlap released three volumes in 1960 with samples of Linotype, Monotype, and “Display Type.” The latter represented hand-set and decorative type that was useful for covers and title pages. Fortunately, many of these type specimen books have been digitized and are available online, including the volumes in the set of Kingsport Press type specimens.
Over the decades, there were attempts to classify type to make it possible to identify a typeface based on its characteristics. It is like playing a game of “twenty questions.” One book implementation of this is called Rookledge’s International Typefinder. In it, samples of type are shown based on characteristics. An electronic copy of this may be checked out from the OpenLibrary hosted by the Internet Archive.
Perhaps inspired by Rookledge’s, the Identafont website takes a similar approach by asking a series of detailed questions about the shapes of characters. As each question is answered, the list of potential computer fonts is reduced. Some of these fonts are new and may have no connection to foundry type used on older books. However, there are many computer fonts which are based on vintage metal typefaces. Often these share the same names as their antecedents.
Another approach that works well for the more decorative “display type” used for title pages and book and jacket covers is employed by the WhatTheFont portion of the MyFonts.com site. Here one is able to upload an image with a sample of the type. It is important to follow the size and clean-up recommendations in order to get a successful result. After the file is uploaded, you will see the site’s guess about each letter in the sample and make corrections. The next screen will show several computer font candidates which may correspond with metal typefaces.
With a candidate identified by any method, it is then helpful to go back to the type specimen books and ensure that all of the characters have the same shapes. Several candidates suggested did not have the correct shape of the capital Q, for example.
Further confirmation can be made by looking to which typefaces were in use by or preferred by the people who designed the books. Edward Stratemeyer had his preferences which would have been related to Edward D. Crane of Grosset & Dunlap as he had other publishers in the correspondence records. After he died, the publishers and art directors like Anthony Philip “Ted” Tedesco would determine details of typeface, lines per page, margins, paper weight, and other factors that would affect the final product. Tedesco was a designer with well-defined opinions on what made for a good book product. He even wrote a small book on the topic which named a few typefaces. In the 1940s he was responsible for updating the Grosset & Dunlap lines and this included changing the appearance of the Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew. This included the dust jackets, illustrators, and the typeface used for the books.
The typeface used for the 1920s and 1930s Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, and Dana Girls books was called De Vinne. Of all of the similar typefaces, the final factor was the shape of the captial Q. As it turns out, this is one of the typefaces for which Edward Stratemeyer expressed a preference to a typesetter in 1912.
This typeface was designed by Theodore Low De Vinne around 1894. Since then it has had wide use, particularly in the first half of the Twentieth Century.
Many computer fonts are available in free versions. One source of the De Vinne font in regular and italic forms is WFonts.com.
Other posts will explore the typefaces used on the later Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys books as well as other series from the Stratemeyer Syndicate and its competitors.
Those who have access to Fred Woodworth’s Mystery and Adventure Series Review (which has been called simply The Review for many years) magazine will find his “Typographical Corner” sections of interest. The publication is produced without computers and is typeset on a Varityper device that the editor maintains. The publication shows an artistry of typography that is not common in fan-based publications. His experience in printing and the typefaces available to him have allowed him to make often-accurate identifications of typefaces. When searching through the available issues, some of the typeface names identified were mentioned in this column of The Review. There are a few instances where his identification would have been enhanced with access to inside information of what typefaces were preferred by Stratemeyer or Tedesco or available to a publisher through its printer and binder, the Kingsport Press. The Mystery and Adventure Series Review is an important body of work in the field of series books.
See the next installment to learn about the typefaces used in the 1940s and beyond.