A Fine Font to Have

Go Buy Founder’s Caslon

So, I was trying to think of what font would be best in the header of my site, and I thought, “When else do I get to showcase Caslon?”

We live in a time when fonts are a dime a dozen. Caslon, however, along with a lot of the truly great typefaces, speaks of a time when printers demanded so much more from their types. Indeed, choosing the right font to use for your 18th-century needs was a much more arduous task than it is today. You see, when an 18th-century printer discussed a “font”, he meant not the style of text, but a very specific one, including the point size, which, when you’re dealing with hand-arranged lead blocks, are not scalable to whatever size you want. What you get is what you get.

Nor could you simply click “Italic.” Every character in that font also had to be created. In short, it was not an easy process, so it is no wonder that when a printer found a typeface that worked, that kind of became his workhorse.

In years prior, many of the classic typefaces, like the classic and ubiquitous Garamond, were designed by Frenchmen or Italians. When William Caslon, an Englishman, released his own distinct types, they became, unofficially, the official font of the English-speaking peoples. Needless to say, said peoples spread far and wide, and they brought Caslon with them.

To make a long story short (although, as my poor girlfriend will attest, I’ll gladly expand upon it at the drop of a hat), one motto printers worked by was “When in doubt, use Caslon.”

Wait. What is Caslon?

Didn’t we just go over this? Oh good, you were paying attention! Every font had to be produced by hand. One effect of this is that there are minute (or not-so-minute) inconsistencies from one point-size to another. Another effect is that my Caslon may not be quite the same as your Caslon. A third effect is that, in the digital age, when we want so desperately to use this oh-so-timeless typeface, is that any foundry wishing to produce a digital font family is faced with the question of which Caslon to use.

If you’re looking through your fonts and find Caslon, it’s most likely in the form of Adobe Caslon. Carol Twombly crafted this font from Caslon’s own type specimens from 1734-1770 – a huge span of time when we’re considering a medium whose tools could change from one casting to the next. The end result is a safe, nicely-synthesized set of letterforms, complete with new ones crafted to match the rest. It looks attractive, but unfortunately rather plain. And I guarantee you’ll see it everywhere.

A much more beautiful variety is in the form of Founder’s Caslon from the International Typeface Corporation. Like other digitizations of Caslon, Founder’s Caslon features letterforms from original type specimens – many of which still survive today – but he goes a step further.

Open up your word processor of choice. Pick a font (bonus points if you use your variety of Caslon) and type the same phrase at 12-pt, 30-pt, and 42-pt, and print. Seriously, reading this can wait, and you’ll enjoy the smell of freshly-printed text. You see, if you take a font that is meant for 12-point printing and just scale the hell out of it, you’ll see, if you look, that what looks fine for big blocks of small text may not work so well as a giant headline. Or vice-versa. While a difficult process, one nice thing about having to hand-craft every size is that you can optimize the look of the text for a particular need. Can’t do that digitally without a little elbow grease.

A lot of digital fonts include an additional style, called Poster, which is a typographer’s term for “Really Freakin’ Big,” that clean them up a bit and re-weight some of the strokes. I love Bodoni Poster so much my driver’s license picture is the “j” glyph. Just kidding.

Anyway, what Justin Howes did, during the course of Founder’s Caslon’s creation, was to forgo the usual process of selecting the letterforms that would best survive multiple scalings, and create an entire font family based on different type sizes – yep, 12, 30, and 42. And also Poster, which continues to mean “Really freakin’ big.” The result of this is that while you are setting your text, instead of relying on a number of bizarre weights (bold, compressed, compressed bold, bold italic, extra-black-plus, goblin-munchingly-bold, etc.) your headlines and sub-headlines now have a distinct, yet integrated, look just by using a different font from the same family. An elegant solution.

And no, Founder’s Caslon does not have any bold weights. Seriously, these poor guys had to hand-cut every single stinking glyph, in Roman and Italic, in every size under the sun, not to mention swash characters, ornaments, and small-caps. They just didn’t have time to make things bold! Yes, more on this later.

So go forth with your newfound appreciation for Caslon in all its glory.

PS – if, while you were glancing through your fonts, you found Caslon Antique, don’t be fooled – it wasn’t based on anything William Caslon designed; the name was just invoked to cash in on the established popularity of Caslon’s typefaces. Still, given that it was designed to emulate the look of physically deteriorated metal pieces of type, I love the look of it, so don’t hesitate to use it if you want!

Mountain Dew-Mocracy, Part 2

Well, I tried (for the sake of being thorough) the other two contestants in Mountain Dew’s new Dew-Mocracy.

I should have just stuck with Typhoon. In fact, I bought a *second* bottle of Typhoon, just to prove to my taste buds that the deliciousness they experienced was not a figment of my (their) imagination. I try to keep figments out of my diet, in general.

My love of lime is no secret, of course, and in general I tend to disregard any sugary beverage that’s orange in color, so I assumed the lime-flavored Distortion would win. It did not. Well, who can say but Father Time? Still, the only thing worse than not having lime available is shoddy artificial lime flavor. I should clarify, of course, that I don’t hate artificial flavors per se, but lime seems to be an especially difficult one to replicate, and imitations just don’t hold up.

Speaking of lime, I think I’ll go have one, and you should too.

Mountain Dew-Mocracy, Part 1

In 2008, Mountain Dew had a publicity stunt – I mean, promotional program – called Dew-Mocracy, in which the public could choose the next permanent Mountain Dew flavor out of three possibilities. Although the Supernova, which should have won, didn’t win, it was the closest in deliciousness to Pitch Black, a seasonal flavor that enjoyed a pathetic two years in the limelight. More on that later – I assure you.

So now that sales of Voltage are leveling out at a rate I’m sure has the marketing department going bananas, it’s time for the next election. While I have yet to try all three flavors, I find that Typhoon is satisfactorily delicious, almost as much so as the doomed Supernova. It’s like Pitch Black, twice removed. Exciting!

Wikipedia, man.

An Awful Way to Be

Stop being a snob.

Oh, you’re not? I must have mistaken you for someone else. I guess we’re finished!

Just kidding; I don’t believe you.

The fact is, almost everybody is a snob, and of the few people I’ve ever met who genuinely weren’t snobs, only a handful are people you should emulate (some unfortunate souls are so blissfully unaware of any lifestyle but their own that they are unable to conceive of preferences incongruent with their own, never mind disparage them). Yes, no matter how awesome you are – and often, I find, the more Awesome you are – you may be prone to some snobbery.

And it is definitely not Awesome.

I am delighted and fortunate to have a girlfriend who vehemently… er… strongly disagrees with me on many points very close to my heart. While I’m pretty sure she’s wrong (bless her), her earnestness and good-hearted intentions keep my skepticism and my ego in check.

You see, I have come to the understanding that when you are confronted with someone whose opinion differs egregiously from your own learned and carefully-crafted opinion, you mustn’t treat the individual as though he is beneath you for his lack of worldly understanding. You must treat it as a chance to teach him, and be thankful that you’ve met someone who even *has* an opinion about something close to your heart. In Today’s Jaded Society, it sometimes seems unlikely to find an individual who shares your enthusiasm for a subject, no matter how misguided his (or your) opinions. The sharing of good knowledge is paramount, and far more rewarding, in the end, than smugly patting yourself on the back and being amazed by how little everybody else knows.

I am known (by those who know me) for my – shall we say – strong opinions, and the voracity with which I – shall we say – discuss them. While all of my – shall we say – barely-coherent rants are well founded and rational (naturally), I can see how they might come off as a bit strong for some people’s tastes. In the end, such rants aren’t for anybody’s benefit but my own, and those who are amused by the ease with which my ire is provoked, but they don’t actually help anything or transmit knowledge.

But intellectual snobbery is only one of a variety of forms this subversive soul-stealer can take, and none of us is immune. In fact, the more immune we think we are, the more likely we are to fall into its heinous clutches. Keep an open mind, and try out this reality check: when you disagree with someone, do you find yourself feeling that your opinion is better informed, or just that it’s better? If it’s the latter (or you don’t think there’s a difference), you may be in danger of being a snob.

And that is not Awesome.

In other words, don’t be hatin’ man. Wikipedia, man.

An Excellent Thing to Do

Congratulations! You’ve already taken the first step toward making yourself an Awesome Individual. Oh? You haven’t? Let me start over.

Welcome to my blog! Congratulations! You’ve already taken the first step toward making yourself an Awesome Individual. See? You have! Just by reading the instructions I’ll continue to post, you’ve made a commitment to yourself to become More Awesome. Isn’t this easy? Your first goal was set and met in the time it’s taken you to read this!

Make Yourself More Awesome (By Reading this Blog)

But seriously. For reasons I cannot discern, people invariably develop the opinion that I am a pretty cool cat, and no matter what bizarre follies I fall into they cannot be dissuaded from retaining that opinion! At the suggestion of no-one in particular, I decided to offer the full extent of my knowledge to those who, hitherto, have not had access to a reliable means of Awesomeness. Bear in mind, my dedicated readers, that all of what you are about to read, while composed entirely for your benefit, is nothing more than my opinion. And while my experience (and Awesomeness) is vast, my credibility is minimal, so treat my advice as you would a treat man who chains fireballs to his hands for fun – admire it from a safe distance and proceed with caution!

And yes, I do chain fireballs to my hands for fun.

By now, your interest has probably waned and I suspect you’re either already checking your phone for texts and ignoring me, or silently demanding that I get to the point already. Who am I, you must be asking in an incredulous whisper, to throw my advice at the gentle public and expect them to follow my antics with bated breath? Well, if I told you that, patient reader, you’d have nothing left to read! So instead of me feeding you an inflated opinion of myself (which you’ll invariably nurture yourself anyway), I’ll simply allow my words to speak for themselves… Or, to speak for me. Well, I’m writing them, so I’ll speak for myself…. You get the idea.

I don’t doubt, O reader of Excellent Taste, that if the patience you have hitherto displayed carries you further into the clutches of my blog, you will find it to be a rewarding endeavor. In fact, the only problem I anticipate is that you just won’t know what to do with all the new friends you’ll find clinging to your newfound presence! And so with that, I thank you, and I’ll see you in the next post!