Letraset rub-down sheet, 1977.

Work-related research this past week had me looking for old Letraset fonts like Quicksilver here, one of the foundry’s many quirky type designs from the 1970s whose novelty inspired brief flushes of popularity before they were replaced by trendier designs. Quicksilver, which first appeared in 1976, has been lodged in my memory since I first saw it in a Letraset catalogue that was one of only two books lurking in a cupboard in the art room at school. (The other was a much-thumbed copy of The World of MC Escher.) The catalogue fascinated me because it revealed that these unusual typefaces could be identified by name: Data 70, Block Up, Pluto, Shatter, etc. I already knew that typefaces had names, of course, thanks to the occasional notes you’d find in paperbacks telling you that the book was set in 11pt Plantin or similar; but in the days before computers made everyone a lot more familiar with typography the typesetting business was a remote and mysterious world. Information about new type designs wasn’t easy to find unless you had access to the latest design magazines or a well-stocked library. The further realisation, that typefaces were designed by individuals who also had names, came later.


Quicksilver was designed by Dean Morris who was only 16 at the time he sent off his design to Letraset:

The name Quicksilver was my second choice, however. Letraset Englishly felt that my first choice, ‘Polished Sausage’, would be ‘rather unpopular in foreign markets’. I designed it as a 16-year-old kid at John Glenn High School in Bay City, Michigan (born in Mercy Hospital 3 months after Madonna), and sent Letraset a xerox of a tight marker sketch of 3″ letters letterspaced with the heavy outlines slightly overlapping as I originally intended. I drew only a skinny S without an alternate, and submitted no punctuation. I knew nothing about submitting typeface artwork and I assumed there’d be, you know, discussion.

But Letraset wanted it, and they must have wanted it REAL FAST (fifties nostalgia and disco were WHITE HOT then, remember), because they sent a letter and contract soon after, and they did the finished art themselves at 5″ high (they can’t have known my age, maybe they had no confidence in my technical skills), starting with the E as did I in the design stage. And what a gorgeous rendering job they did in the pre-Mac days of ruling pens, straight-edges, and compasses (they shunned rapidographs!) — and they hand retouched the curves where they met the straight lines! Letraset sent a 5″ sample E for approval, but I’m sure they had already drawn all the characters. They followed my sketch very closely, designed the punctuation, and suggested an alternate but weird wide S, which I approved, figuring there was probably no other decent way to design it. I don’t know if the thematically wrong heavy-overlap-line on the P came from me or them. (more)

Morris has a collection of Flickr albums which show how popular the design was in the late 70s and early 80s, especially on record sleeves. It’s probably going a little too far to describe this as “the disco font” but it was certainly popular with the disco crowd. The robot book below is one of the few book covers. I expected there to be many others but Morris’s design might have been regarded as too eccentric for use in the publishing world where readabilty is more of an issue.


Cerrone 3 (Supernature) (1977) by Cerrone. Silly cover art but Supernature is a great song.


Robots (1978).


The Message (1982) by Grandmaster Flash And The Furious Five.

Quicksilver also proved distinctive enough but not too weird (like Block Up, for example) to stay around and find further uses years later, often ironically as tends to happen to type designs that become associated with a particular period or idiom. The font’s bold outline is an unusual feature, one that gives it an advantage over similar designs like Letraset’s later Chromium One which doesn’t read so well at a distance. And I like the shape of the letters, the result of Morris’s determination to shape everything with a single shiny bar.


One thing that Quicksilver does share with a handful of its contemporaries from that old Letraset catalogue is a lack of an official digital version. The sample above has been created with Neon Lights, a copy afflicted with poor spacing and inconsistent character sizes. It works if you need something in a hurry but Morris’s design deserves better treatment. As to my use of the font that prompted the Letraset search, this is subject to the usual embargoes so you’ll have to wait a while before seeing the results.

Previously on { feuilleton }
Typefaces of the occult revival

Solid Space: Jon Anderson’s cosmic voyage


Jon Anderson’s solo debut, Olias Of Sunhillow, is reissued this week in a double-disc set comprising a remastered CD plus an audio DVD. I’d been hoping for some time that this album might be given a proper reissue, it’s one I like a great deal but my old CD has never sounded as good as it ought to. The album may command cult status round here but you don’t see it mentioned anywhere outside Yes forums or partisan enclaves like the Prog Archives. This post may be taken as a small corrective to the neglect.


Olias Of Sunhillow was released in 1976, and was the most unusual of all the solo albums recorded by the individual members of Yes in the mid-70s, being a spin-off from some of the group’s early albums, or at least their cover art. Roger Dean’s first cover work for the group was on Fragile in 1971, for which he painted a miniature world rather like one of MC Escher’s planetoids. This was Dean’s idea, the band had suggested a broken piece of porcelain as the cover image. The back cover of the album showed the same planet in a state of fragmentation with a fish-like spaceship floating above it (see below). Another drawing of the fish-ship was added to the front cover before the album’s release, and it’s this ship, and the narrative it suggests, that leads eventually to Anderson’s solo album. Two years after Fragile, the planetary disintegration had turned into an exodus on the group’s triple-live album, Yessongs, the back cover of which shows pieces of planet being towed through space by a similar fish-ship. The other panels of the cover depict the arrival of these fragments on a newer, larger world. Anderson’s album takes this sequence of events then filters them through Vera Stanley Alder’s mysticism to craft a musical odyssey which Discogs describes as:

…the story of an alien race and their journey to a new world due to catastrophe. Olias, the title character, is the chosen architect of the glider Moorglade, which will be used to fly his people to their new home. Ranyart is the navigator for the glider, and Qoquaq is the leader who unites the four tribes of Sunhillow to partake in the exodus.


For many years in British music circles it would have been a grave error to even acknowledge this album’s existence, never mind admit to actually liking it. This was partly the old animus against progressive rock, an unexamined prejudice that lasted well into the 1990s, but Anderson’s album had so many strikes against it that it might have stood as the winner of a disapproval lottery for the more ideologically rigid writers and readers of the NME. It’s Jon Anderson (strike 1), the lead singer of progressive rock (2) group Yes (3), whose album is a science fiction (4)/ fantasy (5) concept (6), littered with Tolkien-like invented names and words (7), and with a multi-page sleeve embellished with detailed fantasy illustrations (8) by David Fairbrother-Roe. The design was art directed by Hipgnosis, who subsequently designed the next two Yes albums. Anderson originally wanted Roger Dean to create the packaging, which would have provided a further strike of disapproval against the album, but Dean’s career had gone into overdrive following the publication of Views so he either didn’t have the time or didn’t want to be involved. In Views Dean mentions “another project” based on the fish-ship’s journey which may be a reference to Anderson’s forthcoming album, the credits of which thank Dean for “planting the seed”.


Roger Dean’s original artwork for Fragile (1971). Another fish-ship was added to the final cover art.

Continue reading “Solid Space: Jon Anderson’s cosmic voyage”

Weekend links 92


Untitled etching by Briony Morrow-Cribbs.

• An interview with author Paul Russell whose new novel, The Unreal Life of Sergey Nabokov, concerns the gay brother of the celebrated Vladimir.

• Joseph Cornell turns up again in a report at Strange Flowers about Locus Solus, an exhibition in Madrid devoted to the work of Raymond Roussel.

Night of Pan: 42 seconds of occult freakery by Bill Butler featuring Vincent Gallo, Twiggy Ramirez plus (blink and you miss him) Kenneth Anger.

Jan Svankmajer talks (briefly) about his new film Surviving Life. A subtitled trailer is here; the very different Japanese trailer is here.

Cormac McCarthy turns in his first original screenplay. I’d rather he turned in a new novel but any new Cormac is better than none at all.

Barnbrook show off another design for the latest CD from John Foxx & The Maths.

Melanie McDonagh asks “Where have all the book illustrators gone?”

• Congrats to Evan for getting his poetry in the New York Times.

Margaret Atwood on writing The Handmaid’s Tale.

Subliminal Frequencies: An Interview With Pinch.

The (Lucas) Cranach Digital Archive

The M.O.P. Radionic Workshop

• Music promos of the week from the Weird Seventies: All The Years Round (1972) by Amon Düül II, and Supernature (1977) by Cerrone.