Theo Rosendorf. The Typographic Desk Reference

Theo Rosendorf. The Typographic Desk Reference2nd ed. Forward by Erik Spiekermann. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2016. 350p. ISBN 9781584563119. $45.00 (hardcover); $25.00 (paperback).

This extensive desk reference is divided into six parts: Terms; Glyphs; Anatomy & Form; Classification & Specimens; Further Reading; and Index. Originally published in 2009, the new edition is greatly expanded to include updated terminology for type specimens, more glyphs, and an extensive index, itself a sixth of the physical book.

The second edition includes a new forward and introduction alongside the previous ones. Charmingly, the original forward by Ellen Lupton, is included, as is the original introduction by Theodore Rosendorf. The updated preliminaries sing praises for the expanded edition, which includes new and old definitions for all things typographical. The author quadrupled the content while keeping the focus on typographic matters, justification enough for purchasing the new edition.

Each section contains short definitions for terminology, even the most tangential, associated with the typography, design, and layout of printed works. Each of the six sections is arranged alphabetically. The entries contain definitions, visual examples in the generous margins and interspersed in the text, and related terms and synonyms at the end. Terms in parts of this book are identified first by section in small caps. Definitions with terminology used within The Typographic Desk Reference stand out in italics. Wide margins are perfect for cross-references, examples, and marginal notations. For example, “Alphanumeric” is accompanied by an example of Hebrew letters and their numeric equivalents placed within the generous margins (6).

Rosendorf’s expertise in typography is self-evident in this depth and variety of materials that combine to make The Typographic Desk Reference an outstanding reference text for students, professors, and practitioners. This reference work will appeal to a broader audience of collectors and historians of typography, printing, visual design, and the book in general.

A functional, comprehensive, postmodern approach to definitions is complemented by traditional line drawings and printed examples of letters, glyphs, and typefaces. In some instances, the images are representative of the nineteenth century. Best of all, the fifth section, Further Reading, comprises now twenty-nine pages rather than the sparse six of the first edition. This bibliography is subdivided by studies in print; online periodicals, websites, and blogs; and academic resources, associations, conferences, and printing museums across the globe. It concludes with type design software and utilities.

Students of the book and printing will find that Rosendorf’s The Typographic Desk Reference is invaluable for answering questions about the proper name for a design or section of a page. Finding definitions for things like the at sign (@) is quite difficult, as these matters are often buried in dictionaries or difficult to locate in the Chicago Manual of Style. This reference source places clearly written, succinct explanations at the reader’s fingertips.

The work also fills a gap, updating and complementing many of the existing dictionaries, encyclopedia, and books on typefaces and typography. It is one of four new titles on this topic published in 2016 by Oak Knoll Press, including the ninth edition of John Carter’s ABCs for Book Collectors (illustrated), Keith Houston’s The Book: A Cover-to-Cover Exploration of the Most Powerful Object of Our Time, and Sidney Berger’s The Dictionary of the Book: A Glossary for Book Collectors, Booksellers, Librarians, and Others. These works complement and supplement one another, and contain updated information found in other reference tools like Geoffrey Glaister’s Encyclopedia of the Book. A well-stocked professional library should include all four books.

Miriam Kahn
Kent State University