It's the beginning of August and we get an email from Pam Bowman (Principal Lecturer — Visual Communications) at Sheffield Hallam with the subject title 'A few little birds told me...'
"I’m working with Unit Editions to create an exhibition about Letraset. I’m starting with their book but want the show to go a bit further than that and include a wider range of work.
People have mentioned to me that you are a collector and have a particular passion for Letraset.
Firstly, is this true or just a vicious rumour?
Secondly, would you be interested in taking part?
What do you think?"
So, yes Michael (Founder/Creative Director) is a collector, and yes he does have a particular passion for Letraset. It is true, and not a rumour...and yes he'd love to take part. Michael was one of the last generation of graphic designers to train pre-computer and Letraset had a role in that pre-digital, crazy-spraymount-headache-inducing-world. Michael wrote a few words below about how Letraset played its part in him becoming a graphic designer.
"I saw my first Letraset catalogue when I was 10 years old (in 1979). I didn’t realise it at the time but it set me on a path into the world of graphic design. I remember thinking that it felt very ‘exotic’, it fascinated me. Fast-forward 39 years and they still fascinate me, to all intents and purposes they are a relic of bygone times. Times when design was 'done by hand’, when the PMT camera was more important than the Apple Mac. Overlays, registration marks, colour mark-ups and those dark, sweaty days spent in a dark room with the blinding light of the PMT camera. These catalogues are a link to that time. Gone but never forgotten" — Michael C Place (Founder/Creative Director)
This from Adrian Shaughnessy, author of 'Letraset - The DIY Typography Revolution' (out now on Unit Editions) on the subject:
In the pre-digital era, Letraset often functioned as a metaphorical lifeboat for graphic designers. The dry transfer, rubdown, Instant Lettering system was often the only way to cope with last-minute text corrections and other typographic emergencies. Before the ubiquitous Mac, graphic designers were almost entirely dependent on typesetting houses.
All of this will be familiar to anyone who trained and practised as a graphic designer before the computer screen replaced the drawing board as the designer’s workbench. But Letraset was more than a back-up utility for designers. It offered instant professional-grade typefaces for use in making print-ready artwork and mock-ups, and of course, for many other purposes, especially the setting of display headlines for which designers elected to use a Letraset typeface in preference to ordering professionally set type from a typesetting house.
In the short gap between the end of hot metal setting and the arrival of desktop publishing, with its range of ultra-modish typefaces, Letraset offered designers – and crucially, non-designers–a low-cost passport to instant typographic hipness.
Letraset had a professional and cultural impact that few typographic innovations can match. Around ten million sheets of Letraset were sold from the beginning of the 1960s until the 1990s. In an article in Eye magazine, Jane Lamacraft noted: ‘By 1963, Letraset had distributors in 70 countries and had floated on the London stock market; the following year annual sales increased to £750,000 – a hefty figure by the standards of the day — and some 75 per cent of production was exported (the company received the first of two Queen’s Awards for Exports in 1966) ... by 1974 Letraset’s international sales had climbed to £16 million, by 1978 £46 million.’ — Jane Lamacraft. ‘Rub- down revolution’, Eye 86.
We contributed to the exhibition by lending the University Michael's collection of Letraset catalogues. So to see some relics of the past, which informed his then future come along to the exhibition. There is a private view on the 24th of October which is free, tickets here.
Letraset — The DIY Typography Revolution
8th – 28th October 2018
10:00-17:00 Monday to Friday
Sheffield Institute of Arts, Post Hall Gallery
Head Post Office, Fitzalan Square