Gill Sans

This past March, while in London, I visited a wonderful place called St. Bride Library + Foundation. My colleague Elizabeth Resnick and myself brought students to London and Dublin for a course trip. We saw and visited so many studios and museums from the Victoria & Albert Museum to the offices of Pentagram UK. I am not going into detail about the 17 days we had there - that could be pages and pages - but I wanted to focus on St. Bride and one artifact that was amazing to see and touch.

I think most people who have done any design work, at some point, has used or have fallen in love with Gill Sans. While at St. Bride, I had the fortune to see some of the original work that went into creating the typeface.

I wanted to share this amazing find with you so I made sure I wrote them to get some comprehensive information about what we're looking at. Most of which they told me on the spot but I was too busy dragging my jaw around the place.

I know there are many instructors that would love to use these images for their courses - I've already been asked by a few. Please feel free to use these images for your lectures.

What you see above and just below is a wood type specimen printed to show the lower case characters in the Johnston Railway Alphabet. This particular copy was the personal property of Edward Johnston, designer of the typeface. Wood type was generally made in sizes greater than 72 point (one inch) and a reference chart such as this might well have been used as an aid to signwriters. Eric Gill was a pupil of Johnston and the railway alphabet is an obvious influence on the Gill Sans design.

The three photos below are early versions of Eric Gill’s upper case Gill Sans typeface. It is lettered in black indian ink on tracing paper and shows some signs of the geometric construction of the letters. The sketch is identified as a “Titling” face, an extra-large version which filled the full height of the metal body of the typeface, with no space for lower case descenders. The drawing was signed and dated by Gill himself on 6 June 1927. An additional note adds that the characters are for Series 262 (Monotype Gill Sans).

The three photos below are lower case drawings for Gill Sans, signed and dated 20 July 1928 – the year that the face was issued by Monotype. The final digit of the date (written in pencil) is very hard to read – it may be a “7” (in which case this might be the earliest drawing) or possibly an “8”, in which case it may not be. Some of the letterforms in this drawing were modified for the final version of the face (the tail of the “p” and “q” are angled in the drawing, but not in the completed face) which suggests that this may be a very early incarnation and the date may be 1927.