It’s some way off yet, but I’m happy to announce that I’ll be giving a talk at the St Bride Foundation here in London on the 23rd of March next year. I’ll be talking about the overlapping histories of writing, printing and books, and signing some books of my own afterwards. Tickets are on sale at £12.50 (£8).
If you live nearby but haven’t been already, the St Bride Foundation is an excellent place to visit. The bookshop will be open as, I’m sure, will some of its fantastic printing exhibits. I look forward to seeing you there in March!
The image featured above is taken from John Clark, The Care of Books (Cambridge University Press, 1909), fig. 9.
The ampersand is one of those shady characters that has taken on a life of its own, thriving happily beyond its home in writing and typography. In particular, it exerts an irresistible power over designers, advertisers and others in the business of creating and promoting commercial brands. Fortnum & Mason, for example, recently published a blog post1 explaining “the little-known story of the important symbol sat between our two famous names”.* Crate & Barrel, the American homeware store, once built an advertising campaign around their ampersand;2 AT&T did the same earlier this year.3 As John Brownlee of Fast Co. Design puts it in “Why Designers Love The Ampersand”,
It’s the typographical equivalent of a wedding ring, used to mark permanent partnerships, like Marks & Spencer, Johnson & Johnson, Barnes & Noble, and Ben & Jerry’s.4
An ampersand, in other words, packs considerable significance into its designer-friendly shape. It’s only natural, then, that Washington DC’s &pizza chain of restaurants would appropriate the ampersand for its name and emblem. &pizza, though, have taken their investment in the ampersand a little further than most. Specifically, the company pays for its staff to get ampersand tattoos. As reported by the Washington Post’s Abha Bhattarai 5, more than fifty &pizza employees now have ampersands tattooed somewhere on their bodies, all done courtesy of the chain’s co-founder, Michael Lastoria. As Lastoria explained:
We’re not doing this because we want [employees] to swear their allegiance to us like we’re some insane dictator […] We’re doing it because we listen to our people. They love the symbol, they love the look of it and they love what it stands for.
As I looked into the story a little more, I found that &pizza have since extended their offer of a tattoo to their customers. What I can only hope they call their amperbrand programme began like a loyalty scheme: any customer who spent $1,500 in &pizza restaurants was given the honorary title of “Maverick” and gifted an ampersand tattoo at a Washington tattoo parlour, along with an &pizza- branded jacket and a free photo shoot. (The company later relaxed their not-at-all-insane-or-dictatorial requirement for an ampersand design and let customers choose their own tattoos.)6
Since then, things have evolved yet further. Upon opening a new restaurant in Federal Hill, Baltimore, the first five customers in line were given a free ampersand tattoo and a year’s worth of free pizza.7 Christiana Amarachi Mbakwe of The Baltimore Sun talked to Michael Holt, to one of the fortunate five, to get the inside scoop:
“I wasn’t going to get another tattoo until I heard there was free pizza,” said Holt, a Baltimore native who works in Washington, D.C. and regularly visits &pizza’s branch there. “I thought I was done [with tattoos] forever.”
If the ampersand is the typographical equivalent of a wedding ring, however, &pizza boss Michael Lastoria remains unwilling to put a ring on it. The man who launched a thousand ampersand tattoos (I approximate for dramatic effect) has not joined his customers or employees in getting himself inked. Lastoria has set himself a “secret goal”, he says, after which he promises he will get an ampersand tattoo. What on earth could it be?
Keep an eye out here; there may be more in future.
Elsewhere, I contributed an article to I Love Typography entitled “The Prints and the Pauper”. It’s excerpted from a longer chapter on movable type and it tells the story of printing in China — and just how much Gutenberg owes to the Chinese printers that came before him. I also wrote for BBC Culture, discussing the origins of the paged book, and the parallels between the transition from scroll to book in the ancient world and today’s shift from book to ebook. More articles are on the way.
Separately, I must say thanks to all the readers who have bought copies of The Book and who have got in touch via the comments or the Contact page. It means a lot to hear that you’re enjoying the book, so thank you very much!
The extract comes from chapter 9 of The Book, entitled “The Prints and the Pauper”, and which recounts the rise and fall of Johannes Gutenberg, the originator of movable type in the West. It’s a well-worn story — Gutenberg is one of the best-known inventors in Western history — but it’s also one that is often left only half-told. Specifically, Gutenberg was not the first person to invent movable type; in fact, he may not even have “invented” it at all, at least in the strictest sense of the word. But that’s enough from me — head over to ILT to learn more, and grab a copy of The Book for the full story!
Many thanks to John for publishing an extract from The Book — if you’re at all interested in typography or books, you owe it to yourself to check out I Love Typography. And speaking of typography, while you’re there, be sure take a good look at the gorgeous typewriter-inspired typeface in which the title, captions and accompanying text are set. It’s called Operator, and it’s a new release from Hoefler & Co. I covet it already.
In the run-up to the US publication of The Book, I was happy to be able to write an article for BBC Culture entitled “The mysterious ancient origins of the book”. It takes a look at the forces, mysterious and otherwise, that lay behind the evolution of the papyrus scroll into the parchment book. It was a challenge to write this one — it compresses a huge amount of history into a few hundred words — but I hope that it does justice to the subject. Have a read!
Alternatively, if you’re in more of a podcast sort of mood, last week I was also interviewed on Radio NZ’s Nine to Noon (listen out for the Bavarian/barbarian confusion) and Newstalk’s Moncrieff programme about books, scrolls, ebooks, and more. Thank you to Radio NZ and Newstalk for having me!