Miscellany № 77: amperbrand

Ampersand tattoo photo by David Hoogland
Hoefler Text ampersands, as modelled by a big ampersand fan. (Image courtesy of David Hoogland on Flickr.)

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?

\#ONLYFORTNUMS: The Fortnum’s Ampersand,” Fortnum & Mason Journal, 2016. ↩︎
Stuart Elliot, “A Crate & Barrel Campaign With an Emphasis on the &,” New York Times, 2012. ↩︎
Dale Buss, “‘Power of &’: AT&T Highlights Agility in New B2B Marketing Campaign,” brandchannel, 2016. ↩︎
John Brownlee, “Why Designers Love The Ampersand,” FastCo.Design, 2016. ↩︎
Abha Bhattarai, “This local pizza chain pays for employee tattoos — of the company’s logo,” Washington Post, 2016. ↩︎
Jessica Sidman, “Buy 150 Pizzas, And &pizza Will Pay For Your Tattoo,” Washington City Paper, 2014. ↩︎
Christiana Amarachi Mbakwe, “Baltimore &pizza customers get logo tattoos for a year of free pizza,” Baltimore Sun, 2016. ↩︎
FYI, Fortnum’s “little-known story” is that the company was once known as Fortnum, Mason & Co. Who knew‽ I am shocked, shocked by this revelation. ↩︎

The Book publication round-up

The Book has been on sale for a few weeks now and so I thought I’d collect some of the articles published in connection with it, both by me and by others.

First, I posted here a series of articles about some of the aspects of bookmaking that I learned about while researching The Book. Here they are:

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.

This time round I also did a few interviews. I chatted to Russell Leadbetter of The Herald; newstalk.fm’s Moncrieff show; and Lynn Freeman of RNZ’s Nine to Noon. And if the sound of my voice hasn’t put you off, again, there are more 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!

Shady Characters at I Love Typography: The Prints and the Pauper

I’ve been a fan of John Boardley’s blog, I Love Typography, since I first started learning about typography and symbols back in 2009. As such, I’m very happy to say that John recently published an extract from The Book at ILT.

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.

Shady Characters at the BBC: The mysterious ancient origins of the book

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!

And the winners are…

Cover of The Book
Cover of The Book as designed by David High.

The third and final round of The Book giveaway is now closed, and I’m pleased to announce that the winners this time are Twitter user Elizabeth Fraser (@Frauhaus) and commenter Frank S. Congratulations to both of them! Their signed copies of The Book will be on their way soon.

I must take this opportunity to thank everyone who entered the competition, whether here or on Twitter. Your comments and tweets have been kind and inspiring in equal measure, for which I’m very grateful. And I hope that even if you didn’t win in this last round of the competition, you might still consider buying a copy of The Book for yourself or your favourite bibliophile or history buff!