Punctuation Spacing

Jan Tschichold tended to entertain his readers with the rather bold claim that typography before Jan Tschichold was awful. It was not. It was quite good, actually, and up until the early 20th century showed a care for detail which is rarely seen today.
One such detail is the art of adding a little space around punctuation marks. It was such a minor detail, so obvious to care for at the time, that Timperley’s The printers’ manual, printed in 1838 in London, merely states that ‘all points, except the comma and full point, have a hair space placed between them and the matter, to distinguish them’. In fact, unlike British and American typographers like to think today, this was far from being a mere German or French whim but common practice in the English speaking world too, well into the 20th century. Here are a few lines from Smart’s Beginnings of a new school of metaphysics, printed in 1842 in London:
From Royce’s The spirit of modern philosophy, printed in 1892 in Boston:
And some lines from James’s Pragmatism, printed in 1907 in New York:
Designers rarely care about it. Typographers, if they do, rarely have, or are given, the time to care about it. Digital type allows to automate it. Technically speaking, it a spacing adjustment, or kerning, which can be applied optionally and on top of the regular kerning. Which is what Grotext™, Litteratra®, Tiptoe™ allow you to do – by way of activating the Stylistic Set 20 feature:
The first line shows the default spacing. The second line shows, by way of red bars, places where some extra space would get added, like next to colon, semicolon, exclamation mark and question mark, quotation marks, but also between currency symbols and numerals, or before index numerals, asterisk, dagger, etc. The third line shows the result, omitting the red bars.
For some hints at how this got implemented, see the PDF mentioned at the beginning of the note on a TypeTech talk given at the ATypI 2007 Conference in Brighton, Crossing borders.


This note is one of three notes, on three aspects of good typography and (inevitably) type, as embodied in our first trilogy of typefaces consisting of Grotext™, Litteratra®, Tiptoe™:
Italics included
Automatic all caps spacing
Punctuation spacing
Our second trilogy of typefaces, of which Kerl™ is the first one published as a retail typeface, focuses on more ephemeral aspects of typography and type.

29 December 2020

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© Karsten Luecke
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