dot-font: Tippling with the Titans of Type

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The first thing most people say when they see the abbreviation AtypI is, “How do you pronounce it?” I’m here to set your mind at rest. In English, it’s pronounced “ey-type-aye,” as though the two letter-names had the word “type” between them. In French, which is where it comes from, it’s “ah-teep-ee,” and in other European languages it’s something similar. The full name is French: l’Association typographique internationale. In English, it would be the “International Typographic Association,” but nobody ever calls it that.

(You’re welcome. Don’t mention it. And don’t ask me why they didn’t just call it “ATI.” They didn’t, and that’s all there is to it.)

ATypI is the premiere international typographic organization, with an annual conference that is held each year in a different city — usually in Europe, and always in a place with some significance in typographic history. The organization was founded in 1957 by Charles Peignot, the owner of the famous French type foundry Deberny et Peignot, and the first conference was held in Lausanne, Switzerland. It’s been held since then in a wide variety of European cities (Antwerp, Parma, Barcelona, The Hague, etc.) and occasionally in the United States (New York, San Francisco). Last year it was held in Boston — only the third time it’s been west of the Atlantic — and this September it’s going to be in Leipzig.

Danke Schoen
Leipzig is known as “the German book city,” with its own book fair and one of the oldest universities in Europe. It has a long history as a typographic and bookselling center, dating back centuries, which prompts the conference’s old/new title: “Digital Classicism: Five Centuries of Type and Typography.” Leipzig was also, during its half-century as part of the German Democratic Republic, a center of publishing for the Soviet bloc, which gives it a particular importance in the recent typographic history of Eastern Europe.

No matter where it’s held, the ATypI conference attracts several hundred of the world’s most knowledgeable experts on type — the people who make it, the people who sell it, and the people who use it. There’s a combination of serious talks about type and printing, old and new, and social interactions both organized and unorganized (and occasionally disorganized). As a venue for meeting the people who influence the world of type, ATypI is without peer.

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Legendary Encounters
It’s a fine place for making new friends and meeting old heroes. My first experience of ATypI was in England in 1990, at Type90 in Oxford (one of the first to offer a large conference open to the typographic public, as opposed to the older-style “congresses” open only to members). When I arrived, I knew very few people there, but by the end of the three-day event I had made a circle of friends and colleagues whom I still keep in touch with, 10 years later. (There’s an excessively cheerful photograph somewhere of — if memory serves — of Phil Baines, Thom Feild, Tom Bee, Susan Skarsgard, Wesley Tanner, and me, and perhaps one or two other then-young typographers, in a pub near one of the many conference sites scattered among the dreaming towers of Oxford. We had been in that pub for quite some time when the picture was snapped. You can imagine.)

At the same time, people who’d been just names to me were walking around the conference and quite open to being approached: I met John Dreyfus, who had succeeded Stanley Morison as the head of Monotype’s legendary type-development department, while we were both admiring the sample pages from the then-projected volume of Pouchée’s “Ornamented Types,” and I introduced myself to Adrian Frutiger, who gave us so many seminal type families (Univers, Frutiger, Méridien, Avenir, Iridium, Linotype Didot, and more), when the chance presented itself one evening. (As in any social/professional circumstance, approaching people you know by reputation takes tact and common sense. Typography is not exactly a field known for its boisterous extroverts; most type folk are fairly quiet and reserved, and while they’re usually happy to make new acquaintances, they’ll appreciate it if those who introduce themselves don’t try to monopolize their attention, or keep them from talking to older acquaintances and friends.)

The festivities often go on long after the end of the official conference day. At Type90, I was staying with friends in Reading, a short train ride away, and when I had to pull myself away to catch the last train each evening, the parties were always going strong. I’ve only heard about the near-dawn disturbances in Barcelona a few years later (a conference I didn’t attend), but I can attest that in Lyons, France, in 1998, Max Bruinsma (then editor of Eye) and I were buying bottles of champagne for a table full of tired but voluble typographers in a bar in the old part of town long after midnight. (It would be poetic justice and dramatically true to say that I had to get up the next morning and be intelligent in two languages, since I’d been drafted to introduce the speakers on one track of programming first thing in the morning — but in fact, I think that was the day before.)

Type Casting
The other side of this coin is the unique opportunities that an ATypI conference presents for learning new things, whether it’s Michael Harvey’s stone-cutting workshop in Reading (1997) or James Mosley’s erudite, entertaining lecture in Lyons on “reason and freedom in French typography from the Romain du Roi to Fournier le jeune.” As the title of this year’s conference in Leipzig suggests (“digital classicism”), the subjects routinely range from 16th-century punchcutting to the possibilities for fine typography offered by OpenType.

Leipzig will offer a particularly wide range of hands-on workshops. The city is home to the Werkstätten und Museum für Drunkkunst (Printing Museum and Workshops), run by conference co-chair Eckehart SchumacherGebler. Not only does the Museum have a huge collection of type matrices and a letterpress department with many hand presses in current use, but it also has an active type-casting department where skilled workmen are casting new type, and it has the last operating collotype printing set-up. According to the other co-chair, Erik Spiekermann (of MetaDesign and Fontshop in Berlin), the Museum is so full of opportunities for individual and small-scale activities that he fears that many attendees will have a hard time prying themselves away to listen to the more formal programming at the conference center.

ATypI Leipzig 2000 will take place September 21-24, 2000. Registration fees are the lowest they’ve been in years, to encourage as wide a range of attendees as possible, and there’s a discount if you register before July 7. (Student rates are available, at far below the professional rate.)

Leipzig is reputedly a beautiful city, about 100 miles south of Berlin and 200 miles east of Frankfurt, and as a former part of East Germany it’s a relatively inexpensive city to visit. The final Gala Dinner will be held in the Auerbach Keller, immortalized in Goethe’s Faust, after a recital of music by Bach in the Thomaskirche, where Bach himself was Kantor for the last 27 years of his life. If this sounds like a tourist brochure, so be it. The combination of the traditions of Leipzig, the energy of Berlin, the cosmopolitan design culture of Europe, and the concentration of typographic knowledge and camaraderie that each ATypI conference embodies make the choice obvious. I know where I’ll be this September. See you there?

  • anonymous says:

    How to pronounce it! Thanks for an informative and well-written article!

    “Long” John Holmes
    Bay Behavin’

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