About Amiante and Minion

I see some discussion of the font. I also see that people are happy with it, a good thing, since there’s a lot of it. However, unless my typesetter is playing a trick on me, it’s not Amiante. It is Minion. And there’s a reason for this.

Back in December of 1999, I showed up at the Vance residence, along with another 8 or dozen volunteers, to get the VIE organized. At that time, there was a coup underway to supplant Paul, who had been a long-time friend of the Vances, from a position of leadership in the group. I had had a great deal of experience in volunteer groups: president of a flying club, vice-president of a swim team, etc., etc., until I learned not to volunteer. I sized up the players, and realized that there would be no VIE without Paul Rhoads. So I threw my support, both visible and invisible, behind him. The result is as was seen: the VIE saw print.

That trip, Paul told me he was creating a font for the VIE. This struck me as a lot of unnecessary work, but the fellow is an exacting artist, and if he wanted to create a font, ok. He showed me the work to date, and my thought was “oh dear Lord, walk among us…” However, I was looking at a set of characters about 4″ tall. That’s not the way to see a typeface. A professional typeface, isn’t merely scaled, but just as Paul did with Amiante, each size needed is created. Enormous work!

Then the battles began. I took samples to strangers, and asked them to comment on a set of printings of the same material in various fonts including Amiante. Amiante was well-received. On the other hand, detractors told me that it was illegible, amateurish, inspired by the Devil, etc., etc…

We printed in it, and it is very fine in the size font used in the VIE. I like it myself. (BTW, don’t judge Amiante by back-issues of Cosmopolis. There’s something wrong with the way that Adobe represented Amiante, and it doesn’t look anywhere near as nice as when set in Adobe’s InDesign. Trust me on that one.)

Now, in the font in the CVIE, we tried again. But to be honest, after looking, testing, and showing many people, it seemed that readers preferred Minion. So: that’s how that decision was made. Now, if my compositor tells me I’m nuts and it is printed in Amiante, I’ll be apologising again. And probably not for the last time…

That’s the story on that one, folks…

Another BTW. The illustrations in the CVIE are all Paul’s except for the Afton House Logo: that’s done by Joel Anderson. Paul’s illustrations are actual, real copperplate etchings. He coated copper plates, did the cutting, the acid wash, and then, on a printing machine he had built to order, printed the original illustrations. If you want to buy one, contact him… they are really nice, and frame up very well.



  1. wrycur said,

    May 25, 2010 at 7:02 am

    There’s a good article on Paul’s copperplate etchings, with photos of the machine and various tools, in the VIE Graphics Volume and it does seem quite complicated and difficult. But so is oil painting in the classical style, which Paul does wonderfully too. He has a website with many facsimilies of paintings, which I don’t have handy. Maybe someone else does.

    Bob, what size is the CVIE type? 9 or 10 point? It can’t be much bigger, yet it’s very legible, effortless to read.

  2. Joel said,

    May 25, 2010 at 4:46 pm

    I’ve been meaning to comment here for a while, so I’ll add a few words about the typefaces, which are mostly incarnations of Minion Pro. A while back Adobe did a good thing and brought out some of their text fonts in a number of optical weights. The main text in the books is the ‘caption’ weight; the regular looked a little emaciated at the size used — 9.45 over 11. 9.45 probably looks arbitrary, but it was arrived at after a lot of experimenting. 9.3 or 9.5 gave quite a different looking page.

    Minion and Amiante share certain physical characteristics; both have a relatively large x-height compared to the old-style fonts popular these days, and both are compact in width. Adobe Minion has been around for a long time in various guises, but what we used are the full-featured OTF faces, which is like having Adobe’s old ‘expert’ sets and a number of other handy features all built into one little file. There are things I don’t like about Minion, but the OTF factor was important to this project.

    Wrycur, it was great reading your first-hand description of the books, thanks for posting it! I was also very happy we were able to use Paul’s graphics and all the maps. Something so dense with type needs some non-textual treats. The etchings are reproduced at actual size here, by the way. And to second Bob, the original prints are amazing.

    • rclacovara said,

      May 25, 2010 at 5:49 pm

      Entirely correct and orthodox! I specifically endorse Joel’s comments from “I’ve” to “amazing”. He is known for his speedy service and perceptive intelligence!

  3. wrycur said,

    May 26, 2010 at 6:52 am

    Joel, if you’re the composer, I salute you. A magnificent job. I’m not sure what 9.45 / 11 means, but it’s exactly the right size.

    How much are original prints of the etchings?

    • rclacovara said,

      May 26, 2010 at 12:44 pm

      Um, I’ve no idea… I’ve cc’d Paul on this message, maybe he’ll reply to me and let me know.


    • töff said,

      May 26, 2010 at 4:20 pm

      That’s typographer’s shorthand, indicating the font size over the leading (the distance from one baseline to the next, often called “line spacing” nowadays because nobody sets type in that soft heavy metal anymore).

      • töff said,

        May 26, 2010 at 4:22 pm

        I notice: Joel said “over,” and wrycur translated that to a slash … which is correct … but I wonder how wrycur knew to do that. 😉

    • paul.rhoads@sammarcolles.com said,

      May 26, 2010 at 6:50 pm

      Price of the etchings? How many are wanted? …Probably about $150, but there would be a volume discount, given how the printing process works. There are no presentation prints avalable, because I never made any. There are some decent proofs of certain etchings, but they are not exactly suitable for framing, since the margins are very small and usually stained. —– Original Message —– From: R. C. Lacovara To: comment+4mg4nhvsh__06-3@comment.wordpress.com Cc: Paul Sent: Wednesday, May 26, 2010 2:44 PM Subject: Re: [Afton House Books] Comment: “About Amiante and Minion”

      Um, I’ve no idea… I’ve cc’d Paul on this message, maybe he’ll reply to me and let me know.


      —–Original Message—–

      • wrycur said,

        June 4, 2010 at 12:51 am

        Thanks, Paul. Since I doubt that all the etchings from all 6 Volumes are in the VIE Graphics Volume that I have, I should probably wait until I have all 6 before deciding which etching(s) I would like. Thus my question was probably a bit premature.

        They are very well done, though.

  4. wrycur said,

    May 27, 2010 at 7:01 am

    Wrycur knew to do that because the rascal teaches math, and the slash is essentially a fraction bar.

    I just can’t get over how readable the font is for such a small point value, 9.45.

    • Joel said,

      May 27, 2010 at 3:02 pm

      Thanks Wrycur, and Töff, for explaining the jargon, which creeps in sometimes. I’m enough of an antique to remember photo lithography choking the last gasps of life from letterpress. Art directors would still send out for a few lines of hand-set type when fancier or better stuff was wanted, but it wasn’t long before you could have entire cases of type and even presses if you were willing to haul them away.

  5. wrycur said,

    May 28, 2010 at 7:16 am

    That is indeed sad; when hew things supplant the old, one always wonders whether it’s for the best.

    We appreciate your comments, Joel.

    • töff said,

      May 28, 2010 at 3:34 pm

      In general, that’s true.
      In this specific case, if the point is to get ink onto paper, then it’s definitely for the best that computers took over from lead type. We can be nostalgic about it (I am, and I never even worked with lead type), but we really don’t want to revert the technology.

      • Joel said,

        May 28, 2010 at 10:48 pm

        I wouldn’t go back, no. It’s hard to conceive how much time, how many people, how much money a project like this would take in the old days, and of course it would never have happened anyway.

  6. wrycur said,

    May 30, 2010 at 7:10 am

    There’s one more thing I wanted to say about the layout and composition that impresses me.
    It’s how seldom a word has to be broken in two with a hyphen at the end of a line.

    I sampled 3 double pages at random, 6 pages in all, which have 106 lines each due to the double column, and got page totals of 2, 6, 5, 9, 3, and 4 lines which end in a hyphen; average
    4.83 lines per page.

    True, some lines don’t go all the way to the right end, maybe as much as 25% or so, but it’s still impressive, and had to have come from careful, deliberate effort, which in this quarter at least is much appreciated.

    • Joel said,

      May 30, 2010 at 10:45 pm

      Thanks Wrycur. Though there are more hyphens than I would like to have seen, the ‘engine’ InDesign uses to justify text does a much better job than was possible a few years ago with other software. (It can also make things line up better optically by pushing small items like quote marks and periods slightly outside the column, but that didn’t work so well in these particular circumstances, killed as many as it saved so to speak, and we didn’t use it.)

      Since hyphenation was more or less necessary, deciding how much to allow can be dicey with narrow columns like these. Too few hyphens and one line is crushed together, while the next may have enough space between the words to drive a truck through; too many and you can imagine what happens.

      • töff said,

        May 30, 2010 at 11:18 pm

        > InDesign uses to justify text does a much better job than was possible a few years ago with other software

        Adobe is a close second to Jack Vance is my list of things that make the universe worth staying in.

        > hyphenation was more or less necessary

        Fyi, while waiting for the CVIE not to sink in the Sargasso Sea, I picked up a Wodehouse. It’s set ragged-right, if you can believe it.

  7. wrycur said,

    May 31, 2010 at 7:17 am

    Exactly what I meant! Nowhere is either of the above evident, yet there are still few hyphens.
    It’s gracious of you, Joel, to credit the software, but a lot of other people have the software, yet don’t produce results like this.

    Sounds like a Greenbrier Boys song:

    “Well I come here to tell you, I’m ragged but right
    A thief and a gambler and I’m lit up every night…..”

    Don’t worry; the Sargasso Sea is south of the path of the ship. and it isn’t hurricane season.

  8. Joel said,

    May 31, 2010 at 6:37 pm

    More thanks, Wrycur!

    Töff, I can’t lay hands on it right now but I’m sure I have that same ragged-right Wodehouse, a large paperback omnibus thing? Have you seen the Overlook Press Wodehouses? Nice little hardcovers, and a lot of them. Amazon was selling them for about $11 a few years ago.

  9. töff said,

    May 31, 2010 at 6:57 pm

    > “sure I have that same ragged-right Wodehouse, a large paperback omnibus thing?”

    It’s /Carry On, Jeeves/ from Penguin, a paperback of early short stories.

    Any Vance fan who has not read Wodehouse should rectify that situation asap, and the shorts are a fine place to start. Vance himself touts Wodehouse. What more reason do you need?

    I only caution that you’ll want some understanding of the British interbellum aristocracy.

    > “seen the Overlook Press Wodehouses? Nice little hardcovers”

    Indeed! I own 3, all presents from my dad. He has* Wodehouse’s entire body of work, as far as I can tell, a boatload of them the Overlook hardbacks (maybe every title they released), but a lot of others, probs several multiples (kinda like my Vance collection). Yes, those Overlooks are very nice editions, superbly worthy of the texts they contain.

    * I still speak of my dear departed dad in the present tense, at least as far as his possessions are concerned, which are now legally and technically the property of my step-mom. She says I can take any of them I want. I say they’re fine where they are, for now.

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