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A Gift to the “Typographic World”

"Orbis Typographicus" featuring text by Walter Crane & Hippocrates, Typeface: Delphin, Calligraphy by Hermann Zapf, 1980.

Orbis Typographicus featuring text by Walter Crane & Hippocrates. Typeface: Delphin, Calligraphy by Hermann Zapf, 1980.

Orbis Typographicus is a letterpress portfolio tour de force that was released in 1980 after ten years of close collaboration between Hermann Zapf in Darmstadt and Philip L. Metzger of the Crabgrass Press in Kansas City. This title offers the reader a typographic world that only Professor Zapf could envision: full of alphabets and aphorisms, all handset and exquisitely printed by Metzger in a multitude of styles that make the reader believe that she is party to some wonderful typographic time travel.

The cause for celebration now, 33 years after its publication, is that the Orbis may now be read, downloaded, and accessed in a very thoughtful online treatment made available by designer Joshua Langman. A fully searchable transcript of the text and the ability to download high-resolution scans of its pages enhance the accessibility of this rare document—only 99 copies in the original edition—making this a truly useful site, and not just blissful eye candy. The site’s added “Reminiscences” by P.A. Metzger fils are particularly touching, painting the book as a labor of friendship that survived through a decade, over an ocean, and withstanding the fastidious demands of line adjustments by ½ a point or seven thousandths of an inch. These exchanges are evident in the collected letters and proofs exchanged between Phillip L. Metzger and Hermann Zapf during the Orbis‘s production, now held at RIT Cary Graphic Arts Collection, but the site’s firsthand appreciation by a young aficionado, perhaps will give the book new legs in the eyes of other twenty-first century typographers.

Thanks to Langman for his foresight in digitizing Orbis Typographicus. It is a gift to us all in the Professor’s 95th year, a milestone he reached on November 8, 2013.

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