Visual treats

19 February 2012
Ben Pentreath

A tiny bunch of flowers for the Sunday lunch table; will you look at how beautiful the crocus and snowdrops are?

But what I really wanted to write about this weekend was a book, which has been a bit in mind recently (I’ll explain why at the end). I first came across this book years and years ago, staying in Dedham with my friend George. I well remember him putting by my bedside table one time; George is that thoughtful sort of person who likes to think what you might enjoy reading that evening or with a morning cup of tea. Well, W. S. Cowell’s A Book of Typefaces has stuck with me ever since.

Published in 1952, the book is I suppose also enjoying a diamond jubilee this year. Cowells were the superb Ipswich printers who are responsible for so many of the books that we love to sell the shop. If you’re interested in reading more about them, don’t fail to have a look at Ruth Artmonsky’s brilliant Do you want it Good or do you want it Tuesday? which you can find here, and which I finally settled down to read last week.

Anyway, back to Cowell’s typefaces. Effectively a catalogue of the firm’s available faces, brilliantly typeset, the pages are full of rich treats. Here is a selection.

Amazing, is it not? If only the Cowell’s manual was still in use, 60 years later, one feels the world might be a better looking place.  Anyway, I’ve been leafing through those fantastic fat faces and shadowed letters a little recently, while putting together ideas for the exhibition Bridie and I are putting on in the shop in May – of new works by the brilliant Ed Kluz. I’ll be writing a lot more about the show in weeks to come, but for now, do you see where he and I are coming from with our big old typefaces for ‘THEATRE BRITANNICA’? Watch this space, and save the dates…!  There will be visual treats for sure.

13 comments on this post

Ruth Artmonskysays:

Thank you for your kind remark about my little book. I had such fun going to Ipswich and interviewing the old retired about how they enjoyed working at Cowells and how proud they were of the books they handled. Ruth

hello ben, i am somewhat of a new comer to your beautiful blog and it makes my heart ache for england each time i visit. we used to visit my nana’s sisters and their families in surrey each summer when i was growing up. i’ve lived in the US since i was 8, but feel more european than i do american. anyway, i wanted to ask about your incredible farmhouse table in the kitchen. it appears to be an antique. did you strip off the finish? do you treat it with anything special to keep it free from water stains? i just bought an old pine harvest table last week at an auction. i’m contemplating stripping the finish, but leery to remove all the character from the nicks and gouges.
i was just wondering how you care for yours and if you bought it this way or stripped it yourself. thank you so much for the information. kindly, tessa


Dear Tessa, that’s great! My table did come with a finish which I wasn’t in love with. So I scrubbed it back to the white pine and about once a fortnight we give it another good scrub using a powdered soap. Ben

What a great book! Full of inspiration. Thanks for sharing so many images from it.


Wonderful, I used to trawl through typeface books when I was younger and be engrossed for hours. Happily ambling round your site and completely forgotten what I intitially visited for.

Noticed you have painted the hanging cupboard in your kitchen white,looks great


Thanks Janie. There are other paint changes on the way in the kitchen…!


Ben, got the Morris Minor (Nelson), got the Ladybird ‘What to look for in Season’ books, also got the old Roberts radio as pictured in your kitchen. What happens when the analogue is switched off?


My thought is… it never quite will be. Let’s keep our fingers crossed! And dream of an older England.


Always a treat to view your blog and a trip to your store.


Thank you Ayse! Ben

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