When one of our Design by the Book artists asked me to find some books on vintage lettering, monograms, and typography, I headed to the stacks and didn’t come up for air for days (or so it seemed, I became so engrossed). I had a fabulous time searching through the Library’s collection for him, and I ended up hooked on monogramming. Of the many books on monograms and lettering that I found, there are a few standouts. One is Moderne Monogramme, published in Dresden in 1908. I love this book for its lush art nouveau letters, designed by Paul Starke.
I’ve also taken a special shine to the DIY approach of How to Design Monograms by Elizabeth and Curtiss Sprague. This little guide, published in London in 1927, contains instructions as well as plenty of examples, like the pages included here.
The Spragues explain that a well-designed monogram will exhibit “proportion, rhythm, fine spacing, and unity.” And to that end, they advise the following:
•Start by writing down on paper the letters of your initials in both lower case and capitals.
•See if any “combinations of letters immediately suggest a happy shape or arrangement.”
•Look for “strokes which are common in two of the letters” (such as how both capital R and D have similarly curved sides).
•If two of the same letter are present, consider making one a mirror image of the other.
•Simple letter types are more flexible than “elaborate, florid letters” which are “quite too fanciful to be further played with.”
•Feel free to take “unlimited liberties in the distortion of letters” in the design process, but remember that the result should remain legible.
•A monogram will usually form a symmetrical outside shape of some sort, such as oval or diamond, but irregular forms can be quite nice as well.
With this advice (as well as a few other books on monograms and lettering) at hand, I can’t help but ponder the possibilities for an elegant monogram of my own. The Spragues have made it sound so easy that my head is swimming with visions of barware, letterhead, and bookplates of my very own.