The new Pentagram Paper is out.
Back in 2012 American film director Errol Morris posted a quiz online in The New York Times. On the surface it appeared to be testing whether the participant was an optimist or a pessimist but really Morris was testing typefaces. He was toying with an idea: does the choice of typeface influence the credibility of a statement. Well of course it does. Anyone half interested in typography knows it does but Morris approached the task anew and concluded, rather precisely, that the most 'believable' typeface is the one from Birmingham, my home town.
I've always liked Baskerville. Not because it's from the city of my youth, but because of those lovely wide capitals, those round C's, O's and G's; the forthright stroke contrast; and those cheeky italics. Maybe, unknowingly, it's because of the authority that comes built into the design.
Fuelled by his findings, in the Pentagram Paper version, Morris dwells on Mr B. In Chapter 4 he takes a spin around the life and times of the man who, it turns out, was not too popular in his day. Baskerville had made his money in japanning and spent his spare time on his more calligraphic yearnings. Shacked up in his mansion with Mrs Eaves, JB indulges his love of the printed page while outside his reputation was being sullied. His republican views were not popular, nor was his atheism or his sleeping arrangements. As Morris reports, even after his death, "Baskerville stands accused of most everything: priggishness, arrogance, immorality, even illiteracy." – apparently the badly dressed man's correspondents were grammatical disasters.
Baskerville died in 1775 and his house was left to Sarah Eaves. After her death it passed into new hands and in 1791 it was destroyed by what seems to have been slightly ungracious party goers who got totally pissed in the wine cellar and set fire to the place. Several singed bodies were found in the remains.
The story continues, as does the cursed connected bad luck but I'll stop there because I need to take our hound for a walk.
It's a most interesting account with Ben Franklin, Voltaire and Beaumarchais all playing their parts perfectly. Although it occurred to me, right at the end, that the whole thing might be Morris taking his test to a whole new level. Perhaps the PentaPaper was just 76 pages of bullshit, beautifully typeset in Baskerville to see if anyone would respond to it all, say in a blog post for example, convinced of its validity.