Tuesday, April 11, 2006

The Most Widely Read Man in the World

Matthew Carter is the pre-eminent typographer alive today and probably the most widely read man in the world.

Carter has designed typefaces for the New York Times, Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report, Wired and National Geographic, among other publications. When you look up a number in many U.S. telephone directories, you are looking at his Bell Centennial typeface, which he designed for AT&T. He designed Verdana, once the signature Microsoft typeface, and is the guy behind Galliard, a typeface that the U.S. Postal Service has used on stamps.

I met Carter, a 68-year-old Brit who has movie star looks and wears his gray hair in a pony tail, earlier today when he came into the special collections library where I toil for a tour and to see some of our own marvelous books and manuscripts related to typography. These include the papers of Frederic W. Goudy, who designed the classic Goudy typeface, and the archives of the Mergenthaler Linotype Company, whose massive linotype machines were the typesetting standard in thousands of pressrooms before the advent of offset printing.

Like all visitors, Carter was asked to sign our guest book. As he picked up a pencil and bent over the book, he turned to me and sheepishly noted that he didn’t have very good handwriting.

He didn’t.

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