Past Exhibitions

Primitive Types: The Sans Serif Alphabet from John Soane to Eric Gill

29 January - 24 April 1999

Detail, George Dance's study, dated 1763, of a detail from the 'Temple of Vesta', 3/1/6

Primitive Types traces today's sans serif alphabet back to its 18th-century origins in the enthusiams of a group of English architects and sculptors.

Although best known as one of this country's leading architects Sir John Soane can also be seen as a pioneer in the creation of the modern typefaces. Sans serif types are, literally, letters without the finishing strokes at the beginning or end of the main strokes or stems. Sir John Soane, developed his own sans serif type having found inspiration in the 'primitive' inscriptions on buildings dating to the early Roman Republic, such as the Temple of Vesta at Tivoli. Although he exploited the sans serif type for its antiquarian connotations, to modern eyes it seems pleasingly geometrical and rational.

This exhibition, sponsored by BAS Printers Limited and curated by James Mosley, Librarian of the St Bride Printing Library, and Justin Howes, explores the development and use of the sans serif type from Soane's evocation of a 'primitive' antiquity to its current use for commercial purposes and modern signage. The exhibition is accompanied by a hardback book The Nymph and the Grot: The Revival of the Sans Serif Letter by James Mosley.