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Active literature: Jan Tschichold and New Typography

Christopher Burke

  • ISBN


  • extent

    36 pp

  • binding


  • dimensions

    276 × 210 mm

  • illustrations

    700 colour pictures

In the first book on Tschichold to be based on extensive archive research, Burke turns fresh and revealing light on his subject. He sets Tschichold in the network of artists and designers who constituted New Typography in its moment of definition and exploration, and puts new emphasis on Tschichold as an activist collector, editor and writer. Tschichold’s work is shown in colour throughout, in freshly made photographs of examples drawn from public and private collections. This is not a biography, but rather a discussion of the work seen in the context of Tschichold’s life and the times in which he lived.


Towards a critical understanding of Tschichold’s work (Robin Kinross)

1. From Johannes to Ivan
2. Making history
3. Seizure
4. Script, type and book
5. Exile

A. ‘Elemental typography’ (1925)
B. ‘Book “art”?’ (1927)
C. ‘What is New Typography and what are its aims?’ (1930)
D. ‘Where do we stand today?’ (1932)

Select bibliography of Tschichold’s writings
General bibliography


The central part of the book is made up of three chapters. First, a description of Tschichold’s typography in the years 1925–33, with a depiction of his extensive contacts with avant-garde designers across Europe. After this, an interlude describes Tschichold’s detention in 1933 by the Nazis. The second long chapter discusses Tschichold’s engagement in his modernist period with letterforms as such (calligraphy, typefaces) and his book-design work. The last chapter looks at Tschichold after his emigration to Switzerland: his ‘serene modernism’ and turn to traditionalist design. The book is prefaced with a short essay by Robin Kinross, discussing Tschichold’s present reputation. It is rounded off with a selection of key texts by Tschichold (in English translation for the first time), a bibliography, and index.


Burke has consulted Tschichold’s correspondence in the Getty Research Institute, and his drawings and layouts in the German National Library in his home city of Leipzig. The result is a thoroughly researched and superbly documented book, with a detailed account of the work, much of it unfamiliar, as well as of Tschichold’s relationships with designers such as Paul Renner, El Lissitzky and László Moholy-Nagy. The lavish illustrations, in colour throughout, show Tschichold’s designs as never before. Not only ‘Die neue Typographie’, but the shorter pamphlets are reproduced, not as just one spread but several, and his first manifesto, ‘elementare typographie’, is given in translation as well. Perhaps most illuminating are the many layouts and drawings, including a number of type designs which were not put into production.

Burke’s account gives us a more human Tschichold than the uncompromising ideologue of legend, one who was trying to make a living, and producing more varied work than is usually reproduced.
Sebastian Carter, Times Literary Supplement, 1 February 2008

Cette étude a la grand mérite de s’attacher aux sources, qu’il s’aggisse de nombreuses lettres citées ou de quelques écrits peu ou jamais mentionnés de Tschichold (tel un tapuscript non publié sur Klucis, ou l’essai sur la Nouvelle Typographie paru dans ‘Kulturschau’). Elle séduit également par la richesse de son corpus illustré et par son langage accessible et juste.
Sonia de Puineuf, Les Cahiers du Musée National d’Art Moderne, no. 102, 2007–2008