Curiosities: Examples of Penmanship & Typography from the BHL

Observed: JR au Louvre







Last week, French street artist JR completed his latest piece at the Musée du Louvre. He is known for his large-scale photographic pastes where the importance and meaning of the work lies in the locale. This particular piece opened with a 24-hour event over the weekend that included workshops, films, and music/visual performances—most notably for me, Nils Frahm and Ólafur Arnalds. From a certain vantage point, the artwork blends the iconic pyramid into the facade of the Pavillon Sully behind it. JR au Louvre will remain on view until June 27th.

Violaine and Jérémy, a Paris based studio, designed and illustrated the poster for the exhibition and daylong event. It’s such a well executed piece, and a work of art in itself. It seems as much care has gone into their online presence, and is a great representation of how designers should be showcasing their work. It has quickly become one of my favorite portfolios.

Curiosities: Photographs of Mount St. Helens Erupting


On May 18, 1980 Mount St. Helens erupted, becoming the first major volcanic eruption in the States since 1915. Keith Stoffel was attending the Yakima Gem and Mineral Show as a representative of the Division of Geology and Earth Resources for the Washington Department of Natural Resources (WA DNR). He and his wife Dorothy charted a plane that day with pilot Bruce Judson, unknowing of what was to come. From their vantage point they watched the volcano erupt, narrowly escaping thanks to the efforts of Judson. They captured a few photographs (including the one above) and Keith later summarized what he saw in a WA DNR paper (PDF):

Within a matter of seconds, perhaps 15 seconds, the whole north side of the summit crater began to move instantaneously. As we were looking directly down on the summit crater, everything north of a line drawn east-west across the northern side of the summit crater began to move as one gigantic mass. The nature of movement was eerie, like nothing we had ever seen before. The entire mass began to ripple and churn up, without moving laterally. Then the entire north side of the summit began sliding to the north along a deep-seated slide plane. I was amazed and excited with the realization that we were watching this landslide of unbelievable proportions slide down the north side of the mountain toward Spirit Lake. We took pictures of this slide sequence occurring, but before we could snap off more than a few pictures, a huge explosion blasted out of the detachment plane. We neither felt nor heard a thing, even though we were just east of the summit at this time. Dorothy saw the southern portion of the summit crater begin to crumble and slide to the north just after the initial explosion.

From our viewpoint, the initial cloud appeared to mushroom laterally to the north and plunge down. Within seconds, the cloud had mushroomed enough to obscure our view. At about this time, the realization of the enormous size of the eruption hit us, and we focused our attention on getting out of there.

They were not the only plane in the sky that day. A private plane flown by a former fighter pilot had been divereted to Seattle with his family, on return from vacation. In no apparent danger, he flew near the eruption and captured these photographs. His Grandson recently shared them (r/pics), but doesn’t have all the details of the day at the present.




Curiosities: Notes Left with Children at the NY Foundlings Hospital

Daughter of Mr. Keefee - 00

Edward - 00

Harry Oliver - 00

Reginald - 00

William - 00

Due to hardship and poverty, the abandonment of infants in New York in the late 1860’s was unfortunately not a noteworthy occurrence. The beginnings of the New York Foundling Asylum of the Sisters of Charity was brought by the need of mothers and fathers with no options left. Response was immediate, a baby was left with Sister Irene and her two companions before their preparations were even completed. A large number of babies followed, and their institution grew to support them over time.

Pinned notes often accompanied these infants and offered a glimpse of the heartbreak the parents or custodians must have felt when leaving their child behind. The New York Historical Society has a small collection of these notes from the Foundling Asylum which they have shared in a few albums on their Flickr page.


Design Curiosities: Objektiv by Bruno Mello

Objektiv 1

Objektiv 2

Objektiv 4

Objektiv 3

Geometric sans serif typefaces first appeared in the early 1920s with the rise of modernism and the machine age. As design and architecture moved towards purity and simplicity, typography sought unity and rationality. The original grotesque typefaces of the 19th century would no longer suffice, formal purity demanded that the circle, triangle, and square be celebrated. The resulting letterforms were characterized by this geometric construction, owing more to mathematical forms than to the calligraphic letter.

In 1927, Paul Renner defined the genre with Futura, arguably the most popular sans serif of the mid 20th century. Futura was not alone though—Rudolf Koch’s Kabel (1927), Wilhelm Pischner’s Neuzeit Grotesk (1928), Dick Dooijes’ Nobel (1929), and Herb Lubalin’s Avant Garde (1968) all became broadly used standards of geometric type design.

In recent years there has been renewed interest geometric letterforms. A number of robust geometric interpretations have been designed that are better suited to handle contemporary typographic demands. LL Circular and FF Mark come to mind. Dalton Maag’s Objektiv by Bruno Mello is a welcome addition to this short list—it comes in 7 weights with three style variants.

Curiosities: Examples of Penmanship & Typography from the BHL









A consortium of botanical and natural history libraries, the Biodiviersity Heritage Library is working towards digitizing their collections of public domain journals and books. It is an endless resource of images and information that can be used freely, depending on its copyright status. Delving through the collection led to an unexpected discovery of many beautiful examples of penmanship and typography.

※ The images above were edited for DC, originals are below.

Purple Magnolia
Der Penguin
Le Penguin

Biol. bentr.Am
Wild Sweet Pea
Field Museum
The Sea
The Goosebeek’d Whale
Pigeon Blondinette Noir
Noir Pigeon Satinette