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admin | Category: Phone Book Lookup | 08.12.2015
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Discover Ireland Companies - Ireland Business Database Find your Business Partners in Ireland97,000 companies in 550 classifications incl. In 1976, AT&T commissioned the design of a new typeface whose sole purpose would be for use in their telephone directories. Bell Centennial is a family of four weights, designed by Matthew Carter at Mergenthaler, to take advantage of the then-newer composing and printing technologies, while still compensating for the limitations that did exist. Bell Centennial is a condensed sans-serif design that maintains legibility at very small sizes, allows for clear information structures, is economical on space, and accommodates for adverse production conditions; all while keeping to an intended typographic style.
Since the intended final use was so specific, the restrictions on the design were extremely stringent, down to the minimum thousandth-of-an-inch in stroke weight, but this was all solved through careful planning and extreme attention to detail.
Bell Gothic consisted of two weights, each serving a different purpose: Bold was used to list subscribers' names and numbers, and Light was used for setting addresses. Bell Gothic worked fine when the directories were still being composed in hot metal on a Linotype machine and printed on a letterpress, but because it was designed for those production methods, it didn't hold up under the set of limitations presented by newer technologies.
For a time, printers tried to compensate for this erosion by over-inking the printing plates; while this helped to thicken the strokes, it brought up a whole new set of problems. It was apparent that a new typeface had to be designed to work with the newer technologies instead of trying to force Bell Gothic to work under circumstances for which it was not designed. With this freedom, Carter was able to improve the clarity of visual hierarchy between all weights in the family. The CRT method of typesetting also required an increase in stroke width to prevent the letterforms from breaking apart. Since CRT rendered each letter at about 850 lines per inch, the strokes of the lightest characters varied between only 4 and 6 scan lines. To maintain total control of the final rendering of his new typeface, Carter took on the laborious task of designing each character for the exact size (6 point) and resolution at which it would be ultimately produced.


The drawings were encoded by hand and proofs were then made on Mergenthaler's Linotron 606 digital typesetter. Though Carter designed all of Bell Centennials forms, a man named Alex Kaczun (profile) is attributed to wrapping the shapes with bezier curves to create the vector-based font in use today. Comparisons between Bell Gothic and Bell Centennial in trial settings showed Bell Centennial as more space efficient, saving several lines per page by reducing the number of listings that would require multiple lines. The main problem with Helvetica was that its forms lost some functionality at the small sizes used in the phone book due to its closed letter shapes. The letters were allowed a bit more breathing space as far as letterspacing which prevented characters from bleeding together on the page. Obviously the numbers of Bell Centennial played a crucial role, so Carter made sure to create a clear distinction between numbers with similar forms like 5 and 6, or 3 and 8. Maybe the most unique of Bell Centennial's forms are in place to solve problems during production.
Bell Centennial introduced two new weights to the phonebook, allowing more depth in hierarchy and opportunities to highlight special listings. Predicting that advertisers would pay extra money for increased visibility, a Bold Listing weight was developed. Besides the Bell corporate identity system, created in 1969, Saul Bass is also well-known for his film title sequences. Bold Listing sat below the normal baseline, utilizing the space normally used by descenders. Although intended for small print and lists, Mazda UK used Bell Centennial at huge sizes to striking effect in a mid-1990s ad campaign, as did the English National Opera to advertise their production of Katya Kabanova. I am always interested in examples of the use of Bell Centennial (especially non-phonebook) to show as samples here; if you have any or know of any, please don't hesitate to let me know.
The phonebook in this photo was used to display Bell Centennial at the Boston Ink exhibition of printing at the Boston Public Library.
If you have any questions, comments, corrections, or suggestions, on anything at all, please feel free to contact me. The Typeface Bell Centennial is original Artwork of Matthew Carter; created exclusively for Linotype Library GmbH or its affiliates companies.


The design had to solve multiple technical and visual problems related with the existing phonebook typeface, Bell Gothic. Typographic composition was being done photographically with Cathode Ray Typesetting (CRT), and the printing done on high-speed offset lithography presses.
He made the Name & Number face heavier and wider, increasing its prominence over other information. This made every single scan crucial to the outcome of the letter, both regarding legibility and compensation for variations in production. From there, the digitized typeface was provided to Autologic and Information International (two companies whose typesetters were widely used by Bell) for conversion into proprietary font formats that would work best with their typesetting equipment. Some serve technical purposes that improve reproduction, some deal with legibility issues, and some act as stylistic devices.
To do this, Carter emphasized counter space by using square cut terminals on letters with curved strokes, like in the a, c, e, g, and s. It did not have lowercase characters and had an exaggerated capital height – sitting below the baseline and utilizing the space normally used by lowercase descenders. Sub-Caption was developed, and proved helpful in giving additional information about advertisers or in listing entries for large institutions with multiple departments and numbers. When compared with a modern Verizon phonebook page (below), differences can be noticed in specifics of how the typeface is used and with what other typefaces.
According to Carter, the presence or absence of one tile on the grid could greatly affect the perception of a curve's shape or a stroke's angle when viewed at the target size. He also increased the white space of the letters by not using horizontal terminals, as well as straightening and shortening curves in characters like g, y, r, e, C, G, J, S, 3, 5, 6, and 9. Another problem with over-inking was that the presses had to be stopped frequently for additional cleaning which cost printing time and production money. This allowed more information to fit in a small space, thus saving paper, print time, shipping, and consequently, huge amounts of money.



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