Typophile: Dan X. Solo

I love typography. It is hands down, my favorite aspect of design. I can study letter forms for hours ignoring all else in the world (just ask my girl friend, Kim). In one of my recent library adventures I found two books of typography collections; one of Victorian Display Alphabets and one of Modern Display Alphabets, both from the mid 1970s. I took them home and copied my favorite fonts which was nearly half of the 100 Victorian alphabets and only three of the Modern.

The Victorian book was put together by Dan X. Solo for Dover Books. It is only one of several books that he has compiled for Dover. Mr. Solo has been collecting vintage type for most of his life, a hobby I unfortunately keep largely web based. I could only imagine the drawers and stacks of type specimens that must fill his house! I imagine his house is like a typographers porn shop. His collection well worn and dogeared by repeated viewings.  After viewing this nearly ancient book I found that only a small portion of his collection have been officially digitized. I am sure that many designers and typographers have digitized some of his alphabet books for their personal use (after all, I did). From the fonts I copied I frankensteined my favorite traits for a logo concept I am working on for Palindrome Apparel. This concept isn’t finished quite yet, it is still a little masculine for a dual-sex line. I am adding flourishes and stylized plant forms to illustrate the outwear aspect of the company while maintaining the strong, classic letter forms to keep it bold and timeless.


(I will post the final version that is decided upon when the time comes)

Dan X. Solo Biography from MyFonts.com

The Solotype Archive was begun in 1942 when I was 14. I was a kid printer for several years before that. At 16, after a quick three months of training, I dropped out of school and went to work full time as a radio actor and announcer in San Francisco. (Easy to get jobs in those days, due to the war-induced manpower shortage.) In 1949 and 1950, I created a magic show which played West Coast theatres with some success. After that, back to broadcasting.

By 1962, I was completely burned out on radio, so I decided to see if I could make a living with my collection of antique types, which numbered about a thousand fonts at that time. In 1962, I sent out 4,000 catalogs showing the type to ad agencies all over the U.S. The timing was perfect (no thanks to me) because there was developing at that time a renewed interest in the old types. Business took off immediately.

The Solotype collection was one of four commercial collections at the time, but I seemed to have been more aggressive in marketing than the other chaps. (Well, Morgan Press certainly knew how to market.)

Two years into the business, I began to collect alphabets on paper for conversion to photo lettering, which was just becoming mainstream in the type business. We closed the shop for a month every year and went on a type hunt, mostly in Europe where there didn’t seem to be much competition among collectors. Other typographers couldn’t understand how we could do this, but I believe it made people appreciate the resource we offered even more. Over the years, the collection became quite large. When I closed Solotype a couple of years ago, I got rid of about half the archive (because the fonts were dull, or already digitized, or for a variety of other reasons) leaving me with about 6,000 fonts on paper or film.

In 1974, I began to supply Dover Publications with mechanicals for books of 100 alphabets on a particular theme. I did 30 of these books over the years, and 30 more of printers’ ornaments, borders, and so forth. Sometime in the 1990s, Dover asked me to digitize books of 24 fonts each, to be sold with a disk in the back. I did 12 of these. The Dover relationship came to an end when Haywood Cirker, the owner and my special friend, died and the company was sold to another publisher. Dover felt that they had covered the type field thoroughly.

Now in my old age, my wife and I have a mindreading act that is great fun and good for the ego. Even so, when not traveling, I digitize type for relaxation and enjoyment, but have made no effort to sell it. Until now.

Local Resources

It is important to know what type of resources are available in your community. If you are planning on making where you live a home and viable business location you must know what the community offers. These days a lot of people go through life without ever stepping foot in their local library, museum, government offices etc. I have recently been making frequent trips to my local library to kill time and find inspiration. It is not the largest, most extensive library out there, but it has a lot of good reference tools. In perusing the art section I found a couple informative books on photography, composition, printmaking and various crafts. Most of the books are beginner oriented and fairly out of date, but they have intrigued and inspired me to try new projects.

My newest visit awarded me with the Graphic Artists Guild Handbook: Pricing & Ethical Guidelines. I am treating the book like a text book, taking notes and reviewing the business principals it outlines. There is a lot of legal jargon that I don’t fully understand, but that is where the rest or the library can come in handy. If I have any questions on something like licensing I can cross reference it in the legal section (or just go online). I have also been told that there are business seminars put on by the local business groups and attended Art as Business seminars given by the Arts Council. These types of events are usually low cost and after normal business hours so they are easy to attend.

It may be easy to find a little work at local museums, utilities, non-profits, state parks or community
commissions. A lot of times these organizations are in need of revamping their identities which were last looked at decades ago. I have a friend that recently did a fantastic job redesigning our library’s ID. Jobs like these don’t always pay great, but in economic times like these any job is a good one and it is a chance to get your name out to the community.

Take the time to learn about your community resources and events. Rub elbows with some of the businesses, committees and so on, it could land you a couple of great gigs or you might just learn something.