Is There Such a Thing as a Crystal Goblet?

A famous essay by Beatrice Warde used the metaphor of the ideal wine glass to illustrate the function of typography. She argued that typography should be, effectively, invisible, serving to unobtrusively facilitate the communication of the writer's thoughts to the reader as effectively as possible.

While this is a function of typography, and likely the most common function of typography, it may perhaps be argued with validity that this is not the only function of typography.

The specific example she used corresponding to the kind of typography she advocated was, of course, a "crystal goblet".

It occurred to me, recently, to ask, is there such a thing. Did she mean a wine glass made from quartz ("rock crystal"), or one made from what is usually called "crystal" in the area of glassware: glass with 17% or 24% PbO content - what would be called "flint glass" in making lenses? Apparently, it was the latter; as opposed to storing wine for long periods of time in a crystal decanter, drinking wine from a lead crystal goblet isn't considered too hazardous, except perhaps by the government of California.

But that raises another question. I suppose that a crystal goblet doesn't release lead to nearly the extent as a solid lead, or even pewter, mug, but given that the ancient Romans used lead cups to drink from precisely because they imparted a sweet flavor to beverages (by causing them to be contaminated with lead acetate)... well, not only is her position apparently controversial, but it seems her metaphor is deeply flawed.

Comments

  • SiDanielsSiDaniels Posts: 264
    It was a typo - "Crystal Goblin" was the intended phrase...

    See the source image
  • Lead in glass is disolved in the glass and is held within the crystal matrix, only a very small amount of lead is ever released from the glass, that which was at or very near the surface.  The point of putting lead into glass is that it makes the glass less brittle, more likely to bounce if you drop it rather than shatter.

    I once saw a description somewhere that typography was like a window.  It went something like this as I recall.

    One might think the purpose of a window is to let someone see through it, but some windows purpose is to be looked at.

    A clear plate glass window is there to give an unobstructed view of the outside whereas a stained glass window does not give a good view of the outside world it is there to be looked at.

    Similarly there are fonts designed to convey the message of the writer, their purpose is to disappear, whether it is a sans serif or serif doesn't matter they are designed to be read.

    Then there are advertising fonts, their purpose is not to convey a message, their purpose is to attract attention to themselves.  You would not write a long passage of text in one of these fonts because you know the reader would never get to the end of it.

    They are there to attract attention to themselves, to advertise.

    Part of the art of graphic design is to know which one to use where.

  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,289
    If you’re serious about immersive drinking, you would no doubt prefer a beer stein to a crystal goblet.


  • Everyone talks about Warde’s crystal goblet because that’s the enchanting metaphor that has best survived over the years, but her complete essay had another comparison which rings more true to me, that of the text as a window.
    The book typographer has the job of erecting a window between the reader inside the room and that landscape which is the author's words. He may put up a stained-glass window of marvellous beauty, but a failure as a window; that is, he may use some rich superb type like text gothic that is something to be looked at, not through. Or he may work in what I call transparent or invisible typography. I have a book at home, of which I have no visual recollection whatever as far as its typography goes; when I think of it, all I see is the Three Musketeers and their comrades swaggering up and down the streets of Paris. The third type of window is one in which the glass is broken into relatively small leaded panes; and this corresponds to what is called 'fine printing' today, in that you are at least conscious that there is a window there, and that someone has enjoyed building it. That is not objectionable, because of a very important fact which has to do with the psychology of the subconscious mind. That is that the mental eye focuses through type and not upon it.
    (Emphasis mine.)
  • Everyone talks about Warde’s crystal goblet because that’s the enchanting metaphor that has best survived over the years, but her complete essay had another comparison which rings more true to me, that of the text as a window.
    The book typographer has the job of erecting a window between the reader inside the room and that landscape which is the author's words. He may put up a stained-glass window of marvellous beauty, but a failure as a window; that is, he may use some rich superb type like text gothic that is something to be looked at, not through. Or he may work in what I call transparent or invisible typography. I have a book at home, of which I have no visual recollection whatever as far as its typography goes; when I think of it, all I see is the Three Musketeers and their comrades swaggering up and down the streets of Paris. The third type of window is one in which the glass is broken into relatively small leaded panes; and this corresponds to what is called 'fine printing' today, in that you are at least conscious that there is a window there, and that someone has enjoyed building it. That is not objectionable, because of a very important fact which has to do with the psychology of the subconscious mind. That is that the mental eye focuses through type and not upon it.
    (Emphasis mine.)
    Yeah .. thats the one but it was a long time ago and I couldn't remeber where I read it or what it said, only the idea that I got from reading it.

    I've slept since then ... sorry, I got it wrong.
  • If you’re serious about immersive drinking, you would no doubt prefer a beer stein to a crystal goblet.


    Or split the difference with a Scottish glass bottom tankard, so you can keep an eye on your neighbours while quaffing back the suds.
  • I prefer the train driver metaphor: sure it’s a skilled job, but if you find yourself noticing the train driver during your ride it’s usually because something has gone wrong.
  • I agree, John. Though metaphors help when talking to laypeople about a topic which can seem esoteric at first.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,289
    edited February 25
    Warde was Monotype’s marketing manager, and a brilliant copywriter.
    She also penned the once ubiquitous This is a Printing Office.
    Her crystal goblet metaphor was nothing if not extremely posh, enhancing Monotype’s brand, and the industry in general, by imbuing fine typography with upscale tonality.
    In this respect, she followed in the footsteps of other typographic influencers who sought to elevate the trade and its reputation, such as Updike and De Vinne, and of course Monotype’s creative director, Stanley Morison.
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