“Type is a beautiful group of letters…” Who said this?

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Cristóbal Henestrosa
edited July 2022 in History of Typography
I know it was discussed before somewhere else, but I am unable to find it (probably in Typophile). Sorry. ¶ We all know that the sentence “Type is a beautiful group of letters, not a group of beautiful letters” is credited to Matthew Carter, but I guess he is not the real author. Leslie Cabarga, in his Logo, Font & Lettering Bible (p. 200), quotes Carter like this:

“There are significant differences between designing lettering and designing type. With lettering—for a logo, an inscription in stone, or a piece of calligraphy—you know ahead of time the letters and their order. If a letter occurs more than once, you can vary its form according to how it combines with other letters.
“With type design, on the other hand, you don’t have the luxury of knowing the order. Typographic letters have a single form and must be randomly combinable. And it’s only in combination that letters become type. Sometimes a student who is working on a typeface will show me a single letter, a lowercase h for instance, and ask me if it’s a good h. I say that I cannot judge it in isolation; it is only good or bad as it relates to the other characters in the font. If the student sets the h next to o, p, v and so on, then we can begin to see how it performs in context, and whether it is good or bad, therefore.
“As the saying goes, type is a beautiful group of letters, not a group of beautiful letters. Of course, many typefaces have had their origins in lettering. A classic example is Herb Lubalin’s Avant Garde Gothic, which started life as a logo. The letters had to be adapted from the particular state of a logo to the general state of a typeface, an exercise in versatility.”
— Matthew Carter

So apparently Carter heard it from someone else, because he says “As the saying goes.” It would be great to ask him directly but, in the meantime, anyone has something more solid about the origin of this sentence?

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  • Stephen Coles
    Stephen Coles Posts: 1,000
    edited July 2022
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    The earliest appearance I’ve seen is in a 1975 statement from Merganthaler Linotype for a U.S. congressional hearing on the copyright of typefaces. Mike Parker was Merganthaler’s witness at the hearing, and it seems like something he could have written, though he is not specifically cited. Walter Tracy is also sometimes given credit for the quote, and that’s also possible as he with Linotype for many years before the hearing.
  • colourphilosophy
    colourphilosophy Posts: 1
    edited November 2022
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    Does anyone remember when and where did Matthew Carter said this and it became famously credited to him? I remember that he said this in a TED speech, but I checked the video and found not. 
  • Chris Lozos
    Chris Lozos Posts: 1,458
    edited November 2022
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    I think he said it at the NYC Typecon.
    [circa 2005]
  • Nick Shinn
    Nick Shinn Posts: 2,158
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    Chiasmus. My favourite rhetorical device.
  • Craig Eliason
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    Chiasmus. My favourite rhetorical device.
    There's a font name!
  • John Savard
    John Savard Posts: 1,096
    edited November 2022
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    The earliest appearance I’ve seen is in a 1975 statement from Merganthaler Linotype for a U.S. congressional hearing on the copyright of typefaces.

    As it turns out, a more exact version of the quote appears a few pages before the image of the word "harmony":
    "Thus, it is not a question of designing a group of beautiful letters, but rather designing a beautiful group of letters."
    This is on page 1093 of the hearings transcript, on which is reproduced page 38 of the statement submitted by Merganthaler Linotype.
    But I've found something else interesting. This isn't the first time this earlier source has been found. In the paper abcdefg (a better constraint driven environment for font generation) by Debra A. Adams, appearing in Raster Imaging and Digital Typography: Proceedings of the International Workshop, Lausanne 1989, Volume 1, this quote is referenced.
    This paper, or another one also with the same reference, appears in the preprints from the INRIA Workshop on Font Design Systems from 1987.
    Also, I've found the Mergentaler quote in an issue of Communication Arts magazine, where it is specifically credited to Steve Byers. (One of issues 4, 5, or 6 from 1982.)
  • Stephen Coles
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    The earliest appearance I’ve seen is in a 1975 statement from Merganthaler Linotype for a U.S. congressional hearing on the copyright of typefaces.

    As it turns out, a more exact version of the quote appears a few pages before the image of the word "harmony":
    Yep, maybe you missed the link above. I mention this in my article.
  • John Savard
    John Savard Posts: 1,096
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    I followed the link, but I apologize for not reading  carefully.