The Eternal Letter

From Codex Studies in Letterforms

The Eternal Letter

Two Millennia of the Classical Roman Capital

Edited by Paul Shaw

With Scott-Martin Kosofsky

A generously illustrated examination of the enduring influence of and many variations on the classical Roman capital letter.

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A generously illustrated examination of the enduring influence of and many variations on the classical Roman capital letter.

The fiftieth anniversary of Helvetica, the most famous of all sans serif typefaces, was celebrated with an excitement unusual in the staid world of typography and culminated in the release of the first movie ever made starring a typeface. Yet Helvetica's fifty-year milestone pales in comparison with the two thousandth anniversary in 2014 of Trajan's Column and its famous inscription—the preeminent illustration of the classical Roman capital letter. For, despite the modern ascendance of the sans serif, serif typefaces, most notably Times Roman, still dominate printed matter and retain a strong presence in screen-based communication. The Eternal Letter is a lavishly illustrated examination of the enduring influence of, and many variations on, the classical Roman capital letter.

The Eternal Letter offers a series of essays by some of the most highly regarded practitioners in the fields of typography, lettering, and stone carving. They discuss the subtleties of the classical Roman capital letter itself, different iterations of it over the years, and the work of famous typographers and craftsmen. The essays cover such topics as efforts to calculate a geometric formulation of the Trajan letters; the recalculation of their proportions by early typefounders; the development and astonishing popularity of Adobe Trajan; type and letter designs by Father Edward M. Catich, Frederic W. Goudy, Eric Gill, Jan van Krimpen, Hermann Zapf, Matthew Carter, and others; the influence of Trajan in Russia; and three generations of lettercarvers at the John Stevens Shop in Newport, Rhode Island. Essays about modern typefaces—including Matinia, Senatus, and Penumbra—are contributed by the designers of these typefaces.

Contributors John and Nicholas Benson, Frank E. Blokland, Matthew Carter, Ewan Clayton, Lance Hidy, Jost Hochuli, Jonathan Hoefler, Richard Kindersley, Scott-Martin Kosofsky, Gerry Leonidas, Martin Majoor, Steve Matteson, Gregory MacNaughton, James Mosley, Tom Perkins, Yves Peters, Ryan L. Roth, Werner Schneider, Paul Shaw, Julian Waters, Maxim Zhukov


$56.95 T ISBN: 9780262029018 270 pp. | 9 in x 11.5 in 432 color illus.


Paul Shaw

Paul Shaw, an award-winning graphic designer, typographer, and calligrapher in New York City, teaches at Parsons School of Design and the School of Visual Arts. The designer or codesigner of eighteen typefaces, he is the coauthor of Blackletter: Type and National Identity and the author of Helvetica and the New York City Subway System (MIT Press). He writes about letter design in the blog Blue Pencil.


Scott-Martin Kosofsky.


  • This beautifully designed book traces the Roman capital and its progeny, shown in more than 400 full-color illustrations including Latin inscriptions, calligraphic interpretations, and modern incarnations on advertisements and movie posters. Full of essays by practitioners of typography and lettering, The Eternal Letter is richly detailed and visually captivating, offering a comprehensive examination—from stone carving to computer pixilation—of the classical Roman capital and its eternal power.

    Boston Globe


  • This remarkable volume is the most comprehensive, most thoughtful, and most entertaining examination of a single set of letters I've ever read. The very notion that 1,900-year-old letters will be used to advertise a blockbuster at your local multiplex next weekend is astonishing, and is testimony to the enduring power of the classical Roman capital.

    Michael Bierut

    partner, Pentagram; author, Seventy-Nine Short Essays on Design

  • The Roman capitals are the true test that type designers will ignore at their peril. This volume sets the standard for all books that will ever be written on the topic. What an amazing resource! So much research, knowledge, and love have gone into it. It will be on the top of my desk from now on. If I had to read The Eternal Letter forty years ago, I might have been too scared to begin trying to design type.

    Erik Spiekermann

    type designer; author, Stop Stealing Sheep

  • The Eternal Letter addresses at length the subject of the Trajan letter, its imitators, and its sometimes wayward progeny. It is written by a team of acknowledged experts and superbly illustrated. Every spread is a delight and a revelation.

    Sebastian Carter

    author, Twentieth Century Type Designers

  • This long-awaited publication is all that I hoped it would be: extremely well-researched and illustrated, beautifully designed, and like the classical Roman letter itself, able to stand the test of time.

    Peter Bil'ak

    founder, Typotheque


  • Winner of the Most Outstanding Design category from the 2016 Outstanding Books of the Year awards, sponsored by Independent Publisher.