Between 1978 and 1979 Andrew Hoyem undertook the ambitious production of an edition of Moby Dick for his Arion Press. All text in the book was hand-set in metal type (one character at a time) and letterpress printed on custom hand-made paper. To accompany the text throughout, 100 stunning wood engravings were cut by renowned printmaker and illustrator Barry Moser. Due to its high level of craftsmanship, the edition was limited to 265 copies, and is considered a masterpiece of modern bookmaking — named by the Grolier Club as one of the “100 Most Beautiful Books of the 20th Century”.
In 1981, the University of California Press worked with Hoyem to offer an offset-printed trade edition of the book. These reduced scale reprints are now widely available in hardcover and paperback formats which maintain much of the beauty found in the original — including its typography.
The typeface used for the main body type — Goudy Modern — has a rustic texture which matches both the story and illustrations perfectly. It also seems fitting that a typeface by such a quintessential American type designer like Frederic Goudy was used to set one of the most quintessential American novels.
To complement the body type, a set of large capitals were designed specifically for the book’s initial caps and titling. The stately face, aptly named Leviathan (not to be confused with H&FJ’s face of the same name), was designed by Charles Bigelow & Kris Holmes, of later Lucida fame. As the name implies, Leviathan was intended for very large sizes, where its sharp details and exaggerated flaring can really shine.
Considering the wide spectrum of writing styles that appear throughout Moby Dick, Hoyem’s typographic restraint is impressive. Using just one weight of one typeface, in only two sizes, he manages to compose most all of the story’s narration, technical documentation, asides, poetry, quotations, etc … not to mention administrative text like captions and folios. With a touch of Leviathan’s stylistic flair, the “just enough is more” typographic palette relies on smart typesetting to communicate the sometimes-complex hierarchy instead of a mess of weights and sizes.
The footnotes and inset illustrations could sometimes use a bit more breathing room, and I don’t understand the practice of leaving one or two lines of type above illustrations that might otherwise be pushed to the top of the column. But other than that, the book is laid out beautifully, with ample margins, a perfect measure (clocking in around 65–70 characters per line), and generally pleasing proportions overall.
Those looking to use Goudy Modern for digital typesetting have a couple options. Though Goudy Modern MT and LTC Goudy Modern may appear quite similar at a glance, the LTC version retains a bit more of the quirkiness that might be felt when printing from the original metal type. It also provides more functionality, like upper- and lowercase numerals, stylistic alternate glyphs, additional language support, etc. Unfortunately, as far as I know, Leviathan was never produced as a digital font.
The 18pt Goudy Modern body type used in the original printing was cast by MacKenzie & Harris (the typefounding sibling to Arion press) on a their Thompson type caster and set by hand. Arion had enough type to set about 36 pages at a time, which would be printed, then redistributed and used again to compose the remaining pages. Bigelow & Holmes’ design for Leviathan was produced by Berthold as a film font for phototypesetting, which was then used to produce magnesium plates for printing. (Many thanks to Dave Johnston and the crew at M&H and Arion Press for the additional information.)