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Bell Laboratories Directory July 1973

Contributed by Jason Timmons on Jan 10th, 2022. Artwork published in
circa July 1973
Bell Laboratories Directory July 1973
Photo: Jason Timmons. License: All Rights Reserved.

The July 1973 edition of the Bell Laboratories employee directory. A strange (not pretty!) typeface I’ve never seen before.


  • Billy Beck System 1
  • Helvetica




Artwork location

15 Comments on “Bell Laboratories Directory July 1973”

  1. Thank you, Jason! That’s a design worthy of our 1970s tag.

    As one of the editors of Fonts In Use, I want to add that we generally aim to identify the primary typeface(s) used in a design before publication. In this case, we came up empty, but still wanted to share this find with our readers. Maybe one of you knows more!

    Chances are that the display typeface is a proprietary style exclusive to Bell. I can’t rule out that it’s lettering, i.e. featuring letterforms drawn specifically for this application, and not prefabricated ones in the form of a typeface.

    The image below shows two typefaces that come close to some extent. True Critt El Boldo (top) is part of a family designed by Critt Graham and released by Headliners in 1970. LL Rephlex (bottom) was drawn by Luca Pellegrini for Lineto in 2021, as a revisitation and expansion of Nico Schweizer’s LL Ultra Teens from 1998. Both True Critt and Ultra Teens/Rephlex arrive at similar results as the letterforms on the Bell directory, because they follow a similar concept with monolinear and largely continuous lines on a coarse grid.

    Schweizer mentions the “work of Mimmo Castellano and the formal experiments of Maxim Zhukov” as references. See Grain Edit’s blog post for some samples from Mimmo Castellano’s body of work, and especially his lettering for Nazareno Gabrielli. Meander (Меандр) is an alphabet design submitted by Maxim Zhukov to the 1972 Letraset competition. This idea certainly was hot in the early 1970s.

    True Critt El Boldo (top), LL Rephlex (bottom)

  2. Update: it’s neither lettering nor a custom typeface. The mystery face is called Billy Beck System 1. It was drawn by William Beck and issued by VGC, together with three more or less related styles. Billy Beck isn’t included in my VGC catalog from 1973. This suggests that the Bell Laboratories Directory represents an early use.

    If anyone has a later edition of a VGC catalog with full glyph sets, we’d be happy to have a scan of all four styles of the Billy Beck System.

  3. I’d love to see samples of the various Billy Beck System fonts if you have Florian? Maybe there should be a way to add glyph sets and samples right to a font page on this site? It would be very helpful!

  4. Hi Hans Jørgen, what I can offer right now is a small sample from my VGC One-Liner from 1982. Just a few glyphs, but at least you get a rough idea.

    We have discussed ideas like this in the team. I agree that this would be nice and helpful. On the other hand, it’s easy to lose the focus on fonts in use, and let the site proliferate into some jack-of-all-trades place. And we’re a small team with limited capacities … What we’re already doing (although not comprehensively) is adding links to specimens, glyph sets, and other info available at other places. Often that’s our own scans on Flickr, or pages by our valued friends like Letterform Archive, Daylight Fonts, and others.

  5. I totally understand. Thanks for providing a sample and thanks so much for all the work on the site (and even posting my work). I’m a big fan!

  6. Here’s a glyph set of Billy Beck System #1 (here labeled Billy Beck Nr. 1), with alternates, from a German-language phototype catalog – thanks, C!

  7. Hans Jørgen Wærner says:
    Mar 31st, 2022 9:28 pm

    Thank you! Do you know which catalog it’s from?

  8. Unfortunately I don’t.

  9. Excuse me, above is that I captured these full alphabets with numbers and punctuation from a 1976 VGC Alphabet Library catalogue for the samples of Billy Beck System 3 and 4. Just to get this for a sample refresh idea ;-)

  10. Thanks a bunch, Jay! I’ll use that to complete the samples.

  11. Hans Jørgen Wærner says:
    Jul 14th, 2022 1:43 pm

    Thanks Jay! 🤩

  12. I found out that Canada Type had the digital interpretation of one of the Billy Beck System series: Fore, made in 2004.

  13. Good find, Jay! I’ve linked up the typeface pages.

    It’s a pity that Canada Type doesn’t acknowledge the source, and rather describes their revival as “a fresh spin on fat display letters, with a tinge of Japanese techno design”. It’s pretty much a straight digitization of William Beck’s design. The alternates were included as uppercase glyphs, and new glyph variants added for most other alphabetic characters.

    Upper- and lowercase glyphs from Fore
  14. I’ve also found out that Nickerson’s BN Reeder (released May 1st, 2023) was inspired by a vintage type specimen that included Billy Beck System 4.

  15. Thanks, Jay. BN Reeder now got an entry.

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