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  • Writer's pictureSteven Heller

The Mystery of ABC

ABC Design: A Modular Alphabet Book by Dana Atchley was published by Wittenborn and Co. in 1965. Sadly, what I don’t know about Atchley can fill a book, but from what I have discovered, Atchley was an artists’ book expert who also co-edited The Anatomy of a Book: The Making of a Renaissance Book (produced as a book in 1969 and 1991, and later as a video in 2004).

According to SFGate, Dana Winslow Atchley, who had pioneered a process called “digital storytelling,” died in 2000. He “was trained in the arts of printmaking and graphic design at Dartmouth College, where he became a senior fellow and wrote the book Charon’s Quince in 1962. He received a master’s degree in fine arts from Yale University in 1965.”

The thesis of the thin but inspired ABC Design, he writes in longhand, is “the alphabet can be made from three basic lines: straight, slanted and curved.” He adds that different lines can be used to make a stencil. “Letters and designs can be made with the stencil. Some letters have only one part; others, like ‘g,’ have as many as six parts.” With the ‘S’ as an example, he noted, “The alphabet can be divided into four groups of letters: curved, angular, straight and arched.”

He further demonstrates that “the three basic stencil shapes can also be used to make designs, symbols, signs and drawings.”

Where this fits into his life and career I do not know, but it is a surprisingly rare example of how type is more than just words on a page, but storytelling material.

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