Books On Books Collection – Anthon Beeke

Alphabet (1970)

Alphabet (1970)
Anthon Beeke, Geert Kooiman and Ed van der Elsken
Portfolio. Kwadraatblad series format, 250 x 250 mm, 30 folios. Acquired from Prentework, 26 May 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Images of the production process: Nederlands Fotomuseum / © Ed van der Elsken. Images in individual folios: © Geert Kooiman. Copyright in the work: © Anthon Beeke Archive Foundation.

Beeke devised “The Body Alphabet” around 1968/69. It came in response to the “sexual revolution” of the 1960s and in reaction to functional typography. The designer Pieter Brattinga had published Wim Crouwel’s New Alphabet (1967) in the Kwadraatblad series and followed that up with Gerard Unger’s A Counter-proposal (1967) and Timothy Epps and Christopher Evans’ Alphabet (1970). Brattinga must have felt that “bad boy” Beeke’s tongue-in-cheek response modelled on Baskerville fit the bill as a final coda.

The portfolio’s cover has three panels that fold and overlap around the folios. The exterior is shown above. The interior below displays a spread of 55 small photographs from the photo shoot, showing the models standing around waiting to be directed into position for the relevant letter. Once the models were in place, the shot wad taken from above. Some letters like M required as many as 12 models.

Photo of interior of portfolio: Books On Books Collection. Images of the production process: Nederlands Fotomuseum / © Ed van der Elsken.

Baskerville may have been Beeke’s template, but the letters G and Q stray far from it. The serifs in the G’s lower right stroke are misdirected. The Q is too oval, and its swash is missing the left-hand stroke characteristic of all the Baskervilles. In fact, a hunt through Rookledge’s Classic International Typefinder for similar Q’s suggests Century as a closer template. Nevertheless, the intention is winning and a challenge to subsequent pursuers of the naked alphabet. And there have been a few, such as Olivia Brookes and Anastasia Mastrakouli as well as “digital” alphabetists such as Amandine Alessandra, Tien-mien Liao, Lucas Neumann and José Ernesto Rodríguez.

Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Images in individual folios: © Geert Kooiman. Copyright in the work: © Anthon Beeke Archive Foundation.

Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Images in individual folios: © Geert Kooiman. Copyright in the work: © Anthon Beeke Archive Foundation.

“The Body Alphabet” shoot has the air of a live-model art class, and the result is not prurient or exploitative, even with the child to form the smallest points of punctuation (Tinelou van der Elsken, the daughter of Ed van der Elsken, is the model for the ‘comma type’ in the alphabet). Sexist? Non-diverse? For near-perfect balance, the Books On Books Collection should have an artist’s book or portfolio available from self-partnering Tomaso Binga (something like the self-portraiture in Living Writing), but Beeke, René Knip and Spinhex & Industrie Drukkerij have more than addressed the issues with the following remarkable work.

Body Type (2011)

BODY TYPE (2011)
In “Body Type” and “Naked Numbers” © Anthon Beeke Archive Foundation. In the publication © Spinhex & Industrie Drukkerij/René Knip
Boxed book and two portfolios. Box: 318 x 318 mm. Booklet: 300 x 300 mm, 40 pages. Portfolio of “BODY TYPE”: 304 x 304 mm, 39 folios. Portfolio of “body type set”: 300 x 300 mm, 87 perforated sheets. Edition of 100, of which this is #69. Acquired from Boekhandel De Slegte, 22 June 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permissions.

Designer René Knip and Spinhex & Industrie Drukkerij have preserved two important artifacts in typographic and design history and brought them to renewed artistic life. In a way, the collector gets to participate. Body Type arrives as a sealed time capsule requiring a razor to open it and let out the past. Inside are three glossy works lying atop a ribbon pull. The first work is a softcover book, its spine sewn with red thread to match the title on the front cover. Announcing the renaming of Beeke’s Alphabet (1970) as Body Type, it is cheekily set in Crouwel’s New Alphabet (1967) to which Beeke’s original “naked ladies alphabet” had responded. These are the two artifacts preserved, in Crouwel’s case, by use of his alphabet for the titles and section headings and, in Beeke’s case, by extension of his typeface and recreation of the photoshoot that originally realized it. Given their deaths at the end of the last decade (Beeke in 2018, Crouwel in 2019), Body Type provides a valuable juxtaposition of their reflections (Crouwel’s preface and Beeke’s essay).

In addition to his narration of the old and new shoots, Beeke shares an insight about an influence beyond the foil that was the New Alphabet. As Beeke puts it, “If Wim Crouwel pointed to the future, then I was going to perfect the past,….” What he found in the past was a Folies-Bergère-inspired alphabet by Erté (Romain Petrovitch Tirov).

The second work in the box is a portfolio containing a full-color recreation of the original 1969 alphabet and punctuation marks with the addition of Naked Numbers. On the inner side of the portfolio’s wraparound, Ed van der Elsken’s black-and-white production shots sit side by side with the new color production shots. The full color folios themselves present on one side the character constructed with human bodies and on the other side the corresponding character from Crouwel’s New Alphabet.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. 31 March 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Previously on …“. 5 February 2014. Books On Books Collection.

Steven Heller and Gail Anderson“. 8 May 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Brooke, Olivia, and Julian Deghy. N.d. Naked Alphabet. Website. Accessed 7 June 2021.

Devroye, Luc. N.d. “Anastasia Mastrakouli“. Type Design Information. Accessed 7 June 2021.

______________. N.d. “José Ernesto Rodríguez“. Type Design Information. Accessed 7 June 2021.

Erté. 1978. Erté graphics: five complete suites reproduced in full color – the seasons, the alphabet, the numerals, the aces, the precious stones. New York: Dover.

Gierstberg, Frits, Rik Suermondt, Tamara Berghmans, and Joost Grootens. 2012. Het Nederlandse Fotoboek: een thematische selectie, na 1945. Rotterdam: NAi Uitgevers.

Goetz, Sair. “Letterforms / Humanforms“. 11 June 2020. Letterform Archive. Accessed 7 June 2021.

Middendorp, Jan. 2004. Dutch Type. Rotterdam: 010 Publishers.

Miller, Meg. 2 October 2018. “Celebrating the Life of Anthon Beeke With a Look Back at His Naked Ladies Typeface“. AIGA Eye on Design. Accessed 12 June 2021.

Vasilevskaia, Dinara. 9 December 2013. “Body Type”. Designblog, Gerrit Rietveld Academy. Accessed 15 June 2021.

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