OBITUARY: Walter Tracy
Tuesday 02 May 1995
In 1947, at the age of 33, he joined the Linotype Company of Great Britain as manager of typeface development: while there his technical knowledge and experience made him time and again a better designer than the professional "artists". One of his most notable achievements was Jubilee, a face required to replace the famous Times Roman, whose matrices (the moulds from which type is cast) were found continually to need renewal, their side-walls being unusually thin and vulnerable. Jubilee was introduced in 1953, and used by a fair number of newspapers - but not by the Times.
Tracy worked for the Times later. In 1965 he was asked by Francis Mathew, the manager of the Times, to leave Linotype and join the newspaper's staff as its designer, full-time. Tracy, after also being interviewed by Stanley Morison, the father-figure of Times typography, accepted the invitation, but at the last moment Mathew died suddenly of a heart attack; his successor, George Pope, thought that the new appointment was not a good idea and that it would be better for Tracy to work for the Times while still at Linotype; which Tracy did. A redesigned Times appeared in 1966, but it did not last long, as the newspaper soon changed hands and, in Tracy's own modest words, "new people changed the style and content of the pages - for the better, I think".
Tracy also designed a new face, Telegraph Modern, in 1969, for the Daily Telegraph, who wanted a face for their exclusive use; and he then designed Times Europa, which was introduced into the Times on 9 October 1972 to replace Morison's Times Roman, a week after the 40th anniversary of that typeface's first appearance. Tracy's position as leading typeface designer for newspapers was now plain for all to see. The Sunday Times began using the new face a year or so later.
Tracy also designed two important faces for classified (i.e. very small) advertisements, Adsans and Maximus. In addition he was involved in making Arabic faces for Linotype composition, which he could do by learning the alphabet and the numerous ligatures that are a feature of Arabic typesetting - without having to learn the language.
Walter Tracy was born on St Valentine's Day 1914, the son of a Royal Navy seaman and a mother who was a part-time charlady. In his own words, ''We were of the London working class, poor but respectable - an important word in those days.''
At the age of 12 he entered the printing deparment of the Central School of Arts & Crafts, who arranged an apprenticeship for him in the great printing firm of William Clowes, to date from his 14th birthday. In the school, he was made to spend hours drawing the letter-forms of Caslon (one of the most popular book faces), not by tracing but by copying them detail by detail. To a 14-year-old schoolboy nothing could have been more boring, and he developed a deep hatred of the face which lasted for years.
He left Clowes as a fully fledged compositor in 1935 and then had varied experience in printing and advertising until, in 1946, he was offered a part-time job by James Shand, "the man who had most influence in my life". Shand was by profession a printer; he was also a writer, an able designer who could not draw a line, and a man of cultivation and taste. Tracy wrote of him: "His influence on me was strong. My mind expanded (and not before time: after all, I was in my thirties), and I began to take a serious interest in the history and aesthetics of printing, to acquire books on the subject, and to form opinions - and even to learn when to change them."
Shand had before 1939 started a typographical periodical for the Linotype Company of Great Britain, called Linotype Matrix. He now asked Tracy to edit and design it, which he did with great credit for some 10 years. In 1947 Tracy joined the Linotype Company full-time.
Walter Tracy, slight in build, with an alert and humorous face, had an incisive mind and was deeply kind and honest, always ready to help those who asked for his advice. He dispensed that, too, in two excellent and modest books written in his retirement, Letters of Credit: a view of type design (1986) and The Typographic Scene (1988).
"For my own part," he wrote in an introduction to the former, "I take the view that typography, like most other sorts of designing, is essentially a means to an end; and the end is not the self-satisfaction of the designer but the contribution he or she makes to the effectiveness of whatever is presented to the public."
Walter Valentine Tracy, typographer: born 14 February 1914; RDI 1973; married 1942 Frances Campbell; died 28 April 1995.
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