A man you need to know: Robert Coupland Harding, Part III

3 years ago by

Written by Kelly Gilchrist
(Read Part I here. Part II is also available to read here.)

Harding’s type specimen and library collection began while he was still an apprentice and only ended the day he passed. An auction catalogue of Harding’s extensive library after his death outlines small details of his collection only surpassed by the collections of Sir George Grey and his friend, Alexander Turnbull. He discussed these type specimens under the articles titled: Type Standards, Type Specimens and Recent Specimens.

Under the heading Type Standards, Harding discussed the forms, weights and cost of type. A prominent problem, Harding faced in his printing office was the accidental mixture of pieces of lead type that belonged to different typefaces. This is perhaps a foreign concept to the current design generation, but each letter and space had to be individually placed by hand –back to front – not only that but they need to be tightly flush to one another, otherwise the type would be incorrectly placed within the chase. To further complicating things there was no universal measurement, some type foundries during the period, used their own specific measurement for their typefaces and it was – ‘these small differences which give the printer trouble’. Although, throughout Typo, Harding created tables in order to explain the differences in size, weight and terminology.


Under the articles Recent Specimens, Harding would discuss the latest type specimens he had received from around the world. Yet again, he would leave nothing to the imagination – often stating exactly what he thought about the typefaces. Harding would include, where he could, the name, a review and examples of specific typefaces. If he liked the typeface he would use terms including; bold, clear, legible, harmonious, pretty, light, aesthetic or artistic:

No. 41 of Caslon’s Circular – a back number specially sent to make up a deficiency in our file, contains the finest pica roman (No. 26) we have yet seen anywhere. Bold, clear, legible and harmonious, it is more gratifying to the eye than any fancy letter ever devised.

But if he did not like the typeface, it was easy to tell:

Lastly, we have <<Grolier,>> a detestable script with extravagant initials. Five pages are taken up with a with a combination border (No. 96) in three divisions. The ornaments are of the kind which the average customer marks out of his proof, and will not tolerate on any consideration.

Harding has a repetitive disgust towards the typewriter typeface, he discusses a type from the Caslon Circular – you may recognise Caslon as the name of a popular typeface – he does not hesitate to write:

There is also (we regret to add), a specimen of the intolerable <<Type-writer.>> We had hoped that this Yankee atrocity would be confined to the land of its birth.

Harding then replaced Recent Specimens with Type Specimens, where he, similar to Recent Specimens, included discussion on the specimens sent from around the world. Although this time, he had improved the layout which placed each type foundry in capital letters. From the specimen he would choose specific typefaces to discuss. Harding eventually made this section the first article of most of the later issues of Typo.

These were not the only articles that made up Typo, Harding would include short and sharp paragraphs which I nicknamed, miscellaneous. They included information about anything Harding found including printers, tradesmen, publishers, technology, fires, court cases – more than likely anything that caught Harding’s attention. It is unknown whether he included most of these paragraphs to fill a page or if he truly thought they needed their 30 (or considerably less) seconds of fame;

A fire that broke out:

No journalist in New Zealand is more generally known and respected than Mr Gilbert Carson, of the Wanganui Chronicle, and in the heavy loss which the late fire has brought upon him, he has the sincere sympathy of his fellow press-men.

Harding’s opinion on bi-weekly and tri-weekly:

How is it that so many of our contemporaries announce that they are << published every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday mornings>>? Every morning! And when will they abandon the ignorant misuse of the terms <<bi-weekly>> and <<tri-weekly>>? There is not a bi-weekly or tri-weekly periodical in the colony.

Working in the old days:

They took things easy in the good old days. Here is a paragraph from the Wellington Independent, 10th May, 1845: <<The committee of the Independent beg to announce that they are willing to take produce of any description for their journal,>> The following is from the Otago Witness, 21st December, 1854: <<We shall be unable to furnish our readers with a paper next week, as we have in hand some other printing that must be attended to.>>

What a way to get rid of your clients? Just a thought.


This is the end of the third part of Harding’s story. I intend to conclude the story of Harding and Typo in the following final article. If you want to know more feel free to get in touch through my website www.kellygilchristdesign.com. You can find the digitalised pages of Typo on Victoria University NZETC by clicking here. And original copies of Typo in the National Library of New Zealand, Wellington. If you would like to read the auction catalogue it can be found in the Special Collections Room in the Victoria University Library, details at library.victoria.ac.nz

Kelly Gilchrist is a graphic designer (recently turned writer) with a fondness for the ‘old’. This drives her personal interest in history, typography, and books. Better with the handmade, Kelly’s expensive pastimes include book binding, letterpress printing, analogue photography and paper engineering. She is currently studying an Honours degree at AUT University and is also part of the Photography Collections team at the Auckland War Memorial Museum, in order to digitalise the entire museum collection.


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