Happy 50th, Helvetica

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Andrew Hoyem is the publisher of Arion Press in San Francisco, specializing in limited-edition books.

We love to celebrate anniversaries. Two years ago, it was the centenary of the theory of relativity, and Albert Einstein was the honoree. Last year it was Samuel Beckett's 100th birthday, and performances of "Waiting for Godot" abounded. In 2007, it's the 50th anniversary of Jack Kerouac's novel "On the Road" — and the 50th anniversary of a typeface called Helvetica.

Amazing! A type of type, an alphabet of a certain style used for printing, is being celebrated for turning half a century old, with an exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, a documentary film by Gary Hustwit and lots of attention in the media.

Going back to Gutenberg, if typefaces survived, they were mere adolescents at the age of 50. Classic faces still in use today, such as Caslon (English), and Bodoni (Italian), date to the 18th century, and Garamond (French) to the 16th century. Why should upstart Helvetica rate so many cakes and candles?

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