Dope and Timeless: Benjamin Sherbow / by Zan Barnett


Today I was reading an awesome essay by Steven Heller called 'Earnest Elmo Calkins: Founder of Modern Advertising and a Designer You Probably Don’t Know'. The article was super interesting and a fascinating look into the early concepts that form modern advertising as we know it but the section that really get me hyped was learning about Benjamin Sherbow. 


Benjamin Sherbow, although not well known, was instrumental in establishing standards for type and layout in advertising (I guess you could just call it Graphic Design), and I can't believe I'm only just learning his name. Doing a little more research led me to another article by Steven Heller (who is brilliant and has seemingly boundless design knowledge) on Sherbow; he sums up Sherbow's contribution much better than I can:

"In 1922, Benjamin Sherbow, a “consultant in Typography” and the author of Making Type Work and Sherbow’s Type Charts, self-published Effective Type-use for Advertising. This was six years before W.A. Dwiggins’s Layout in Advertising and Jan Tschichold’s Die Neue Typographie, the two leading books on type use. Sherbow’s book is credited by “designers,” art directors, and type directors of the era for being a no-nonsense guide through the rights and wrongs of typographic text and display."


Basically Benjamin Sherbow identified the best practices in advertising typography before 'best practices' were even a thing in 1916. He literally spelled it out in black and white (was color printing invented then?) and is an unsung (well medium-sung) hero of print advertising. The thing I thought was especially awesome is how digestible Sherbow made things by using simple language and examples. 

Below is an awesome excerpt that illustrates what Sherbow's writings are all about:

The man who drives his cart through your street and yells “Strawberries! Strawberries!” does perfect advertising.
He gets the attention of potential buyers and tells them, understandably, good news of something to buy and he has the goods right there when and where desire is aroused: all this is merchandising at its best.
Advertising at its best is any means whereby large numbers of people can be told good news about something to buy. Advertising is simply a wholesale method of human communication.
Advertising typography is just ordinary common sense typography applied to advertising.
It is not something wildly and fiercely unique.
In fact, the general notion that advertising itself is a separate, special, peculiar, deeply mysterious thing is a vicious idea. That attitude toward advertising is what makes so many advertising efforts, both in conception and execution, pretty poor specimens
The best and wisest advertising men of my acquaintance strive with all their might for naturalness. They seek natural points of appeal, natural language in advertising, natural illustrations, natural comparisons and the atmosphere of every day life in all they do. . .
So type must be the clear, efficient conveyor of the advertising message. It must be simple and natural, no frills, no self consciousness, no “showing off” – just doing its duty.
In a nutshell, what is good advertising typography? It is typography that is supremely easy to read.


Benjamin Sherbow is the original legibility genius and for that I am grateful!

If you actually read down this far, the best news of this whole blog is that BOTH of these awesome type books are available for free download online. 

Highly recommend grabbing them for reference:

Making Type Work
Effective Type Use For Advertising

Check it out and learn!