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Military Report on the Sinai Peninsula
Towards 'An English Fourth'
Seven Pillars of Wisdom, The Complete 1922 Text
Paperback edition
'The Mint' and Later Writings About Service Life
Boats for the R.A.F. 1929-1935
reports and correspondence


The Forest Giant


Correspondence with Bernard and Charlotte Shaw
Correspondence with E. M. Forster and F.L. Lucas
More Correspondence with Writers
Correspondence with Edward and David Garnett
Correspondence with Henry Williamson
Translating the Bruce Rogers 'Odyssey'
Correspondence with the Political Elite 1922-1935


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Design Notes 1: formats, type, paper

Jeremy Wilson

Few of our texts have been published before, so for most of our books we are responsible for both content and design.

For any book designer, content should be the starting-point. It is the fixed element against which all design ideas should be tested. Like a picture-frame, the physical book must at least complement the content, and if possible enhance it. It must never distract from it.

In our case content really does come first. By the time we begin designing a book we have usually worked on the content for at least a year.

An early decision was that we would try to give our books a 'look and feel' appropriate to the period in which Lawrence wrote. It isn't that we dislike avant garde typefaces or book-design. We just don't feel they are right for this project.

For the same reason we decided not to decorate Lawrence's texts with modern illustrations. In any case there are often illustrations we need to use, such as photographs referred to in letters, or contemporary portraits. It would be confusing to mix those with 21st-century illustrations. 

We published the first Castle Hill Press book in 1990, and the first volume in our edition of Lawrence's works and correspondence in 1997. These notes look back over the choices we have made about page formats, typefaces and paper.

In practice, such choices were usually influenced by something that had gone before, so I'll discuss them in sequence. 

1. The 'Library Edition' format, 1990

Our first publication was Authorised Biographer (1990), a companion volume to the 'specials' of Lawrence of Arabia, The Authorised Biography. It was printed on a cream Zerkall paper, I don't recall which. The page-format had to match the biography, which has a trimmed page size (TPS) widely used for non-fiction books: 156 x 234 mm.

Lawrence of Arabia, The Authorised Biography
(Heinemann, 1989; typeset by the author)

This is a useful format. For a book of medium length it is about the largest size that most people could comfortably read hand-held. We used it again for the 'Library Edition' of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, The Complete 1922 Text (2003), and later for a companion edition of 'The Mint' and Later Writings about Service Life (2010). For different reasons we also used it for our parallel text of Le Gigantesque | The Forest Giant (2004).

With this 'Library Edition' TPS we have used three different combinations of page-design and typeface.

  • Authorised Biographer (1990) was set in 11/13.2pt Times New Roman (i.e. an 11pt typeface with 13.2pt [120%*] interline spacing). There are 39 lines + running heads on a full page.

    This was not our design; it was Heinemann's specification for Lawrence of Arabia, The Authorised Biography, which was the first book I typeset using a computer (I had learned letterpress printing at school).

    Although the Authorised Biography was printed on white paper, we used pale cream for Authorised Biographer.**

    *20% leading is a traditional allowance in book printing, though there is a fashion in modern books to set text in smaller sizes with bigger gaps between the lines.

    **Blinding-white paper is now popular with commercial publishers. It has the advantage that there is rarely a detectable colour variation between different makings of paper. I greatly prefer off-white papers, like the book-wove printing papers used between the wars.

Authorised Biographer
Castle Hill Press, 1990

  • The Library Editions of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, The Complete 1922 Text (2003), and 'The Mint' and Later Writings about Service Life (2010) were set in 11/13.5pt Caslon [125% interline]. There are 38 lines + running heads to the page.

    Seven Pillars
    was printed on a slightly cream paper, but we later used off-white for 'The Mint' and Later Writings about Service Life. Cream didn't seem right for Lawrence's journey from barrack square to boats.

    If you compare the Authorised Biography and Seven Pillars side-by-side, you will see that the Seven Pillars setting appears less dense. This is mainly because Times New Roman, used for the biography, is a more condensed typeface, designed in 1931-2 for narrow newspaper columns. Caslon, so named after its original designer, William Caslon (1692–1766), is one of the great classical book-printing typefaces. It was also Lawrence's favourite. He used it for the subscribers' Seven Pillars and even mentions it in the book - so we could hardly set our edition in anything else.

    The increased interline spacing in Seven Pillars is barely perceptible, but to us it somehow looked better.

    Last but not least, the off-white paper used for Seven Pillars is more interesting and, I think, easier on the eye than white. You can form your own opinion about that by comparing the 2003 Castle Hill Press edition of Seven Pillars with the trade edition published the following year under our J. and N. Wilson imprint. The setting is identical, but the trade edition is printed on white paper.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom
Library Edition, Castle Hill Press, 2003


  • Le Gigantesque | The Forest Giant was a very different kind of book - an allegorical novel built around the life of a giant sequoia tree. It was not very long, even when we set the French text and Lawrence's translation in parallel on facing pages. In general we think of our Library Editions as handsome yet economical printings of long texts. For The Forest Giant we needed a more consciously 'fine press' approach, as in our larger formats. (The Forest Giant and Authorised Biographer are the only books we have not published initially in a taller format.) We didn't wish to introduce a fourth set of overall dimensions, so we retained the Library Edition TPS. But instead of the type-panel used in the Library Editions, we adopted the classical proportions and positioning set out in the so-called Van de Graaf canon.

van der graaf canon

Le Gigantesque | The Forest Giant is set in 12pt/15.6pt Caslon (i.e. 130% interline). There are 30 lines to the page, with no running head. Page-numbers are centred beneath the text.

forest giant

Above: Van de Graaf in practice: the drawing we used to position the  Forest Giant type panel.

Le Gigantesque | The Forest Giant
parallel text, Castle Hill Press, 2004


2. The 'Large Format', 1997

Like the 'Library Edition' format, our 'Large Format' (TPS 200 x 282mm) was inherited from another book. This was Lawrence's Letters to E.T. Leeds (1988), which I edited for the Whittington Press. It  was the success of the Leeds volume that encouraged us to produce our own fine-press editions of Lawrence's writings.

For Whittington, the format had been determined by the largest sheet of paper that could be printed on their Heidelberg press. As a tribute to Whittington's trailblazing role in our project, we decided in 1997 to use the same format. The first book in our series was originally to have been one of the Letters series volumes, but in the event it was Seven Pillars of Wisdom, The Complete 1922 Text.

The traditional page layout we used in Seven Pillars was very different from Whittington's edition of the Leeds letters. I designed the type-panel and margins by eye, not using the Van de Graaf canon. The layout owed something to Lawrence's 1926 Seven Pillars - though the page-shape was different - and also to an opening of the Doves Press Bible that hangs on our staircase. Lawrence had a copy among his fine-press books, so it may have influenced him too (see illustrations below).

The Ten Commandments
from the Doves Press Bible, 1903-5

Seven Pillars of Wisdom
Privately printed, 1926


We later used this format and layout for other books, including 'The Mint' and later Writings about Service Life (2009) and Towards 'An English Fourth' (2009). All three use the same typeface: 12/14.4pt Caslon [120% interline)], with 38 lines on a full page.

Towards 'An English Fourth'
Castle Hill Press, 2009
In this case we put cross-references as well as
running heads in the outer margins.

For quite different reasons we used this format for another book: Military Report on the Sinai Peninsula (2008). In the original wartime edition the four-column route-reports (though not the heading paragraphs) are printed sideways, the page-height providing sufficient width for the reports.

Military Report printed sideways

Military Report on the Sinai Peninsula
(classified wartime edition)
GSGS, War Office, 1915

The wider pages of our Large Format made it possible to print the reports vertically. Text in the preliminaries, set across the full width of the type panel, is 12/14.4pt Caslon. The route reports are set in 11.5/13.8pt Caslon (in both cases the interline is 120%).   

Military Report on the Sinai Peninsula
Castle Hill Press, 2008

For a similar reason we used the Large Format for Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Parallel 1922 and 1926 Texts (1997). Each page shows the two Seven Pillars texts set side-by-side in double column. For these narrow columns we needed a more condensed typeface than Caslon. After some experiment we went back to Times New Roman, origially a newspaper fount. We used the same setting, 11/13.2pt [120% interline], as in the Authorised Biography.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom: Parallel 1922 and 1926 Texts
Castle Hill Press, 1997

In passing I'll mention a decision we made for the Large Format printing of 'The Mint' and Later Writings About Service Life (2009).

Parts I and II of The Mint have a quite different origin to the rest of the book's content. Lawrence drew the words in these grim sections from notes he had made each evening during his time at the Uxbridge recruits' training depot. The rest of the book is very different in mood, though also based on notes or letters.

I wanted to separate the bleak account of Uxbridge visually from the other text, and did so by printing it on grey paper instead of white. Most readers seem to have understood the thinking behind the distinction. A few told me they found it eccentric.

Mint 2009

The Mint, with Parts I and II printed on grey paper
Castle Hill Press, 2009

3. The 'Letters Format'

At first, we divided the T.E. Lawrence Letters volumes into two categories: Lawrence's correspondence with writers, and his more general correspondence.

Our idea was to publish the correspondence with writers in the Large Format, and the general correspondence more modestly in the Library Edition format. In the event, we found good reasons to do neither.

The correspondence with writers

While our Large Format type-panel worked well for solid text, we didn't find it ideal for correspondence. However much you condense headings, addresses and signatures, they leave horizontal blank breaks across the type panel. Using the relatively wide type-panel of Seven Pillars, these gaps between each letter looked a mess. Doubtless that's why, in Letters to E.T. Leeds, John Randle had narrowed the type-panel with wide gutter-margins as well as side-margins; but we wanted a more traditional appearence.

We decided to retain the page-height of our Large Format, so that our books would continue to line up with Letters to E. T. Leeds on the shelf. But we reduced the page-width. That wouldn't remove the white breaks between the letters completely, but they would be narrower and less obtrusive.

Having opted for a rectangle, it seemed obvious to use a page shape close to a golden rectangle (though that can't be applied precisely to a book-page because many pages curve inwards at the gutter, distorting the proportions). There was also a constraint on page width if we were to print sections in 'straight eights' on B2 paper. We ended up with a TPS of 172 x 282mm.

The type panel for the correspondence with writers is based, like that of The Forest Giant, on the Van de Graaf canon.

Correspondence with E. M. Forster and F. L. Lucas
Castle Hill Press, 2010

In the initial volumes we set the correspondence with writers in 13/16.8pt Garamond [129% interline]. There are 32 lines to a full page plus a centred page number in the bottom margin. We hoped in this way to create a relaxed, informal effect, avoiding the more dense setting of many published books. Like Caslon, Garamond is one of the great classic typefaces. It is based on the work of the French publisher and type designer Claude Garamond (c.1480-1561). The form of the letters has a different kind of elegance to Caslon. (It is, by the way, a coincidence that Nicole and I - as French and British nationals - have used typefaces based on French and British designs.)

Another decision was to print endnotes and occasional footnotes in the same size type as the main text. We did this for two reasons. First, as a reader I dislike having to reach for a magnifying glass to read footnotes that are set in small type. If something is worth printing in a book, why make it difficult to read? Secondly, in a page already broken by spaces between letters, using different fount sizes for notes (as Whittington did in the Leeds volume) adds to the visual chaos. Historically, the reason publishers used smaller type for footnotes was to distinguish them clearly from the main text printed above. That argument can't apply to notes printed at the end of letters, where there is no risk of confusion. Where we have to use a footnote, because Lawrence did so (typically, for an afterthought about something he had written), smaller type would be extremely hard to justify because Lawrence's footnotes are part of the main text. In these cases we separate the footnote from the text above with a thin rule and a line-space.

In some volumes we changed the inter-line spacing. In terms of text-length, More Correspondence with Writers is in effect a double volume. To help make this affordable we reduced the interline to 15.6pt (120%), with 35 lines + page number on a full page.  

All the Letters series volumes are printed on off-white paper.


The general correspondence

As mentioned above, our first idea for the general letters volumes was to produce them in the same style as the Seven Pillars Library Edition: a straightforward combination of utilitarian page design and legible type. For most readers, their chief appeal would be the information they contained. Much of their content would have little connection with the arts. Also, some of them would be longer than the volumes of correspondence with writers. We would set them in Caslon, a more economical face than Garamond.

Several arguments persuaded us not to use the Library Edition format. The first was that if we did, the general volumes would have a different spine-height to the literary volumes. That would seem odd, given that all the volumes are part of Lawrence's correspondence. It made more sense to retain the spine-height and TPS of the letters to writers. 

Secondly, while there may be less "literary" content in some of these general volumes, it is not absent altogether. For example, Lawrence's publishers were not writers - but can you say that his letters to them were not "literary"? It was an invalid distinction.  

Thirdly, the taller format makes possible larger illustrations - which on occasion can be a big advantage as these volumes show. Imagine how much impact the illiustrations and plans in Boats for the R.A.F. would lose in a smaller format.

Boats for the RAF

Gate-fold illustration from
Boats for the R.A.F. (2012)

Another reason for keeping the same format for both literary and general volumes is that we can use the same paper. The paper is made specially, and the minimum quantity we can order is more than we need for a single volume. By using it for more volumes we avoid waste.

Last but not least, the larger format gives us room, for a longer general volume, to use a larger type-panel than we could fit on a Library Edition page. If we can get more words on a page, without reducing the type-size or producing an result that is ugly or unreadable, we can have fewer pages.

We did this in Boats for the R.A.F. 1929-1935 (2012), the first of the general volumes to be issued. This is a very long text, so we set it in 11.5/14.4pt Caslon [125% interline] and enlarged the type-frame. There are 43 lines (+ page number) on a full page. Subscribers seemed pleased with the result, and we may use a similar page-design for other general volumes containing long texts.


Boats for the R.A.F. 1929-1935
Castle Hill Press, 2012


The second volume of general correspondence was Translating the Bruce Rogers 'Odyssey' (2014). As this was a fine-press topic we hardly wanted a 'utilitarian' appearance. It is typeset in the same style as Vol. VI, More Correspondence with Writers, i.e. 13/15.6pt Garamond with 35 lines (+ page number) on a full page.

The third general volume, Correspondence with the Political Elite 1922-1935 (1915) is set in Caslon, but more generously than Boats for the RAF. Caslon has a taller x-height than Garamond, leaving less 'air' between the lines, so we slightly increased the interline spacing to 12/15.6 pt [130%]. There are 34 lines (+ page number) on a full page.


War in th Desert

In 2016 we decided to use the Letters format for a volume that contains no letters at all: Lawrence's previously unpublished War in the Desert

We could have treated this text in several ways. Drafted in 1922, it was an abridgement of the 'Oxford' Seven Pillars intended for the general public. One idea was to make it look like a 1920s popular edition.

Or we could print it in the style of Revolt in the Desert, the Seven Pillars abridgement that the same publisher (Jonathan Cape) did publish, just a few years later. On the other hand the glazed binding-cloth that contributes so much to the appearance of Revolt in the Desert is no longer made. We couldn't find anything remotely like it. Also, the two books were different in important ways, so it seemed wrong to make them look alike. 

A complication was that, in publishing terms, War in the Desert was not quite finished. The text was there, but not the chapter titles, nor a proposed division (as in Seven Pillars) into 'Books'. We could have made-good these defects, but in a scholarly edition of Lawrence's writings we didn't wish to invent.

In the end we decided to print the book in the Letters format, in a long type panel that has, for me, a faint echo of a letterpress galley-proof. We used 12/14.4 pt Caslon [120% interline]. There are 40 lines (+ headline) on a full page.

Updated December 2016

Design Notes 2: Bindings >>

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