Mr. Reynolds Stone
The Times 19th November 1979
Gifted exponent of lettering
Mr Reynolds Stone, who died on June 23, 1979, was an outstanding designer and engraver of Roman letter forms on wood and stone. Born on March 13, 1909, son and grandson of Eton masters, he was educated there and at Magdalene College, Cambridge. He took his degree in history in 1930, and was then, at the suggestion of a Magdalene don who had been the assistant printer to the University, accepted by Walter Lewis as an unofficial apprentice in the University Press.
He had the good fortune to be taught by the composing room overseer, the “formidable and gifted” (Stone’s words) F. G. Nobbs, and met Stanley Morison (his elder by twenty years), the even more formidable adviser to the Press, who became his friend and source of many important commissions.
A chance meeting on a train from London to Cambridge with Eric Gill (Stone was carrying four sheets of Gill’s lettering bought at the V & A) resulted in an invitation to stay at Gill’s house at Piggotts [sic] for a productive fortnight: he had already discovered Bewick’s wood engravings, in David’s bookshop, and begun to engrave letters, under Nobbs’s guidance. Stone left Cambridge University Press after two years, and spent another two years working for a small west country printer, in Taunton, engraving in the evenings, and at weekends walking and cycling to west country ports and villages to draw sailing-ships, and collect nineteenth century illustrated books. Commissions were increasing and he set up as a freelance, which, apart from war service in RAF Photo Interpretation, he remained.
The first book to contain the calligraphic engraved cartouches for which he became famous was the Nonesuch Press Shakespeare Anthology, 1935, but he had already, in 1933, designed and engraved a large device for Francis Meynell’s Nonesuch Press, first used on a menu, which despite being almost his first published design has no hint of immaturity. Many books and address labels he engraved in the early 1930s are as perfect as any of his later work.
In March 1936 Oliver Simon published in Signature No 2 the first article on Stone’s woodcut calligraphy, written by John Carter. Commissions continued to flow, and became more prestigious: Morison, Beatrice Warde (and through her, Paul Standard and other Americans), Francis Meynell and their and his own friends kept him busy. There were setbacks of a sort: in 1937 he was commissioned to engrave the Royal Arms for the Order of Service for the Coronation of King George VI (he had already engraved a bookplate for the then Princess Elizabeth), to be printed at Cambridge, but possessors of the first edition of this most handsome document, designed by Morison, will not find Stone’s engraving in it: he was late and Walter Lewis finally refused to wait any longer and went to press with a previous and much inferior design. However, the soon-ordered reprint contained Stone’s engraving.
In 1939 he taught himself to cut letters in stone, and when commissions for memorial and other tablets increased, he took on and trained assistants, one of whom, Michael Harvey, is now a distinguished letterer in his own right.
He designed the 3d Victory Stamp in 1946, the country’s five and ten-pound notes, the clock device to head the leader page of The Times in 1949, the Royal Arms in the masthead of The Times, and the title itself, in 1951; and, in 1954, a typeface, Minerva, meant for display sizes only to complement Eric Gill’s Pilgrim (which was available only up to 14pt and was not suitable for enlargement). This was his only published typeface.
He was made CBE in 1953 and RDI in 1956. In 1965 he designed and cut the noble memorial to Winston Churchill in Westminster Abbey. In 1977 an impressive record of Stone’s engravings on wood was published by John Murray: it does not show either his work on stone or his watercolours, both of which deserve separate publication, but it does show the range of his lettering cut on wood, his heraldic and decorative designs and his wood-engraved illustrations. Trees, downs and moorland, wind and light playing over them, are his most often chosen and most felicitously handled subjects; but it is in his seemingly “plain” roman and italic alphabets that he reveals the most rare mastery.
Reynold Stone’s gifts were narrow, but deep: what he did best, he did superbly. Perhaps Morison’s simple dictum that Stone was “the best letterer in this country since Eric Gill died” sums up his achievement most succinctly.