Plaque Découpée Universelle [Universal Stencil Plate]


The Plaque Découpée Universelle or Universal Stencil Plate was created by the engineer Jonathan A. David in 1876 and sold at the Paris Exposition Universelle in 1878, hence the French name. This lettering stencil was designed to draw all upper and lower case letters as well as all possible ornaments one can imagine using its numerous lines.

Parisian publisher Antoine Lefebvre discovered the item while reading Prem Krishnamurthy's 2022 book, On Letters, a book comprised of letters Krishnamurthy wrote to Japanese artist On Kawara that discuss and consider the lettering in Kawara's famous Date Painting series. Krishnamurthy admits that in his youth he despised Kawara’s lettering skills, thinking that anyone could do better with computer software; and he goes on to compare the lettering to several different fonts that might have been an influence on Kawara, including the geometric sans serif that can be drawn with the Plaque Découpée Universelle.

Little is known about the creator of this lettering device, Joseph A. David, except that he lived in New York, the location where the work was patented in 1876. Contextual clues suggest that the tool was made by someone who wasn't a type designer, and was possibly not in dialogue with the type community of his time. Much of what is now known about the device is included in Eric Kindel's 2007 Typography papers article, "The ‘Plaque Découpée Universelle’: a geometric sanserif in 1870s Paris."

Lefebvre realized that creating a contemporary version of David's tool with a laser would be relatively easy to produce. In order to provide context, each 2023 version comes with a copy of the original broadsheet that accompanied the tool when it was first sold. The result is a set that valiantly tries to recreate the original set of materials that type aficionados could purchase in Paris at the 1878 World's Fair. Lefebefvre utilized leftover cardboard scraps from previous projects, taking a sustainable approach to his modern facsimile.

Published by Antoine Lefebvre Editions, 2023
Based on 1876 edition

Cardboard stencil [4 × 7 inches] comes wrapped in folded broadside [18.7 × 26 inches, unfolded], tucked in glassine envelope [5.25 × 7.75 inches]

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