Dean originally contacted MyFonts’ WhatTheFont forum in 2007 with this post to explain the origins of his Letraset Quicksilver typeface. In 2009 he sent us a tidied up version for publication on this page.
The Story of Letraset’s Quicksilver typeface
I’m Dean Morris, the designer of the typeface ‘Quicksilver’ that came out in 1976 as part of Letraset’s Letragraphica range of rub-down typefaces — the stylishly aggressive ones in the yellow pages of the catalog. I named the typeface Quicksliver because it looked like bent thermometers (quicksilver is an old name for mercury which is used in thermometers), and because the word Quicksilver has some of the cooler letters such as Q, K, E, and R. I never meant it to suggest glowing neon.
The name Quicksilver was my second choice, however. Letraset Englishly felt that my first choice, ‘Polished Sausage’, would be ‘rather unpopular in foreign markets’. I designed it as a 16-year-old kid at John Glenn High School in Bay City, Michigan (born in Mercy Hospital 3 months after Madonna), and sent Letraset a xerox of a tight marker sketch of 3" letters letterspaced with the heavy outlines slightly overlapping as I originally intended. I drew only a skinny S without an alternate, and submitted no punctuation. I knew nothing about submitting typeface artwork and I assumed there’d be, you know, discussion.
But Letraset wanted it, and they must have wanted it REAL FAST (fifties nostalgia and disco were WHITE HOT then, remember), because they sent a letter and contract soon after, and they did the finished art themselves at 5" high (they can’t have known my age, maybe they had no confidence in my technical skills), starting with the E as did I in the design stage. And what a gorgeous rendering job they did in the pre-Mac days of ruling pens, straight-edges, and compasses (they shunned rapidographs!) — and they hand retouched the curves where they met the straight lines! Letraset sent a 5" sample E for approval, but I’m sure they had already drawn all the characters. They followed my sketch very closely, designed the punctuation, and suggested an alternate but weird wide S, which I approved, figuring there was probably no other decent way to design it. I don’t know if the thematically wrong heavy-overlap-line on the P came from me or them.
I assumed the punctuation would match the stroke width of the letters, but they drew them narrower and slightly oddly (what’s with those little dots in the periods and commas?), but I figured what did I know from diacriticals. I found out later that they produced a separate sheet of Quicksilver dots and dashes without my knowledge!
If you looked at the structure of the A, B, E, F, K, N, Q, R, or Y and wondered, ‘What was I thinking?’, I’ll tell you. I was simply trying to ‘draw’ as many letters as possible in the wrong direction — I thought I was SO clever! For instance the E cross-stroke goes right-to-left rather than left-to-right, like, oh, ANY OTHER ROMAN CAP E IN HISTORY. R and Q diagonals started waaaaaaaay on the other side, N goes waaaaaaay around the wrong way to form the diagonal. ‘Chrome’ letters can branch, but these ‘glass tube’ letters shouldn’t (did you hear that, dollar-sign?).
The first album cover I saw with Quicksilver was Men At Work’s first smash LP, Business as Usual , then punk pioneer Stiff Records’ logo appeared on 45-rpm labels with a clearly Quicksliver-inspired F. And it was popular, of course, for sex, drugs , and rock and roll. For about ten years I, family, and friends collected food packages, tear sheets and posters, and took photos of signs from around the world. I think it’s about the easiest typeface to mishandle ever. My friends dared each other to use it in 6 point body text.
Eventually home computers, Fontographer, scanners, etc. empowered amateur and professional designers alike. Crash went sales of rub-down type, my exclusive 15-year contract expired, and artwork was pirated without my knowledge and beyond my control, which I don’t condone, but I totally understand. I stopped trying to look for and collect examples of it. Maybe I’m overestimating its popularity now after 30 years (I totally forgot about it for about a decade), but still seeing it around at all is itself a rave. I can’t remember why I Googled ‘Quicksilver Letraset’ two years ago, but what I found was a whole community of sites for font identification with lists of their various names, where many bothered to accurately credit me as the original designer, which gets me RIGHT HERE. It makes me feel less forgotten even though I don’t see royalties. BTW, I never did, nor did Letraset ask me to, design a lower case version.
Feel free to pass along this modest piece of graphic microhistory to any Letraheads. Thanks for your interest in this historic cultural oddity called Quicksilver, the Citroen deux-chevaux of typographic aesthetics, that looks lame from any angle! Visit my Quicksilver museum and feel free to send me more examples at [email protected]
— Dean Morris, May 2009, New York City