The Monument Lettering Center (MLC) exists to aid the monument industry in three areas:
- Historical research of industrialized monument lettering and design.
- Education of both the public and the monument industry on its history.
- Advancement in quality of lettering and design by providing the industry with modern digital tools.
The MLC’s roots date back to 2010, beginning as a small project to understand the history of various lettering styles specific to the industry. Most notably, Vermarco, and what is often referred to as “Monument Roman” but is more accurately Modified Roman. Finding information on any of the various standardized lettering styles that are now available in monument design software proved difficult, as many versions of each style have been created. To add to the confusion, many of the fonts have been given new names by their creators, causing difficulty in matching lettering for final date inscriptions and other work. The MLC is attempting to catalog all of the standardized monument alphabets created during the past 150 years or so. The focus of the MLC’s research is on the period of time between the 1870s through the 1990s–covering the time period between the beginning of the industrial age to the beginning of the digital age. This time period contains many shifts away from hand-lettering, and toward the standardization of alphabets and designs at varying points of technological advancement.
As the research began to formulate a historical narrative, it became clear that the industry, as well as the general public, could benefit from a written history of monument lettering and design. The MLC officially began in 2016 to more easily collect historical materials and information, and to make it openly available through online publication. The MLC is attempting to write a general history of the subject as well as articles on specific lettering styles, individuals, and companies who were instrumental in the creation of standard monument alphabets. There have been many shifts in design ideology through the years, and not universally, but generally, a decrease in quality of design as new technologies increased the ability to employ less skilled and less knowledgeable workers. This, along with the trend towards personalization (allowing the customer, not the expert to make design decisions)–though the practice does have merits of its own–has created a tendency towards poorly designed memorials. It is the hope of the MLC that by educating the general public and the industry, the practice of informed, historically sound design and lettering will grow. While quality craftsmanship takes time–raising the price of the finished memorial–good design is often more about knowledge than time spent. The two things combined therefore should not necessitate a significant increase in cost. Even so, the MLC hopes to educate the public on the value of spending more resources on a well-designed, quality memorial for their loved ones.
As it is not technology itself that creates poor design, only poor use of technology, the MLC does not lobby for an industry-wide return to hand-lettered memorials – though it would be wonderful to see a resurgence! Instead, the MLC seeks to use education and current technology to provide the monument designer with the best tools possible for creating quality memorial lettering. There has long been a need in the industry for the historical monument alphabets to be properly designed and made available in standard font formats. Many of the fonts currently available are either only usable in a specific proprietary software program, or have unfortunately been created by individuals who are not familiar with lettering or type design; often extremely poorly drawn, containing errors in design, and usually having incomplete punctuation, or even worse; punctuation and characters stolen from other fonts which do not match. It is unfortunate to see these poorly designed fonts being used on memorials in the cemetery. To aid with this issue the MLC is producing quality fonts in Truetype and Opentype formats, accurately drawn, historically named for easy identification, and adding complete punctuation sets and multilingual support for Latin based languages (German, Vietnamese, French, Spanish, etc.).