Isotype leaflet, c. 1935

Isotype leaflet, c.1935. Front page. (Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection, University of Reading)

This leaflet introduced the name ‘Isotype’ and its associated symbol. Marie Neurath invented this name to replace ‘the Vienna Method of Pictorial Statistics’, which no longer applied to work by the core group from the Social & Economic Museum of Vienna after they settled in the Netherlands  in 1934. 

While working on a book in Basic English – International picture language – Marie Neurath followed the principle used by C.K. Ogden in constructing the acronym ‘Basic’. She admitted that she arrived at the name ‘Isotype’ before thinking of a suitable set of words to fit it, and that she always found the solution, ‘International System of Typographic Picture Education’, a little unsatisfactory. After Otto Neurath approved the name, Gerd Arntz designed the symbol to accompany it.

The back page of the leaflet lists the organizations behind Isotype work in the Netherlands: The International Foundation for Visual Education and the Mundaneum Institute in The Hague. Intriguingly, it also lists an incorporated company ’N.V. Isotype i.o’, although it is unclear whether this ever operated. Presumably this was intended to handle more commercial work than the educational organizations.

Neurath’s Elephant

Letter from Otto Neurath to Mr Hunt, 18 September 1943. (Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection, University of Reading; IC 1/4.)

Otto Neurath often signed his letters with a drawing of an elephant, a joking reference to his voluminous physique. The frequent practice he had as a prolific correspondent in drawing this character enabled him to refine it and reveal his gift for caricature. Incidentally, Neurath developed his elephant prior to Disney’s Dumbo.

Occasionally he added a supplementary drawing relevant to the correspondence: here, in a letter to Mr Hunt of the British Ministry of Production Committee, he makes an Isotype-like joke about the inverse proportion of salary to the height of an employee’s seat.

Austrian Social and Economic Museum, visiting card, c.1956

Visiting card, Österreichische Gesellschafts- und Wirtschaftsmuseum, c.1956. (Otto and Marie Neurath Isotype Collection, University of Reading)

The Austrian Social and Economic Museum was re-established around 1949 under director Franz Rauscher. On this visiting card it is presented as a direct continuation of the inter-war museum founded by Otto Neurath, and of the ‘Vienna Method of Pictorial Statistics’. The reformed museum initially had no permanent exhibition space and was housed in temporary offices, as can be seen from the overprinted change of address here. (Both of these initial addresses were very close to the offices & workshops of the previous Museum at Ullmanstrasse, in Vienna’s fifteenth district.)

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