|ASSIGNMENT:||HISTORY OF TYPOGRAPHY|
Used with permission from Thomas W. Phinney
Technology---The Four Revolutions
(ca. 1450-1480) & The Impact of Printing
remained true until the invention of movable type, the perfection of
which is attributed to Johannes Gutenberg (although the Chinese had
it several centuries earlier, and a Dutch fellow named Coster may have
had some crude form a decade earlier). Gutenberg, although a man of
vision, did not personally profit from his invention. He worked for
over a decade with borrowed capital, and his business was repossessed
by his investors before the first mass-produced book was successfully
printed---the Gutenberg Bible of 1454, printed in Mainz by Fust and
basic process remained unchanged for centuries. A punch made of steel,
with a mirror image of the letter is struck into a piece of softer
metal. Molten metal is poured into this, and you get type. The type
is put into a matrix to form the page of text, inked, then pressed
several decades typesetting technology spread across Europe. The speed
with which it did so is impressive: within the first fifty years, there
were over a thousand printers who set up shops in over two hundred
European cities. Typical print runs for early books were in the neighborhood
of two hundred to a thousand books.
of these first printers were artisans, while others were just people
who saw an opportunity for a quick lira/franc/pound. The modern view
of a classical era in which craftsmanship predominated appears unjustified
to scholars: there has always been fine craft, crass commercialism,
and work that combines both.
who have grown up with television, radio, magazines, books, movies,
faxes and networked computer communications it is difficult to describe
just how much of a revolution printing was. It was the first mass medium,
and allowed for the free spread of ideas in a completely unprecedented
fashion. The Protestant Reformation might not have occurred, or might
have been crushed, without the ability to quickly create thousands
of copies of Luther's Theses for distribution.
groups sought to control this new technology. Scribes fought against
the introduction of printing, because it could cost them their livelihoods,
and religious (and sometimes secular) authorities sought to control
what was printed. Sometimes this was successful: for centuries in some
European countries, books could only be printed by government authorized
printers, and nothing could be printed without the approval of the
Church. Printers would be held responsible rather than authors for
the spread of unwanted ideas, and some were even executed. But this
was a largely futile struggle, and most such restraints eventually
crumbled in the western world.
Revolution: Steam, Line-casting & Automated Punch-cutting (start
1870-95; end 1950-65)
the printing press and the science of typecutting had only minor refinements
from the late 1600s to the late 1800s. Towards the end of this period,
the industrial revolution brought major innovations in printing technology.
Rotary steam presses (steam 1814, rotary 1868) replaced hand-operated
ones, doing the same job in 16 per cent of the time; photo-engraving
took over from handmade printing plates.
itself was transformed by the introduction of line-casting machines,
first Ottmar Mergenthaler's Linotype (1889), and then the Monotype
machine. Essentially, line-casting allowed type be chosen, used, then
recirculate back into the machine automatically. This not only introduced
a huge labor savings in typesetting, (again, on the order of the 85%
reduction in printing time), but also rendered obsolete the huge masses
of metal type created by the previously existing type foundries.
typesetting and printing speeds increased phenomenally, so did the
speed of punchcutting. In 1885, Linn Boyd Benton (then of Benton, Waldo & Company,
Milwaukee) invented a pantographic device that automated the previously
painstaking process of creating punches. His machine could scale a
drawing to the required size, as well as compressing or expanding the
characters, and varying the weight slightly to compensate for the larger
or smaller size---this last being a crude form of the ``optical scaling''
done by skilled typographers making versions of the same font for different
sizes. In optical scaling, the thickest strokes retain the same relative
thickness at any size, but the thinnest strokes are not simply scaled
up or down with the rest of the type, but made thicker at small sizes
and thinner at large display sizes, so as to provide the best compromise
between art and readability.
economic impact of all these advances on the type industry cannot be
overstated. For example, in the United States, the majority of type
foundries escaped a bankruptcy bloodbath in 1892 by merging into a
single company, called American Type Founders (ATF). Ultimately twenty-three
companies merged into ATF, making it far and away the dominant American
around this time, the ``point'' measurement system finally reached
ascendancy. In the earlier days of printing, different sizes of type
had simply been called by different names. Thus, ``Brevier'' was simply
the British name for 8-point type of any style. Unfortunately, these
names were not standardized internationally; 8-point type was called
``Petit Texte'' by the French and ``Testino'' by the Italians. Such
a naming system also allowed wonderful confusion, such as ``English''
referring both to blackletter type, and a 14-point size; ``English
English'' was thus a 14-point blackletter!
Simon Fournier had first proposed a comprehensive point system in 1737,
with later refinements, but what was ultimately adopted was the later
version developed by Francois Ambroise Didot. This put approximately
72 points to the inch (and now exactly 72 points to the inch on most
computer-based typesetting systems).
(Intertype et. al., start 1950-60, end 1975-85)
first photocomposition devices (the French ``Photon'' and Intertype's
Fotosetter) made their debuts as early as 1944, but didn't really catch
on until the early 1950s. Typeface masters for photocomposition are
on film; the characters are projected onto photo-sensitive paper. Lenses
are used to adjust the size of the image, scaling the type to the desired
size. In some senses this technology was an ``improvement,'' allowing
new freedoms, such as overlapping characters. However, it also pretty
much eliminated optical scaling (see 2.2, above), because in the rush
to convert fonts to the newformat, usually only one design was used,
which was directly scaled to the desired size.
earliest computer-based typesetters were a hybrid between the above-mentioned
photocomposition machines and later pure digital output. They each
had their own command language for communicating with output devices.
Although these machines had advantages, they also had problems. None
of these early command languages handled graphics well, and they all
had their own formats for fonts. However, some of these devices were
still in service as of 1995, for use in production environments which
require more speed and less flexibility (phone books, newspapers, flight
late 1980s PostScript gradually emerged as the de facto standard for
digital typesetting. This was due to a variety of reasons, including
its inclusion in the Apple Laserwriter printer and its powerful graphics
handling. When combined with the Macintosh (the first widely used computer
with a what-you-see-is-what-you-get display) and PageMaker (the first
desktop publishing program), the seeds were all sown for the current
dominance of computer-based typesetting.
high-end typesetting still involves printing to film, and then making
printing plates from the film. However, the increasing use of high-resolution
printers (600-1200 dots per inch) makes the use of actual printing
presses unnecessary for some jobs. And the next step for press printing
is the elimination of film altogether, as is done by a few special
systems today, in which the computer can directly create printing plates.
although PostScript predominates, there are a variety of competing
page description languages (PostScript, HP PCL, etc.), font formats
(Postscript Type One and Multiple Master, Truetype and Truetype GX)
computer hardware platforms (Mac, Windows, etc.) and desktop publishing
and graphics programs. Digital typesetting is commonplace, and photocomposition
is at least dying, if not all but dead. Digital typefaces on computer,
whether Postscript or some other format, are generally outline typefaces,
which may be scaled to any desired size (although optical scaling is
still an issue).
has been considerable economic fallout from all this in typography.
Although some digital type design tools are beyond the price range
of the ``average'' user, many are in the same price range as the mid-
to high-end graphics and desktop publishing programs. This, combined
with the introduction of CD-ROM typeface collections, has moved digital
type away from being an expensive, specialized tool, towards becoming
a commodity. As a result of both this and the brief photocomposition
interregnum, the previously established companies have undergone major
shakeups, and even some major vendors, such as American Type Founders,
have failed to successfully make the digital transition, and gone bankrupt
instead (although at this time ATF appears to be undergoing a resurrection).
More recently, even major digital type foundries have--dare one say
foundered?--on the shoals of ubiquitous cheap typefaces (even a licensing
deal with Corel Corp seems to have been insufficient to save URW).
there is a new accessibility of type design tools for hobbyists and
professional graphic artists, the decreasing value of individual typefaces
has resulted in a decrease in the number of working type designers
per se (both independents and company-employed).
Forms Through the Centuries
must keep in mind that although typefaces may have come into use at
a particular point in time, they often continued in general use far
beyond that time. Even after the rise of old style typefaces in the
late 1600s, the blackletter type was commonly used for setting text
for several centuries (well into the 1900s in Germany). With later
interpretations of earlier forms being relatively common, the *style*
of a given typeface may belong to a quite different period from that
of the typeface itself! Further, many typefaces have very complex histories:
a type could have been originally designed in metal at one time, reworked
by someone else later, made into a phototypesetting face by another
person, and then later created in digital form by yet another designer---who
might have been working off of any of the above as the basis of their
classification system used here (old style, transitional, modern, sans
serif, slab serif, etc.) has the virtues of being both simple and widely
used. However, the precision and artistic accuracy of this system is
perhaps dubious: see Robert Bringhurst's Elements of Typographic Style
or his article in the first issue of Serif magazine for a more thorough
the differences between type, one must refer to a number of technical
The degree of difference between the thick and thin strokes in a font
(axis): The angle at which contrast occurs, usually ranging from vertical
to a somewhat back-slanted diagonal. This can best be noted by looking
at, for example, the letter ``O'' and noting if the bottom left is
thicker than the top left, and the top right is thicker than the bottom
right. If this difference exists, the letter has diagonal stress. If
the two halves of the ``O'' are a mirror image of each other, with
the sides thicker than the top/bottom, then the letter has vertical
stress. If the top and bottom of the ``O'' are the same thickness as
the sides, there is neither contrast nor stress.
Those ``finishing strokes'' or ``fillips'' going off the ending lines
of a letter. For example, when the number ``1'' or the letter ``i''
are drawn with a bar across the bottom, the two halves of the bar are
serifs. If the serif is joined to the letter by a slight flaring out,
it is said to be ``bracketed.''
writing itself can be traced back to several millennia B.C., to Egyptian
hieroglyphics and Sumerian cuneiform inscriptions, modern letter forms
have their most immediate heritage in Roman inscriptions from around
50-120 AD, such as the one on the base of Trajan's Column in the Roman
Forum (114 AD, digital version by Twombly for Adobe, 1989).
early Latin writing was heavily influenced by these chiseled-in-stone
letterforms, over the centuries it evolved into a variety of other
shapes, including uncials and the related Carolingian script. It is
through this period of the sixth to tenth centuries that we see the
development of the lower case (minuscule) letter as a different shape
from the upper case (capital).
forms similar to what we now think of as ``normal'' letter shapes evolved
from the Carolingian (or Caroline) minuscule. The Carolingian letters
are so-called because of their adoption by the Emperor Charlemagne
(late 10th century) as a standard for education. Digital revivals of
these exist, such as Carol Twombly's Charlemagne (1989).
fifteenth century, italics also existed, in the form of a cursive script
which had developed in Rome and Florence. However, italics at this
time were a completely separate entity from the upright letterforms,
as they remained in the early days of printing.
first printed types exemplify what most people think of as medieval
or ``old English'' lettering, with ornate capitals, roughly diamond-shaped
serifs, and thick lines. As a group, these typefaces are called ``blackletter.''
They evolved from the Carolingian by a gradual movement towards narrowing
and thickening of lines.
general sort of blackletter used by Gutenberg in his first Bible is
called textura (a shareware digital version of Gutenberg's bible face
is available, called ``Good City Modern''). The other sorts of blackletter
are fraktur, bastarda and rotunda. Probably the most common blackletter
revival typefaces in use today are Cloister Black (M.F. Benton, 1904,
from J.W. Phinney) and Fette Fraktur.
worth noting that although these typefaces seem very hard to read to
us today, this is due as much to familiarity as to any objectivelesser
clarity. Fraktur was in use in Germany well into the 1900s, though
it was gradually being superseded by Roman typefaces. The Nazisat first
fostered a return to Fraktur, then outlawed it as a ``Jewishtypeface''
from mid-century found that people can read blackletter with a speed
loss of no more than 15%. However, there is subjectively more effort
involved. Blackletter is today most appropriate for display or headline
purposes, when one wants to invoke the feeling of a particular era.
Style Typefaces: Centaur, Bembo, Jenson, Garamond, Caslon
Goldschmidt, as explained by Stanley Morison, claimed that ``the supersession
of black-letter was not due to any 'technical advance,' it was the
visible expression of a changed attitude of mind.'' The Renaissance
was typified by an obsession with things ``classical,'' in the Greco-Roman
sense, which had major implications for typography. The neo-classical
letterforms were somewhat more condensed than the Carolingian shapes,
but much rounder and more expanded than the blackletter.
style type is generally considered ``warm'' or friendly, thanks to
its origins in Renaissance humanism. The main characteristics of old
style typefaces are low contrast with diagonal stress, and cove or
``bracketed'' serifs (serifs with a rounded join to the stem of the
letter). The earliest (Venetian or Renaissance) old style typefaces
(originally 15th-16th Century) have very minimal contrast, and a sloped
cross-bar on the lower-case ``e.'' One such is Bruce Rogers' Centaur
(1916), based on Jenson. Similarly, Monotype's Bembo (1929) is based
on the work of Francesco Griffo, circa 1499.
at this point were still independent designs, and were generally used
completely separately; a whole book could be set in italics. Probably
the most famous italic of the period is Arrighi's (1524), which may
be seen today as the italic form of Centaur. Likewise, the italic form
of Bembo is based on the italic of Tagliente (also 1524).
or baroque old style type (17th Century) generally has more contrast,
with a somewhat variable axis, and more slope of italic. The most common
examples are the types of Garamond and Caslon, many variant revivals
of which exist in digital form.
Type: Baskerville, Fournier
type is so-called because of its intermediate position between old
style and modern. The distinguishing features of transitional typefaces
include vertical stress and slightly higher contrast than old style
typefaces, combined with horizontal serifs. The most influential examples
are Philippe Grandjean's ``Romain du Roi'' for the French Crown around
1702, Pierre Simon Fournier's work circa 1750, and John Baskerville's
work from 1757 onwards. Although today we remember Baskerville primarily
for his typeface designs, in his own time people were much more impressed
by his printing, which used an innovative glossy paper and wide margins.
transitional types begin to move towards ``modern'' designs. Contrast
is accentuated, and serifs are more flattened. Current examples of
such are based on originals from approximately 1788-1810, and are dominated
by British isles designers, such as Richard Austin (Bell, 1788), William
Martin (Bulmer) and Miller & Richard (Scotch Roman).
currently available examples of transitional type, there are many types
which bear Baskerville's name, descending from one or another of his
designs. Less common today is P.S. Fournier's work, although several
versions of it are available in digital or metal form. Although Scotch
Roman has been a very common face in metal type usage since Monotype's
1920 revival, it is not a common digital face. Bell, on the other hand,
is included in a Microsoft Font Pack, and Bulmer has received more
attention since its revival by Monotype in late 1994.
Type: Didot, Bodoni, Walbaum
typefaces are distinguishable by their sudden-onset vertical stress
and strong contrast. Modern serifs and horizontals are very thin, almost
hairlines. Although they are very striking, these typefaces are sometimes
criticized as cold or harsh, and may not be quite as readable for very
extensive text work, such as books.
of designers, perhaps semi-independently, created the first modern
typefaces in the late 1700s and early 1800s. One of the first, and
ultimately the most influential, was Giambattista Bodoni, of Parma,
Italy. Ironically, historians of type often relate the development
of the ``modern'' letterforms to a then-current obsession with things
Roman---in this case the strong contrast and sharp serifs of classical
the most common ``modern'' typefaces are the dozens of reinterpretations
of Bodoni's work (which itself evolved over time). One of the most
successful reinterpretations is the 1994 ITC Bodoni by Stone et. al.,
featuring three different optical sizes. Although little is seen of
Didot, a reinterpretation by J.E. Walbaum (ca. 1800) sees occasional
Serif & Slab Serif
type forms made their first appearances around 1815-1817. Both are
marked by simpler letterforms with (usually) relatively uniform stroke
weight, lacking significant contrast, often geometric in underlying
earliest forms of sans and slab typefaces tended to be heavy, often
monolithic, display faces, but there quickly evolved a wide range of
styles. Although the earliest designs are not much used today, their
descendants are common enough.
Serif (a.k.a. Gothic or Grotesque)
serif letters have no serifs, as the name suggests. The low contrast
and absence of serifs makes most sans typefaces harder to follow for
general reading. They are fine for a sentence, passable for a paragraph,
but are difficult to use well in, say, the text of a book. The terminology
of sans serif types can be confusing: essentially, gothic or grotesque
are both generic names for sans serif (although Letter Gothic, confusingly,
is more of a slab serif type).
serif faces, the italics are often, although not always, simply a sloped
(mechanically obliqued) version of the roman letters, making them totally
subordinate to the roman.
from the Art Deco movement in the 1920s and 30s, radical geometrical
shapes began to be used as the basis for sans serif designs.
are a few other common sans faces which do not fall cleanly into the
above categories. Eric Gill's 1928 Gill Sans has an almost architectural
quality, and its greater contrast and humanistic design makes it better-suited
than most sans serif typefaces to setting bodies of text. The same
can perhaps be said of a number of late 20th Century humanistic sans
faces (see below)
faces have block-like rectangular serifs, sticking out horizontally
or vertically, often the same thickness as the body strokes. There
is some debate about the origin of slab serif typefaces: did they originate
by somebody adding serifs to a sans face, or were they conceived independently?
Clarendons or Ionics are an offspring of the slab serif typefaces in
which the serifs are bracketed. These are often used in newspaper work,
because their sturdy serifs hold up well under adverse printing conditions.
The most famous member of this sub-family is Century Schoolbook (M.F.
``Fat Face'' types were an offshoot of the moderns, intended for display
purposes (that is, to be attention-getting for use in large sizes,
particularly advertising). The first such types appeared from 1810-1820.
They further exaggerated the contrast of modern typefaces, with slab-like
vertical lines and extra emphasis of any vertical serifs, which often
acquired a wedge shape. Bodoni Ultra, Normande and Elephant are all
examples of fat face types which are closely based on early to mid-19th
Century originals, and are available in digital form.
type answered some of the needs of display advertising during the industrial
revolution. It derives its name from the fact that instead of being
made of metal, the type is carved from wood, cut perpendicular to the
grain. It is distinguished by strong contrasts, an overall dark color,
and a lack of fine lines. It may be unusually compressed or extended.
Many wood types have an ``Old West'' feel, because they are most strongly
associated with America in the 1870-1900 period. Some of the wood types
most widely available today are those in an Adobe pantheon released
in 1990, which includes Cottonwood, Ironwood and Juniper (Buker, Lind & Redick).
Brush, Italic & Freehand
typefaces are based on handwriting; but often this is handwriting with
either a flexible steel nib pen, or a broad-edged pen, and is thus
unlike modern handwriting.
common scripts based on steel nib styles include Shelley (Carter, 1972),
Coronet (Middleton, 1937-38), and Snell Roundhand (Carter, 1965, based
on Snell ca. 1694).
faces based more on the broad-edged tradition include the contemporary
Park Avenue (Smith, 1933).
are also monoline scripts, which lack significant contrast in the letter
strokes. One such is Freestyle Script.
typefaces look as if they were drawn with that instrument, which most
of them were, at least in the original design from which the metal/film/digital
face was created. Some of them resemble sign-painting lettering, such
as Balloon (Kaufmann, 1939), Brush Script (Smith, 1942), and Dom Casual
modern typography typically relegates the italic to a second-class
citizenship subordinate to the roman, there are still some italic typefaces
designed as such in their own right. The best known is doubtless Zapf
Chancery (Zapf, 1979). Others include Medici Script (Zapf, 1974) and
Poetica (Slimbach, 1992).
late Victorian era, from 1880 to World War I, was characterized by
this ornamental style of art, with its organic, asymmetrical, intricate
and flowing lines. This ``Art Nouveau'' (French, meaning ``new art'')
produced similarly distinctive typography, which saw a revival during
are a fair number of digital revivals of art nouveau faces, although
few are widely used. Some of the more common digital art nouveau typefaces
are Arnold Boecklin (Weisert, 1904), Artistik, Desdemona, Galadriel
Nouveau was about finding beauty in organic intricacy, Art Deco was
perhaps about finding beauty in geometric simplicity. First appearing
in the 1920s and 30s, Art Deco made a comeback in the 1970s and 80s
by definition, Art Deco meant sans serif type. The most common such
face is Avant Garde (1974, Lubalin), which is striking but hard to
read at length. A more graceful geometric sans is Futura (Renner, 1927-39).
There are also more quirky faces in this category, such as Kabel (Koch,
1927-30). A recent popular Art Deco display face is ITC Anna (1991?).
of the most interesting typefaces of the twentieth century does not
fit any of the above categories, or at least not easily. The reason
is that they reflect not merely a single style, but cumulative experience,
and the merger of different styles. This is perhaps true even of that
most mundane of typefaces, Times New Roman (Lardent/Morison, 1931),
which has old style, has many transitional and modern elements.
and Serif Type
there are many practitioners of this synthesis, the most famous is
Hermann Zapf. His Palatino (1948) and Zapf Renaissance (1987) are modern
typefaces with the spirit of Renaissance letterforms. Melior (1952),
Zapf Book (1976), and Zapf International (1977) all reflect an obsession
with the super-ellipse, a rectangulated circle, as the basis for letter
have also been many modern revivals of old style which, while close
to old style in spirit, are not direct revivals of a specific original,
and show modern influences in the proportions or lettershapes. These
include the Granjon-inspired Galliard (Carter, 1978) and Minion (Slimbach,
and Sans Serif Type
1950, many designers began to explore a wide range of starting points
as the basis for sans serif designs. Aldo Novarese's Eurostile (1964-5)
takes sans serif forms and distorts them towards square and rectangular
shapes. Zapf's 1958 Optima is a masterful blend of sans serif shapes
with Roman and calligraphic influences. Shannon (Holmes & Prescott
Fishman, 1981) is a sans serif based on celtic manuscript proportions.
Several designers have reinterpreted ancient Greek lettering for a
modern sans serif alphabet: most popularly Carol Twombly's Lithos (1989),
and most recently Matthew Carter's Skia GX (1994). Koch's Neuland (1930?)
has a rough-hewn strength. Hans Eduard Meier's Syntax (1969) is one
of the earliest sans typefaces which clearly echo renaissance roman
letterforms. More recent sans faces often draw on a humanistic background,
from Spiekerman's Meta to Vereschagin's Clear Prairie Dawn.
most recent typographic wave is one which has sometimes been called
grunge typography, after the musical movement originating in Seattle.
Although it is far too early to judge the ultimate impact of grunge,
I see the form as the merger of the industrial functionalist movement
called Bauhaus (contemporary with Art Deco, named after the architectural
school) with the wild, nihilistic absurdism of Dadaism. Grunge, like
many typographic/artistic movements before it, is a rebellion; but
this rebellion denies not only the relevance of anything previous,
but sometimes even the relevance of legibility itself, in the belief
that the medium *is* the message.
type designer Carlos Segura of T-26 says, ``Typography is beyond letters.
Some fonts are so decorative, they almost become 'visuals' and when
put in text form, they tell a story beyond the words--a canvas is created
by the personality of the collection of words on the page.''