Loading ...
Retro showcard display designs, modern interpretations of classic typefaces and virtual replications of antique fonts: There are more typeface revivals available to graphic designers today than ever before. Maybe Frederic Goudy was right when he said, “The old guys stole all our good ideas.”

DIVIDED VIEWSThe design community has always been polarized when it comes to the topic of typeface revivals. Proponents will tell you that they preserve the rich heritage and tradition of the typographic arts and enable graphic communicators to take advantage of the best typefaces from earlier days. Those less in favor of reinterpreting old designs will argue that most revivals are lifeless clones just trying to make a buck off a good name. For better or worse, type designers have been creating revivals virtually since fonts of moveable type were invented.

THE FLAVORS OF RESTORATIONThere are essentially two kinds of typeface revivals: replications and interpretations. Replications strive to duplicate the look and feel of a typeface as it was originally used. In essence, they try to capture the character, warmth and idiosyncrasies of the font as it was seen by readers of its time. Replications are the typographic equivalent of classical music played on period instruments.

Typeface interpretations, on the other hand, are either new renditions of older designs or are new designs inspired by previous work. Interpretations take an older typeface and add to it by updating the design, correcting the limitations imposed by earlier technologies or by incorporating the essence of one or more designs into something entirely new. Typeface interpretations are comparable to what Seiji Ozawa creates when he conducts Beethoven.

Four brand-new “old” designs have recently joined the ranks of the revivals. One design recreates the beauty of a sixteenth-century French script. Another is a revival of a revival. The third grew out of a custom font project, and the fourth corrects the wrongs that an earlier technology necessitated.

GALLIC CHARMP22 Civilité is a tempered typographic replication. According to Richard Kegler, co-founder, principal and the typographic soul of P22, “We chose to represent the font as accurately as possible, although the design was not distressed in an attempt to create a feeling of ‘oldness.’ We wanted to represent Civilité as it might have been seen by its originators: as an imitation of French handwriting—not perfect, but human—both elegant and quirky.” 

P22 Civilité, an elegant yet eccentric replication.

The original Civilité design dates back to the sixteenth century, when Robert Granjon cut punches for a font based on a style of French handwriting. The typeface became known as caractères de civilité due to its use in a popular book that taught children how to read, write and behave in polite society.

Kegler collaborated with Colin Kahn and Milo Kowalski to create P22 Civilité. Their source materials for the design were a 1908 publication printed from type that was cast from matrices struck from original Civilité punches, a 1926 specimen showing of the same fonts and a 1978 English translation by Harry Carter that was printed with type cast from the same punches. Because many of the original forms were archaic, there are two parts to the Civilité suite of fonts: Historical for the antiquated characters and Modern, which contains revised versions of the odd and confusing older letterforms. In addition, the OpenType fonts of P22 Civilité have a large offering of alternate and swash characters.

REVIVING A REVIVALMonotype’s Bembo is a double revival. The story begins in fifteenth-century Venice, an important European typographic center. Many printers established businesses in Venice at this time; the most significant of these was Aldus Manutius, the first of the great scholar-printers.

Late in the fifteenth century, Aldus published a relatively insignificant essay by the Italian scholar Pietro Bembo. The type used for the text was a new design cut by Francesco Griffo, a goldsmith-turned-punchcutter. Despite the modest vehicle that prompted its launch, the Bembo typeface became very popular in Italy and soon found its way to France, where the design came to the attention of Claude Garamond, the famous French type founder. He made his own version of the design and sold fonts of it throughout Europe. The Aldine roman, as it came to be known, continued to serve as the foundation for new typeface designs for hundreds of years.

Monotype’s designers used antique books and specimen material set with Aldus's original fonts as the basis for the first Bembo revival in the 1920s. Released as several sizes of metal type, it quickly became one of Monotype’s best-selling typefaces. These first phototype and digital versions of Bembo were based on drawings for the 9-point metal type. The problem, however, was that no allowances were made for the way the 9-point type looked when inked and printed. The resulting phototype and first digital fonts produced a Bembo that was much less robust than the original metal versions. Some critics used the word “spindly” to describe the new design.

Bembo Book is a more robust and more accurate interpretation of the 1920s original.

The second digital revival of Bembo, created in 2006, is called Bembo Book. Robin Nicholas, senior designer in the Monotype drawing office, created the design to produce results comparable to those from the larger sizes of letterpress fonts. Characters were based on the metal type drawings—then edited to preserve the subtle features and typographic color of the printed results of the original metal fonts.

Bembo Book is slightly narrower than the earlier digital version, making it more space economical. In addition, lowercase ascenders are noticeably taller than capitals and give the design a stately feeling.

PARIS BEAUTY MEETS A ROLLING STONEHutch, from Font Bureau, is a modern interpretation of Cochin, another French typeface. Cochin was first released in about 1915 by the Peignot type foundry in Paris and was based on the lettering of late eighteenth-century French copperplate engravers. The design was adapted for Monotype machines in 1917, and American Type Founders produced a version in 1925. In 1977, Matthew Carter drew an interpretation of the design, called Cochin, for Linotype phototypesetting machines.

Metal and phototype versions of Cochin were used in some of the first issues of Rolling Stone magazine. When Joe Hutchinson, the magazine’s current art director, approached famed publication designer Roger Black about creating a display typeface for the publication, Black immediately suggested Cochin. “The typeface goes well with Matthew Carter’s Miller, the Rolling Stone text typeface,” Black explained, “so when Hutchinson decided he wanted a new font that would look like it belonged at Rolling Stone, I naturally suggested Cochin.”

Hutch, a new Cochin for Rolling Stone.

David Berlow, Font Bureau founder, and Jim Parkinson, who drew some of the first designs used in Rolling Stone, collaborated to create the new design.

“We made three main modernizations to the design,” says Berlow. “One involved making the weight, stroke contrast and spacing more in line with a modern face for display uses. Another involved separating the more eccentric characters out as alternate designs. And the third was to add even more alternates for greater expression.”

Berlow drew the roman weights. For Parkinson, drawing the italics meant reworking the designs he had handlettered for Black in the 1970s. “Roger decided he wanted to use Cochin as a display type for a feature in a new magazine,” recalls Parkinson. “He sent me samples from a specimen book. I photocopied them and started lettering. Roger wanted a bunch of swash characters—more than existed in the basic typeface. I started copying swash letters from other typefaces and ‘Cochinizing’ them. Then I just started making stuff up.

“When Roger and Joe (Hutchinson) and David (Berlow) started the Cochin project for Rolling Stone,” Parkinson continues, “Roger remembered the crazy Cochins I did more than 30 years ago. He asked me to digitize them and add as many additional swash alternatives as I could dream up. I did two or three batches, but David wanted more—and I was having fun—so there are lots of them.”

TRIUMPHING OVER TECHNOLOGYFonts for metal and early phototypesetting machines like the Linotype and Monotype had to be created within a crude system of predetermined character width values. Every letter had to fit within, and have its spacing determined by, a grid of only 18 units. This meant that if the ideal proportions of a particular character did not fit within a subset of these 18 units, it had to be altered so that it did. As a result, type designers were often compelled to compromise their designs from what they felt was ideal so they would work within the confines of the technology.

The original Frutiger typeface was such a design. The face dates back to 1968, when Adrian Frutiger was commissioned to design the signage for the then-new Charles de Gaulle Airport in Roissy, France. Frutiger’s goal was to create a sans serif typeface with the rationality and clean lines of his Univers design, but softened with organic, almost calligraphic, nuances.

Technological spacing restrictions hampered the original Frutiger design.

The Frutiger signage was completed and installed at de Gaulle airport in 1975. It took two more years to convert it into fonts for phototypesetting. In the process, Frutiger was forced to make changes to many characters to accommodate the spacing limitations of early phototypesetting technology.

Neue Frutiger, drawn as a collaboration between Adrian Frutiger and Linotype type director Akira Kobayashi, is based on the original Frutiger typeface, but incorporates many changes. The most obvious is an increase in the family’s range of weights. Neue Frutiger has ten roman weights, each with an italic counterpart. Other, more subtle, improvements were also made. Because the new design is not bound by the design restrictions put on the first Frutiger, Neue Frutiger improves on the original design in important areas, such as character design and spacing. Kobayashi and Frutiger also concentrated on enhancing character legibility at small sizes. Neue Frutiger enjoys all the design and spacing refinements that current digital technology can provide.

ARCHAIC SKILLSJim Parkinson tells the story that, while browsing in a used bookshop in Northern California, he asked the clerk if the store had any typeface specimen catalogs or old books on lettering. The clerk pointed to a sign in the back of the shop that read “Archaic Skills.” Parkinson and many other type designers may well find their inspiration in the “archaic,” but their resulting typeface designs are as fresh as tomorrow morning. ca

Author's note: Hutch is available from the Font Bureau; P22 Civilité is available from P22; Bembo Book is available from Fonts.com; and Neue Frutiger is available from Linotype.

Allan Haley is a storyteller and a consultant with expertise in fonts, font technology, type and typographic communication. He held the position of director of words and letters at Monotype for fifteen years and has six books and hundreds of articles to his credit. He is a past president of the Type Directors Club and was executive vice president of International Typeface Corporation. 


With a free Commarts account, you can enjoy 50% more free content
Create an Account
Get a subscription and have unlimited access
Already a subscriber or have a Commarts account?
Sign In

Get a subscription and have unlimited access
Already a subscriber?
Sign In