Porchez Typofonderie

The history of typefaces, the French perspective

Jean-François Porchez examines the history of typeface design from a French perspective. This story is normally told from an Anglo-Saxon perspective, something that Porchez wished to remedy. What follows is Part One of the story

Author’s note: After each subtitle we indicate, according to the Vox-ATypI classification, the category of the referenced typefaces.

Origins (manuaires and scriptes)
The majority of Mediterranean script has a common source, namely the Phoenician (1300 BC), which itself is derived from protosemitic forms (1500 BC). The cuneiform shapes share a base with the Greek capitals (1100 BC), that evolved into Etruscan capitals (700 BC), themselves evolving into Roman capitals (400 BC). Engraved inscriptions at the column dedicated to the Trajan emperor (AD 200) became the prototype for Latin script. Little by little, the capitals became more cursive, as quadrata and uncial styles were quicker to execute by hand.
   The Carolingian minuscule was imposed throughout Europe by Charlemagne. The reform was organized by Alcuin, a monk of Anglo-Saxon descent (700). As the Carolingian style became straightened and more structured, the gothic emerged (1000), a Norman “invention”. The humanist typographers of the Renaissance referred to the Carolingian miniscule for the first roman typographic characters.

The origins of printing (humanes)
It is not quite fair to attribute the discovery of printing to Gutenberg (1440), since in Europe there was already xylographic printing using engraved wood boards, and movable type in the Far East. Gutenberg specifically devised a technique that permit-ted the founding of characters in relief in matrices, obtained by striking dies cut in steel by the punchcutter. This text-composition technique would remain the fastest and most eco-nomical for almost the next 500 years. To be accepted in his time, Gutenberg took the Textura (4) script as his model, including numerous ligatures that brought it closer to real hand-lettering, in printing his 42-line Bible, competing with the scribes.
   Humanism developed in Italy: Sweynheym and Pannartz (1464) cut the first roman characters that would be “improved” by Nicolas Jenson (q.v. the excellent Adobe Jenson, 1994) to compose De praeparatione evangelica (1470). This book still remains a prototype for quality typography today. In France, it was over to Gering to cut the roman for the Sorbonne that was used for its first printed book (1470). The model became typographic and less exclusively calligraphic. Francesco Griffo improved the roman for Bembo’s work, De Aetna (1490), published by Aldus Manutius. Aldus used the aldine (the italic) for the first time, for a collection of small books called the “pocket editions”, among which was an edition by Virgile (1501). This italic is a typo-graphic transposition of the writing style of the time.
   This movement swept across Europe, and the characters used in humanistic works were imitated extensively: one finds copies of the Aldine in Basel (1519), then in Lyons. The founding of characters becomes a fully-fledged activity. By the beginning of the sixteenth century, Pierre Schöffer le Jeune published one of the first specimens regrouping roman, italic, Greek, Hebrew and musical characters.

The Garamond adventure (garaldes)
In France, Henri Estienne and Jose Bade composed their works in Bâlois characters. Toward 1520, Simon de Colines cut his characters based on an Italian model for his printing. Robert Estienne used characters ordered by Claude Garamond for the first time (1530). These were French adaptations of Italian models. The Garamond became the European prototype, with the italic used jointly. In Lyons, Robert Granjon sur-passed Claude Garamond with the notion of the italic and cut, between 1543 and 1590, close to 100 founts including roman, italic, Hebrew, arabesque and fleuron characters.
   At Claude Garamond’s death (1561), his types and matrices were broken up, many of which were acquired, notably, by Christophe Plantin, an Antwerp printer. Today, his printing preserves many considerable examples of the original Garamond, used as a reference for some contemporary versions of this typeface, including Adobe Garamond, Stempel Garamond, the Augereau (George Abrahms, 1996) and Galliard (Matthew Carter, 1978). These typefaces follow the original reference, at least in some measure, or along that cut by Garamond’s contemporary, Robert Granjon. A part of the Garamond foundry was purchased by the printer Egenolff of Geneva: Sabon (Jan Tschichold, 1964) was inspired by a specimen from this printer (Jacques Sabon was the head of the studio). Unfortunately, the 1960s technical context in which Jan Tschichold conceived his different versions of Sabon has led to a version that is, unfortunately, not the best for modern computers (with mediocre drawings and loathsome proportions). It was Guillaume Le Bé who purchased the biggest part of Garamond’s founts, which one could find until the Revolution, having passed from one hand to another to the foundry of Pierre-Simon Fournier le jeune (1760).

The Elsevier dynasty (garaldes and réales)
The following century is dominated by the famous ‘goût Hollandois’ (a term used by Pierre-Simon Fournier to define typefaces that have a large, rather condensed letter), even though in France (1621), Jean Jannon cut typefaces used nowadays by the Imprimerie Nationale under the name of Garamont (Franck Jalleau), for some time incorrectly attributed to Garamond: typified by the examples of Monotype Garamond (Frederic Goudy, 1921), Amsterdam Garamond and Garamond 3, ITC Garamond (Tony Stan, 1975). The Elsevier dynasty employed the typefaces of Nicolas Kis and Christophe van Dijck (1681), which were more effective than the regular versions, with an larger letter but were more compact and economical.

The century of luminaries (réales)
In France in the eighteenth century, the Imprimerie Royale orders an ideal typeface, the Romain du Roi, to be conceived by an eminent specialist committee. The characters would be developed on a geometric grid (recalling some aspects of our computers’ bitmap grid). But fortunately, punchcutter Philippe Grandjean transformed them into genuine typographic characters. Fournier le jeune rationalized the use of typography and cut many typefaces, brought together in his Manuel typographique (1764). For the first time, his typefaces formed the modern idea of a family, uniting condensed, large, text and titling founts of the same style. Encyclopædias were set using these typefaces, including the volume by Diderot and d’Alembert.
   In England, in 1725, William Caslon (9) is inspired by the ‘goût Hollandois’ typefaces for his own creations. He catered to the printers’ demand for complete families. John Baskerville developed typography quickly, with pure typefaces, simple layouts (without embellishments), large margins, and a technique he developed to smooth the paper and improve the print quality. The form of his italics pays homage to hand-lettering using a quill. In Switzerland, Beaumarchais printed Voltaire’s volumes in Baskerville. Out of historical interest, the original matrices remained in France until the end of the twentieth century, the property of the large Deberny & Peignot foundry. Charles Peignot, the then-director, eventually offered them to the Cambridge University Press in their home country, prior to the end of the closure of his company.

The typographic revolution (didones)
The typographic point is invented by François Ambroise Didot (1780). His son Firmin (11) creates an absolutely pure geometric typeface (1784–6). The Italian printer, Giambattista Bodoni (12), a printer of exception—‘the king of printers and the printer of kings’—then cut numerous variants, united in his Manuale tipografico, published in Parma posthumously by his widow (1818). This type style sweeps into Europe, used in the composition of publications ranging from valuable books to daily newspapers, despite its hairline strokes and its threadlike serifs: e.g. Walbaum, Unger in Germany; Thorne in England …

Industralization (mécanes and linéales)
In the nineteenth century, didones adapted to the constraints of a nascent industrialization. The hairlines grew thicker, their more straightforward shapes supporting the faster rates of printing. They no longer had much style. It is more in titling designs where novelties see the light of day. After having designed the bold types, copying the body text style, the engravers drew genuine titling typefaces, heavier and narrower, to catch the eye, e.g. the mécanes–egyptiennes, that were neither slender nor fine, by Vincent Figgins (1815). One of the first linéales, conceived on a didone structure, makes its appearance at the foundry of William Caslon IV (1816, see also in similar style, Knockout designed by Jonathan Hoefler).
   This was also the time of decorative typefaces, such as those seen in the specimen of the Laurent de Berny et Balzac foundry (a forerunner of Deberny & Peignot). Following artistic fashion, these typefaces included Grasset (Eugene Grasset, 1898) and Auriol (Georges Auriol, 1904), which mixed history with orientalism.

The private presses (incises and néo-garaldes)
Since 1840, printers used “new” garalde typefaces in reissues of old texts. In Lyons, Louis Perrin designed esigned an incised garalde with capitals inspired by roman inscriptions in that city; Pierre Jannet ask the punchcutter Gouet to cut his own font for his Bibliothèque Elzevirienne (1856). These néo-garaldes became French clas-sics. During this time, in England, Caslon came into fashion again, and Alexander Phemister (1860) cut his Old Style for Miller & Richard, who exported it to the United States. For his private press, William Morris designed a typeface inspired by those of Nicolas Jenson. European private presses became interested in both “revival” and original type-faces. Léon Pichon composed his works in Doric (Deberny & Peignot, 1917–27) and Astrée was released by Deberny (1924).
   In France, the Imprimerie Nationale revived its pseudo-Garamont. Later, another Garamont emerged from Peignot, more or less inspired by the first (1910), with following years seeing many revivals of false Garamonds, until Beatrice Warde published an article re-establishing the truth of the typeface’s origins in The Fleuron.

To be continued

The French edition of this article can be found at Porchez Typofonderie.