Historical background of De Vinne, Howland and other related late 19th century american typefaces

As most of those I am acquainted with probably know, athough I never stopped being involved and passionate about it, de facto I have been away from actual typeface design for some years.

Now I have decided to resume (or at least to try to) work on typefaces, with a certain continuity, despite the limitations of time and due to family reasons.

This goes both for digital versions of lead typefaces which I am interested in and for my own designs, of course little by little, and taking all the time needed.

For a start, and to warm up again in drawing letter forms carefully, I’ve been cultivating interest in digital versions of lead typefaces I would like to use myself. Especially american typefaces from the late nineteenth century, in particular in the vein derived and/or related to Gustave F. Schroeder’s De Vinne.

Now, to the point: besides gathering further type specimens, I would need to contextualize the history of these typefaces and the historical unfolding of the foundries which released them. I have seen there are a few resources providing historical information on them, but I would like to ask to the experts here which would be the most accurate (but also concise, as I am not doing a proper research to write about them, just to understand better their spirit in context) source for this kind of research.

I am interested in particular in John F. Cumming’s Howland and in the whole De Vinne family (and derivates).

For example, I see that apparently Howland was released in 1892, before being incorporated in ATF's catalog. But De Vinne’s patent is from 1893, so I believe it’s unlikely as Howland apparently was designed as an alternative to De Vinne Condensed as a titling face. Is there further information on this?

Many thanks in advance. Any contribution, even minimal, will be greatly appreciated. And if I can reciprocate in some way, I'll be happy to do so. :-)



  • Ciao Claudio,

    For historical information on typefaces from the US, I recommend Mac McGrew’s seminal American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century. Unlike the title may suggest, it also includes faces like DeVinne and Howland that originated in the 19th century, but played an important role in the 20th.

    De Vinne may have been patented only in 1893, but according to Theodore L. DeVinne, it’s the outcome of correspondence (1888–90) between him and the Central Type Foundry, and appears in a specimen dated to 1892.

    Howland was introduced by Dickinson in 1892 as a ‘companion series to DeVinne.’ The same design was called DeVinne Condensed (No. 3) by Keystone Type Foundry, but differs from the DeVinne Condensed issued by other sources.” – McGrew
  • An excellent reply, no less as expected from you, Florian. Thanks much.
    McGrew’s book looks great, I wonder if shipping costs would be high from the US, or if they offer a PDF eBook version. I’d use it mostly for consultation anyways.

    I kinda guessed what you state about De Vinne, so they’re more or less contemporary in their release. I was also aware of the information you quoted from McGrew, and of course De Vinne Condensed is a proper weight of the De Vinne family. Both interest me, although I decided to start from Howland because it‘s simpler (having a single weight) and its crudeness/weirdness of forms pairings fascinated me. But I am intentioned to work on De Vinne as well. :-)

    So Howland is originally from the Dickinson Type Foundry (in Boston). I wonder if some Dickinson specimen books have been digitized or are available online, since all the material I have found so far is just from ATF and other foundries.
  • For the bigger lines, De Vinne “is derived from faces generally known as Elzevir or French Oldstyle. […] Elzevir types are named for the most prominent family of seventeenth-century Dutch printers, who developed slender types for use in a series of small books which they popularized. The present-day Elzevir types are based on revivals of types brought out in the 1870s by Gustave Mayeur of Paris, and are commonly known also as French Oldstyle or French Cadmus. […] They are modernized oldstyle faces, rather narrow but not tightly set, with moderate contrast and very small serifs.” – McGrew on De Vinne, Elzevir, and French Oldstyle. See also The Elzevir revival and Louis Perrin’s Augustaux type.

    In German-speaking countries, these styles went under names like Romanisch, Römisch, Romana, etc., in addition to Elzevir. In 1885, Albert Anklam cut capitals for what became Römische Antiqua (Genzsch & Heyse, 1888). They were acquired by DeVinne and used as reference in negotiations with the Central Type Foundry in 1888/90. – Bertheau: Buchdruckschriften im 20. Jahrhundert. One of the more popular series was Schelter & Giesecke’s Romanische Antiqua, or Anker-Romanisch, first cast in 1889. Its halbfett (1895) is based on De Vinne.

  • You are really generous in spending time with these full-detailed replies. Thank you so much.
    Yes, I was aware of the general descendancy from the Elzevir tradition and their lineage from France (and somewhere I saved the old discussion on Perrin et al.), also because with Antonio Cavedoni we keep being interested in the specific form the Elzevir style took in public lettering here in Italy.

    But as far as De Vinne goes, the style, treatment and many letter forms becomes very specific, and then quintessentially american. Romana has always been a favorite, very refined compared to De Vinne, and of course it would be wonderful at some point to tackle Romanische Antiqua (whose italian counterpart by Nebiolo was called Raffaello).
    But if I do not stay focused I am dead, so it’s Howland for now, then De Vinne/Romana. :-)
  • According to Circuitous Root, the Dickinson Type Foundery was merged into American Type Founders at its creation in 1892, the year when Howland was issued. I’m not aware of a digitized Dickinson specimen. Here’s a showing of Howland in a specimen by Marder, Luse & Co. in Chicago from 1893.

    The Benjamin Krebs Nachf. foundry in Germany had a face that’s very similar to Howland, named Reklame-Elzevir, c.1896.
  • Thanks much again. Yes, I stumbled upon that Krebs Nachf. specimen on Twitter: it’s definitely a copy of Howland. I think I pretty much gathered all the material that was available on the Internet Archive, but local libraries may have digitized other american catalogs (I just found one). Problem is the interfaces are often in local language, so they do not pop up through a basic Internet search.
    As scans go, I am pretty much covered, except for diacritics, which scarcely appear in the showings as these are in English. Dang Krebs Nachf., not even a dieresis! :-)
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,383
    edited April 27
    Here is part of an unpublished article of mine, which touches on the DeVinne typeface:
    Elzevir, originally designed in the late 18th century, was revived in France in the 1880s and enjoyed a return to popularity in the USA, inspiring Gustav Schroeder's "De Vinne" of 1893 (Elzevir Bold, really) … and this became the most popular typeface of the 1890s. It was named after Theodore De Vinne, the leading figure in American typography. He was a printer in the wide sense of the term as it was then employed, a publisher of books and magazines, instigator of coated paper, co-founder of the Grolier Club for bibliophiles, and an authority on typography who wrote extensively on the subject. Of the eponymous face, De Vinne said, “This face is the outcome of correspondence (1888-90) between the senior of the De Vinne Press [meaning himself] and Mr. J. A. St. John of the Central Type Foundry of St. Louis, concerning the need of plainer types of display, to replace the profusely ornamented types in fashion, of which the printers of that time had a surfeit. The DeVinne Press suggested a return to the simplicity of the true old-style character, but with the added features of thicker lines and adjusted proportion in shapes of letters. Mr. St. John approved, but insisted on grotesques to some capital letters in the belief that they would meet a general desire for more quaintness. Mr. Werner of the Central Type Foundry was instructed to draw and cut the proposed face in all sizes from 6- to 72-point, which task he executed with great ability. The name given to this face by Mr. St. John is purely complimentary, for no member of the De Vinne Press has any claim on the style as inventor or designer. Its merits are largely due to Mr. Werner; its few faults of uncouth capitals show a desire to please eccentric tastes and to conform to old usage. The new face found welcome here and abroad; no advertising face of recent production had a greater sale.”
    The De Vinne typeface was a successful compromise between two established forces competing for the soul of the emergent mass-market popular magazine. 
    The foundry man claimed it for commercial interest, as a business venture captivating the consumer with visual spectacle, in the manner of brash job-printed flyers and bills larded with exotically dimensionalized fonts, or lithographed posters with even more ornately flourished lettering. St. John recognized the need for something new and eye-catching, and Schroeder's (not Werner, as De Vinne had mistakenly believed) adaptation provided that, with the quiet personality which the features of Elzevier possessed as a light text type becoming quite loud in the guise of a bold display face, the upper case features going so far as to impress DeVinne as "grotesques". It was a marriage of Parisian cachet with Yankee brashness. Such commercial interest found its foothold in the advertising of mass magazines, which during the 1890s became an experimental laboratory for marketing communication.
    De Vinne claimed the magazine for typography and idealism, the editorial well his stronghold, calling for fonts of dignity and simplicity used in the understated manner of quality book and traditional magazine printing; but while he railed against the usual late Victorian suspect of profuse ornament, he too needed something new, for there were plenty of beautiful, simple, functional Victorian faces he could have turned to, but they had been around awhile, and their virtues had palled.
    Although Mr De Vinne was not entirely satisfied, he couldn't argue with the instant and immediate success of his eponymous face. A year later (1894) he began working more closely with a typefounder, Linn Boyd Benton, on a commission for the Century magazine, of which he was publisher. The strict demeanour of the resulting Century Roman was more to his taste, and the heft of its hairlines more to his ease (he was 66 at the time); the face would not become popular, although its descendants would. The Century family branched out with Century Expanded (1900), Century Oldstyle (1906), and Century Schoolbook (1918). 
    In Devinne and Century, there is a gradual movement away from the refined detail of the Scotch Modern, which had been the favored style of everyday text type in the US for 60 years, and the more recent but similar in effect Old Style, towards a heavier impression, matching the tenor of the times which found its most forceful expression in William Morris. Like De Vinne, Morris was in his sixties in the nineties, so their beef with fine type may well have been age-related. 

    And here is a small-space ad from 1906:

  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,383
    edited April 27
    This illustrates the relationship (which I mentioned above) between editorial and advertising style in 1893, in the largest-circulation magazine of the day. The editorial headlines (Elzevir or a clone) are dignified, relatively small, but consistent in size throughout the magazine, and made important by the addition of fancy borders which change from article to article. 

  • Nick! How are you… :-) I hope well.

    Thanks immensely for sharing. Of course I will make sure to quote you in case I write some brief text about the digital versions I am attempting. I’m saving these for reference, will read them later.

    An interesting note: The Ladies Home Journal is basically unknown in Italy, while I realized that together with the Reader’s Digest (for men) was one of the popular magazines with the largest print run, while the Reader's Digest has had an italian edition since the late 1940s up to a few years ago, which my father subscribed to, so italian readers are well familiar with. :-)

    Now, more bits of information (or further specimen scans) of Howland would be awesome, if someone has additional sources.
  • «It was a marriage of Parisian cachet with Yankee brashness.»
    LOL, this should be framed. :D — Expect no less from your british-canadian insight.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,383
    edited April 27
    Ciao Claudio! Fine thanks!
    Is “cachet” a loan word in Italian?

  • @Claude Pelletier Very nice! Many thanks!
  • Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 735
    Claudio, I’m glad you’re looking into Howland! I’ve long been interested in this one too, especially the extra condensed display sizes which really stand out in those early ATF specimens. Letterform Archive holds multiple Dickinson catalogs (along with others showing Howland) and can provide hi-res imagery for a small fee. Email us.

    An aside: Along with the 1893 patent date (a year after De Vinne’s release), it’s interesting that it was filed by Palmer & Rey in San Francisco rather than Central. I don’t think I’ll ever get a handle on all the American firms around the time of the ATF amalgamation.
  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 1,403
    I've long been fascinated by this set of related typefaces, too! I look forward to seeing how this comes out.
  • Stephen ColesStephen Coles Posts: 735
    Found a Dickinson ad in the April 1892 issue of Inland Printer which states Howland as a “companion series to De Vinne”, as quoted by McGrew in his description.
    image of page 623
  • @Stephen Coles: Thanks much. The Inland Printer ad is indeed very good as it shows precisely the release date. So we can assume that not only De Vinne was released at least in 1892 (although the patent is from 1893) but probably earlier?

    As far as the glyph coverage in scans, what I am mostly missing are diacritics, and european accents, since these were unlikely to be found in the lines set in English.
    Although my initial work is not geared towards commercially releasing it, if the fees are reasonable and there are useful specimens, that would be a great help.
    Is your old typographica email still working? If not, send me your email and I’ll get back to you.

    @Thomas Phinney: Thanks! It’s a great motivation to have your interest. :-)
    I would also add the relationship extends to other more decorative and titling faces of the era. De Vinne Ornamented looks related to Columbus, and I have been thinking about you while I started this. :)
  • Claudio PiccininiClaudio Piccinini Posts: 66
    edited April 29
    Here’s my digital design in its current state. I typed the last lines from Steve's specimen for a comparision. I am still deciding to which degree I want to improve the harmony of the curves on glyphs like [6], [9], [O], [o], [S] and [s] as in the original they have a marked crudeness which although very peculiar quite strikes in the overall settings.
    [8] is also drawn pretty bad.

    I am placing the larger form of [O] and the [R], [M] adherent to the Elzevir forms in Stylistic Set 1.

    The master is mostly based on point sizes 42-48, and meant to be used in titling in 48-60 pts. I could do a version for sizes 72 and above, but my priority would be a text version based on 8-12 point size (and maybe a subtitling one based on 18-24 point size).

  • I am undecided by which degree I should retain the crudeness on certain glyphs, especially the [8] (I will have to see about [g] as well).
    Here you can see three versions. The one on the right is faithful to the original, the one on the left is harmonized, the middle one is midway (and the one I have chosen for now).
  • Claudio PiccininiClaudio Piccinini Posts: 66
    edited April 29
    Outlines superimposed over the scan (more faithful in red, balanced redesign in blue).

  • Thomas PhinneyThomas Phinney Posts: 1,403
    When I read your last two posts above, it seems that they are inconsistent as to which is the “original/faithful” design and which is the redesign. But the second is consistent with what I see in the original specimen.

    Yes, the “red” version seen in Howland seems pretty weird/unusual—yet it matches the original. However, the “blue” treatment is more consistent with virtually all the other DeVinne family members / styles I see in McGrew’s book.

    Personally, I would go with the “blue” version if I were doing this revival. (I don’t think there is a single right answer, though!)
  • Thomas, that’s why I swapped “right” and “left”… Ugh! Will edit when I am back on the Mac.

    Yes, you’re right. But since I wish to stay as faithful as possible to the original, and I do not see it as a revival, I think I will just harmonize and make gentler the “dissonant” (rather crude) glyphs.
  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 829
    This is the kind of question that makes revivals challenging (and interesting). The original seems to have no corners in the counters, whereas even your most "faithful" version looks like it does. Instead of a smoothness in the counterforms, your "fixing" prioritizes a smoothness in the thin stroke as it crosses over. It's a tiny detail and yet it's a real philosophical difference! I find the original quite likable and I wouldn't call it "crude."

    That original /e/, on the other hand, is really unappealing to me...
  • Mark SimonsonMark Simonson Posts: 1,074
    I love the original /e/. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯
  • I can no longer edit the post: however of course it was meant to read:
    «Here you can see three versions. The one on the left is faithful to the original, the one on the right is harmonized, the middle one is midway (and the one I have chosen for now).»

    @Craig Eliason: Thanks for the consideration, really pertinent. Now that I reconsider this, I will attempt to stick as close as possible to the original, avoiding broken points in the counters. I have to say I find the term "revival" too vague, and in general it gives me the idea of an interention bringing substantial changes to the original design, or even an interpretation, a new design.
    While my goal is to get as much as possible into the forms and give back the feeling of the original typeface, and of the period.

    You are right about my use of the term "crude": my english can be flawed; I wished to say that the form has some unbalance and disharmony of curves, which is not present anywhere in the rest of the glyphs (except maybe in [g] and a bit in [6] and [9]).
    Of course I do not know what Cumming was thinking when designing it, but it does not seem to stem for a particular rationale. Clearly Howling has these pleasant inconsistency, but a few glyphs are not so carefully finished (overshoot is often lacking in larger sizes), so my goal is mostly to armonize these but not change the design. I could just keep more harmonized forms using stylistic sets.

    What makes the [e] unappealing to you? I agree the small counter seems exaggerate but it’s one of the features I like more in condensed versions of these "De Vinne" influenced styles.
  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 829
    Mostly the /e/ just feels too light on top. (The problem goes away in the smaller sizes of the sample that Stephen Coles posted.) 
  • Mostly the /e/ just feels too light on top. (The problem goes away in the smaller sizes of the sample that Stephen Coles posted.) 
    Yes, that’s why I slightly (very slightly) emboldened the upper stroke. I also opened/enlarged the counter a bit. From the specimens I’ve collected, however, I have to say the problem shows mostly when it’s “under-inked”. And of course it improves in the smaller sizes.
  • Starting to tackle De Vinne before waiting to get in touch with Stephen for possible additional specimen pages for Howland.
    I just love the text of this 1907 specimen. «Its greatest defect: does not line exactly with Roman» but «Serviceable for the subheadings». :smile:

  • The features rationale behind the three width cuts.

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