French vs. German book typeface


I've been noticing a pattern in the use of typefaces in French and German books. It seems as if there were a strict national culture regarding what kind of typeface you should use. It's not always exactly the same but very similar ones and always clearly not the kind of the other country. To me, both kinds seem to be based on Garamond.

Here are some examples (from different books and editors) :



Does someone have any idea:

  • If there really is something common between the examples from the two countries
  • What are the typefaces or typefaces' families name
  • If this should matter when people choose a typeface for a book in French or German.

Thanks a lot for any kind of help and advice !



  • Florian HardwigFlorian Hardwig Posts: 168
    edited April 2016
    Backing up Indra’s suspicion with data compiled by Hans Andree in 2005:

    Clausen & Bosse in Leck is a large-scale book printer, producing 600,000 paperbacks and 100,000 hardcovers on daily average, for numerous and diverse publishers. Of the 1,207 titles where information about the typefaces was available, 329 used Garamond*, 180 Aldus, 172 Sabon, 121 Bembo, 96 Times New Roman, 53 Minion, 48 Palatino, 38 Baskerville, 25 Walbaum, 22 Proforma-Book, 20 Caslon, 16 Janson, …
    *) no differentiation between versions

    That’s more than 50% for Garamond, Sabon and Bembo – and this includes books that are not literature in the narrower sense of the word.

    I assume one would get different numbers for 2015, and probably some other typeface names for the runners-up, but I guess the big picture hasn’t changed much.
  • Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 1,458
    Wigs, tailcoats, breeches and stockings are long since gone, but le style Garamond endures.

    Illustration by T.M. Cleland, 1929.
  • Thanks for your answers !

    I understand that the language impacts the visual effect produced by the text. But to me the typefaces also play a role here. In this respect, I find Indra's explanation about the French need (and German disinterest) in low-x-height typefaces very convincing and it echoes my impression that German typefaces for books always look more vertical and the French very horizontal.

    Here is a "a" comparison of the six texts:

    You can see that the French uses a wider "a" with a low "tail" (sorry, I don't how you call it) and that the German uses a narrower "a", whose verticality is emphasized by the "tail" going up. There really seems to be two families here, no ?

    As a last example, this a German book which looks French to me. My suspicion is that this book was edited by a very small association, not a big editor, and thus they wouldn't be aware of this whole thing.

  • kupferskupfers Posts: 246
    edited April 2016
    How many books did you analyse? Published when? I think it’s hard to generalise like this, and hard to agree with your conclusions (at least I don’t with your last proposition). Your last example is set in one of “the other” Garamonds (Jannon branch), so yes, French, but likely not used here just because a small publisher wasn’t aware of things. It’s for instance how Monotype’s Garamond looked like as opposed to Stempel/Linotype’s. The more horizontal a-tail is present in Adobe’s Garamond for instance. Proportions and details in typefaces oftentimes stem from (former) technical limitations, which is a whole other can of worms. 
  • Just to be clear, I'm not talking about the country of origin of the typeface. To me, here, Garamond is not more French than German. I'm looking for habits of publishers between these two countries (or rather languages).

    My question arrises from personnal experience with books in these two languages, I haven't done any more research. I'm not trying to make a point, I just thought there might be some kind of well-known publishing culture behind this - but I guess I'm wrong, or someone would have pointed it out already. :smile:
  • My impression is that continental (at least French) books have used modern(ish)-face types more often and longer than oldstyle-dominated Anglo/American book publishers. Is that true?
  • Yes, this is true. It’s hard to imagine such typography in English.

Sign In or Register to comment.