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 !



  • Options
    Florian HardwigFlorian Hardwig Posts: 263
    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.
  • Options
    Nick ShinnNick Shinn Posts: 2,146
    Wigs, tailcoats, breeches and stockings are long since gone, but le style Garamond endures.

    Illustration by T.M. Cleland, 1929.
  • Options
    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.

  • Options
    kupferskupfers Posts: 259
    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. 
  • Options
    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:
  • Options
    Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 1,399
    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?
  • Options
    Yes, this is true. It’s hard to imagine such typography in English.

  • Options
    konrad ritterkonrad ritter Posts: 200
    The Germans use Stempel Garamond *a lot*. I call it the 'German Garamond,' because it was nearly ubiquitous. A friend who grew up in Germany tells me, when he sees that face, it reminds him of his childhood -- nearly all the books he read back then are in Stempel Garamond. 

    The French samples you posted are actually in American-made Garamonds. Namely, in Adobe Garamond, and one seems to be in Granjon (which is an American type that combines Garamond and Caslon-like features). Apart from Stempel, nearly all the commercially-used Garamonds these days are American-made: Adobe G and G no. 3 being the most widely used. 
  • Options
    John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,091
    It used to be that the Germans used Aldus a lot; Aldus could well be justly named "Palatino Book", and I forget whether it really is based on the type of Aldus Manutilus, or whether it's a Jenson.

    And it used to be that the French liked typefaces that resembled the Romain du Roi, and so they inclined towards Bodoni (but not as strongly as the Italians). And, of course, France is the home of Garamond, so that was very popular there as well.
  • Options
    konrad ritterkonrad ritter Posts: 200
    True about both. In fact, there was an older version of Palatino (sometimes called Palatino 1950) that I could hardly tell from Aldus Book. This version didn't survive into the digital age, except for Berthold's Palatino, which is not for sale anywhere. (I do have a copy of that, though, for anyone who's interested.) 

    Speaking of the French penchant for Garamond: recently, I came across a version of Fournier that's delightfully non-standard -- in that it can't make up its mind to leave the garalde age and move on. It's from the first edition (1788) of Lagrange's Analytic Mechanics. Take a looksie. 

  • Options
    I am pretty sure that Aldus was conceived as a running-text alternative to Palatino, a typeface originally thought for display purposes. 
    That's the story they tell us. And yet, in practice, Palatino works much better for running text than Aldus. Less distracting, and better balanced. Funny how that works. 
  • Options
    Thank you, Mr Hardwig. Being on this forum is like drinking from an endless fount of knowledge.
    BTW, the 1950 Palatino is noticeable, inter alia, by the lack of serifs on the descenders in the lowercase P and Q; the outer leg of lowercase M was curved inward visibly; and the crest in the middle of lowercase W rose up above the x-height line.

    The Linotype version changed all that. 
  • Options
    Florian HardwigFlorian Hardwig Posts: 263
    edited June 2020
    You’re welcome!
    The original Palatino cut still had to adhere to the Normal-Schriftlinie, the German standard line, with vertical proportions optimized for fraktur, i.e. with less space for descenders. Zapf wanted to avoid this, but Stempel insisted on maintaining the standard. Only later did Zapf succeed in challenging the limitation with his Optima. Palatino’s serifless descenders of p and q aimed to mitigate this problem.
    The taming of the more calligraphic glyphs was not Linotype’s doing, but rather goes back to the preferences of two American designers. On Zapf’s first visit to the U.S. in 1951, W.A. Dwiggins and typographer Franz C. Hess suggested to alter several letterforms. In addition to p q w, this also affected s S (no horizontal middle segment), v y (bilateral left serif), and E F (seriffed middle bar). Hess was the first adopter of Palatino in the U.S. and crucial in its popularization. The revised letterforms were produced by Stempel as foundry type for Anglo-American markets and were made available as alternates elsewhere, too. The tamed glyphs probably also provided the basis for the adaptation by the American Linotype in 1956, and subsequently for most digital versions. Berthold used to have a digital version (and previously a phototype version) based on the 1950 cut, but it is no longer distributed.
    Again, most of this information is taken from Nikolaus Weichselbaumer’s book, which I can wholeheartedly recommend, especially for its wealth of such well-researched detail facts.
  • Options
    A great recommendation, thank you! I'm especially keen to read up on how Palatino Werk came to be (Berthold used to sell it), and also about his work on Janson, another favorite of mine. 
  • Options
    Finally, it may be worth noting that the "German" Garamond in the question above (Stempel, that is) seems to have come in two variants. One had a welded-serif lowercase W, and a lowercase F with a longer, sloping hood. The current one has it chopped off by quite a bit. (Not really a fan of that.) See the two samples below; the first one seems to come from a book printed in Central Europe before the 1960s or so. 


Sign In or Register to comment.