1990 Was the Year: PMN Caecilia, ITC Officina Serif

Back on Typophile, quite a while back I started a thread to the effect that many type designs these days seemed to belong to a particular novel kind of slab-serif.

It might be monoline, or slightly stressed. Often, the outlines seem to take inspiration from Melior or Microgramma.

In that thread, I mentioned FF Olsen as possibly the first representative of this kind of typeface. But I've now found some earlier ones, dating back to 1990. As well, one particular example that catches my eye regularly as I take the bus downtown has been pinned down, thanks to MyFonts' identification system: Calypso E Medium was used by a restaurant called the "Central Social Hall" in Edmonton for its logo.

It's just interesting how a style of type that in a previous decade was not in evidence can suddenly become hugely popular.


  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,064
    Maybe 1974 was the year. While ITC Lubalin Graph, being strictly monoline, and having conventional shape elements based on the line and the circle, doesn't have all the characteristics of this family, its proportions and large x-height do lead to a strong family resemblance.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,335
    edited April 2019
    What about Officina Serif? I think of it as a late 1980's design but that ad copy says Erik Spiekermann conceived of it in the early 80's. But I'm not sure about the timeline of the serif version. Before that, outside of display type, semi-condensed slab serif typefaces were usually Clarendon or typewriter styled. I think you can trace the style you're referring to directly to the Frutiger typeface. It was made available in the late 1970's and started becoming visible in the early 1980's. I think that's the reason you saw those types of slabs appear suddenly. Type designers probably saw Frutiger's open shapes and thought of ways to incorporate those ideas into their slab typeface designs. I think the root is Frutiger, then ITC Officina, FF Olsen and so forth.

    I don't think any of the slabs from the 1970s or earlier have enough resemblance to FF Olsen to draw a line. There are some superelliptical/squircular designs in the Photo Lettering catalog but everything was still very Clarendonian. City Bold has sort-of-open shapes but that connection seems unlikely to me.
  • edited April 2019
    Monotype writes on Fonts.com:
    “The Rockwell font family is a slab serif typeface originally modelled after a 1910 font called Litho Antique™. Revived by Morris Fuller Benton in the 1920s, the font was redesigned and published in 1934 by Monotype in a project spearheaded by Frank Hinman Pierpont.”
    I remember when Archer came out and I thought: that’s a friendlier revival of Rockwell. And whenever a creative director at the ad agency I was working for at the time insisted on Rockwell, I showed them Caecilia, because it has a humanist vibe to it and looks less industrial than Rockwell…
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,064
    edited April 2019
    I am aware of Memphis, Stymie, Karnak, and other classic slab-serif types. I suppose that I would group Archer with ITC Lubalin Graph, as having the newer proportions, but in other respects being like the classic slabs.

      I think you can trace the style you're referring to directly to the Frutiger typeface.
    Do you mean Glypha? Fruitiger, according to my reference, is a sans-serif typeface.

    If anything, among Adrian Frutiger's works, although it belongs to a different group, his Breughel reminds me the most of a related style that is also widely imitated.

    A further search shows me that there is a Frutiger Serif, but it seems to be his Egyptienne F which is an example of the kind of typeface I had in mind. While 1991 would be a year later than some others, its date of origin is also given as 1956, which would definitely give him priority.

    The serifs of Egyptienne F are slightly bracketed, though. And one can go further back, to 1937, I've now learned, to Schadow by Georg Trump, but that only has some of the features of the kind of face I was wondering about.
  • Ray LarabieRay Larabie Posts: 1,335
    @John Savard said:
    Do you mean Glypha? Fruitiger, according to my reference, is a sans-serif typeface.
    I meant Frutiger. That 1990's slab-serif style I believe you're referring to had humanist, open shapes and large x-height. That's a trend that was spawned by Frutiger. If you read the first paragraph for the Frutiger typeface on Wikipedia you'll see that Erik Spiekermann was into it. Perhaps it informed Officina...it feels like the same philosophy to me.

    I don't see much of a resemblance between pre-1990's slab-serifs and 1990's slab-serifs. Even though Frutiger lacks serifs, I think it has more in common with those 1990's types. If you took Frutiger and stuck slabs on it, I think it would look a bit like a 1990's slab=serif typeface. I went through all my old catalogs looking at slabs and everything's pretty much a Clarendon sort of deal with closed shapes. Nothing you could trace to that 90's trend. Even the squarish slab-serifs look like squarish Clarendon or classic typewriter.

    Maybe I shouldn't dismiss City Bold as there was a revival of it in postmodern design that went from the 1980's through the early 1990's.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,064
    edited April 2019
    That 1990's slab-serif style I believe you're referring to had humanist, open shapes and large x-height. That's a trend that was spawned by Frutiger.
    Ah. That's what I was missing: that any typeface, sans-serif, Roman, whatever, possessing a certain set of characteristics found appealing could be the inspiration for people to try those same characteristics in a different basic style of typeface - such as a slab-serif.

    Although I had wondered if DIN had something to do with it, so it wasn't so much that I was blind to the possibility of influence going that way, as I simply missed that this was what you referred to. Partly, I should have taken a closer look at Frutiger. Partly, as far as sans-serifs went, I had the notion that humanist shapes - Gill Sans; large x-height - Antique Olive... and those didn't seem like influences close enough to credit.

    As for City - its use by IBM certainly gave it a lot of exposure. Even if it provided some inspiration, though, this 1990s style certainly wasn't trying for a similar look.
  • notdefnotdef Posts: 168
    I’m confused by the reference to Microgramma and Melior. Static skeleton slabs have been around long since the 90s. The new thing that Noordzij brought was the dynamic skeleton + monolinear slab (humanist slab serif). Of course, by then, the dynamic skeleton + monolinear sans serif (humanist sans serif) was also a relatively new thing. There were hints of it in the geometric sans serifs (primarily in the capitals) of the early 1920s, but came to full fruition in H.E. Meier’s Syntax (1968–69)
  • notdefnotdef Posts: 168
    edited April 2019
    Sorry. I’m gonna have to correct myself: Goudy Sans (1929–1931) predates Syntax, and there are probably others I don’t know of. Edit: Case in point, Figgins’ Italic sans serif from 1870 has a clear dynamic (humanist) skeleton.

    But are there earlier monolinear slab serifs with a dynamic skeleton, prior to PNM Caecilia/Officina Serif?
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 1,064
    André Gürtler, of Team 77, the people who gave us Unica, in 1966 designed Egyptian 505. This came after Egyptienne F, but it even more closely resembles the kind of typeface that seems to have become popular since 1990 that caught my notice.

    Elsner and Flake, though, makes an Egyptian 505 which Identifont claims was designed in 1897 by one Robert McCarmant - and a Robert McCamant was a type designer active in the 1960s. But the Elsner and Flake typeface does look different.

    I also noticed that Hrant had strong favorable comments about Unica. I admire the talent and effort that went into its design, so I don't quarrel with the claim that it is a good typeface. Of course, the rights dispute perhaps greatly impaired its popularity, as like many other typefaces, it was designed for its time, and then popular tastes move on.

    My reaction to Unica, though, is negative in one respect; as far as its commercial possibilities are concerned, my reaction is "why bother". Of course, no one can predict in advance if a typeface will be a "hit", and in that sense, surely Unica was worth trying.

    But it seems to me that by attempting to bring the good points of Univers and Akzidenz Grotesk to Helvetica, which indeed was in need of them, the result is a compromise typeface. If Helvetica remains better than Unica for use in modern signs for airports and the like, and Univers remains better than Unica for setting body copy, where is there a reason for using Unica?

    Well, one reason would be if one wanted to use the same typeface everywhere - as a corporate identity.

    So it was not a total failure, even if it only managed to be a better Univers than Helvetica instead of a better Helvetica than Helvetica.
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