Reviving French classics from the later Lead Age

I have a question without an answer. Why are there so few revivals of some of the classics of French type from the Belle Epoque? In particular, I have in mind timeless beauties like Elzevir no. 3, and Peignot's Serie 16eme. 

Before you rush to correct me: yes, I know that Mario Feliciano is preparing Parnaso Text, his take on the no. 3 above; and I know that Coen Hofmann and Charles Mazé took on 16eme. But, their revivals are really display faces; they don't work for long text at all. Way too high-contrast. And, while I expect Parnaso T will be outstanding, that's just one revival. Shouldn't there be a lot more of them? It's an outstanding face by any measure; as is Peignot's S16; as it Perrin's Augustaux. For comparison, just recently we had two or three revivals of that compellingly awful Scotch by Phemister; I'm talking about Lineto's Catalogue and Pyte's Triptych. If that dreadful thing was worth reviving, so is the zenith of late-classical French type. 

So, what's going on? Is it the economics of type making in late capitalism that discourages these projects? They don't make enough money to justify the effort? What gives? Inquiring minds wish to know. 


  • I have a tome by Peignot on my shelf. Once I'm done with my German Art Nouveau project, I'll start in on the French stuff. I expect one or two text faces will make it into that set. But probably not until sometime next year.
  • John SavardJohn Savard Posts: 552
    edited May 22
    I thought the "compellingly awful Scotch by Phemister" was actually not bad at all, from some places where I saw it (such as a page from an old British codebook reproduced in David Kahn's The Codebreakers). But I'd still be willing to admit there's no real need for a revival of it, as Century Expanded is clearly better. (Oh, wait, maybe you're thinking of a different typeface than I am, because I'm thinking of Phemister's old style.)
    Ah. Luc Devroye's page calls it Augusteaux. I can see why it's out of fashion; it doesn't really have the flaws of Cheltenham, but it's somewhat reminiscent of that typeface none the less.
    If you mean the Elzevir No. 3 from Fonderie Turlot, it does seem to be a potential candidate for revival. Given the relative obscurity of French sources compared to items from Britain and the United States, it's possible that people considering reviving a typeface of that type would have looked instead at the typefaces used or recommended by De Vinne.
    As far as Peignot, online I could find only his series 1 and series 18, not series 16.
    This is not really an expression of disagreement with your aesthetic judgment, though. I favor more revivals rather than fewer, and I also agree there's no accounting for taste. Instead, I am simply noting that styles of typeface go in and out of fashion, and my attempts to check on the ones you've admired suggest that they may be suffering from having characteristics that are strongly out of fashion at the moment.
    ...which may be all the more reason why you should revive them, to help start a trend that would correct flaws and limitations in current taste.
  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,601
    edited May 22
    The pre-WW2 continental foundries did indeed produce wonderful ideas that warrant reviving. I think the revival of the Deberny* №16 by Mazé/ABYME is notable:
    Although I agree an optical axis that (further) tames its contrast would be wonderful.

    * Not Peignot BTW. In fact the Peignot acquisition resulted in the scuttling of most of the sober work by Deberny, in favor of trendy display designs.

    You might also enjoy this, just released in March:

    Also worthwhile are many German designs from the first half of the 20th century.

    Why do we not see more of them today? It must be fashion/money. But maybe the tide is turning... Fingers crossed.
  • konrad ritterkonrad ritter Posts: 14
    Thank you all for chiming in. Your insights are much appreciated. 

    Mr Weiss: That's great news. I really look forward to your revivals, when they come. Your foundry is a favorite place of mine. By the way, I hope you won't leave German type behind. I think we still don't have a revival of the Roemische Antiqua/Romanisch that does it justice. For a look at how beautiful it was (and the italics, too, always a greater challenge to get right), here's a good selection, on pp. 109-116:

    Mr Savard: Here's a good sample of the Serie no. 16. I grew up reading a lot of French books printed in it, and it makes for extremely pleasing typography.[]=publisher_s:%22Deberny%20%26%20Peignot%22&query[]=Peignot&query[]=Peignot&hitStart=43&hitTotal=200&hitPageSize=25
    It gains from the ink spread, to be sure, but I think the artists who created it took that into account. Sadly, that lead-type-on-paper look is half the magic of old typography, and none of the digital artists who revived it took that into account. That's why I'm kind of disappointed in their work. 

    Mr Papazian: Thank you for letting me know about Ms Savoie's work. I saw it when it came out, and I hope she expands on it. While we're at it, I should say that I love Mathieu Cortat, and I respect his artistry; but his Louize doesn't quite capture the sheer magic of Perrin's Augustal. I was dumbstruck when I saw his Corps 14, which you found for us to appreciate here:
    It's just -- I don't even have the words for it. 

    Lastly, you're absolutely right about older German work. A young designer would be well advised to take a stroll through the non-fiction/science books printed in Germany in the Interbellum years. They had some unbelievably good type--local variants of Romanisch and Scotch Romans that are just unbelievable. In terms of clarity, unobtrusiveness, and ease of reading, they gave Century OS and Times a good run for their money.  
  • Thanks for this interesting post. French types of the 19th century haven’t been ignored entirely: Tobias Frere-Jones and Nina Stössinger recently collaborated on a family of types called Empirica, which they based on Louis Perrin. It’s an interesting performance, as it emphasizes the 19th-century details of the letters over the underlying classical forms. And it adds a lowercase, which makes for an interesting comparison with Sumner Stone’s Popvlvs, a similar idea that remains firmly in the classical camp.

    In 1975, when I was 22, I settled in Boston, where I lived for forty years. As a newly minted adult, I was obligated to perform a number of civic responsibilities, such as register as a resident, as a voter, and as a driver. The official forms were all relics of a long-past typographic era, set in French Elsevier text often with Tudor Black headings. These were all, I later learned, composed in hand-set metal type at a city-owned print shop located in the city’s North End. Sometime in the late 1970s, the city decided to modernize its graphics operation and sell off its old composing room. I went to the sale, hoping there might be something worth acquiring. (I picked up a rule-bending machine.) The official forms I had filled out were all there, kept standing for future printings and revisions. The types were badly worn. When the French Elsevier became too worn, they set the revisions in another type of the same body size, sometimes on the same line—making a ridiculous hodgepodge.

    I already knew these “French Elsevier” types well from many visits to the green bouquiniste stalls that line the Seine near Notre Dame. It seemed that nearly every book or feuilleton published between the 1870s and 1918 was set in them. The ubiquity of these types is what probably led to their disappearance, like the way that Scotch types were used and disappeared in England and the U.S. They needed a long rest. But I think we’re ready for some revivals!

  • Hrant H. PapazianHrant H. Papazian Posts: 1,601
    Empirica's Italic is heartening.
  • konrad ritterkonrad ritter Posts: 14
    Ah, local-government typography in Boston... I was a bit familiar with it a few years ago, when I had some business at their City Hall. Their older signs were mostly in a crude-ish Scotch Roman, sensible and unassuming, which I liked. Then it looked like they had decided to 'modernize,' and switched to an ugly, little-legible slab serif. I didn't like it. 

    On the Cambridge side of town, I was struck by the frequency of signs in some version of Goudy. Felt very New England. 
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