Characteres Elzeviriens: another French beauty from the Lead Age

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  • John Savard
    John Savard Posts: 1,094
    edited December 2020
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    My long-winded way of discovering what an outstanding piece of engineering Times Roman is: I've been for over a decade to find a replacement for it, and none of them has lasted for more than a few months.

    I certainly agree that Times Roman is an excellent typeface - and that this is a fact that is overlooked because of how ubiquitous it is.
    Papyrus became overused because it filled a niche that desperately needed filling, but Times Roman came by its overused status honestly, by being very good.
    Good enough that I think that despite the greater diversity of competition these days, it may end up becoming the next Caslon. Although its popularity might not last quite that long.
    But as far as "replacing Times Roman"? There are other valid general-purpose text typefaces, such as Caledonia, Century Expanded (or Schoolbook), Garamond, and Baskerville. None would qualify as a total and absolute replacement, but they're certainly alternatives.
    And whether or not Arno is an example of this, I'm sure there are other fairly recent typefaces that have succeeded where LL Bradford has failed, in being another worthy serif typeface suitable for broad general purpose use. Williams Caslon comes to mind, but I'm sure there are other good contenders among the more fully contemporary typefaces as well.
    Even if none of them are quite as good as Times Roman, and they wouldn't last for more than a few months if you tried to use them for everything.

    I've gone and taken another look. Certainly, there are typefaces advanced as worthy text typefaces that are limited to a niche; thus, looking for typefaces resembling Arno on Identifont, I found Garibaldi, by Henrique Beier. Its curved lines, as illustrated by the lowercase x and y - and even the lower-case v which hints at wanting to be a Greek nu - mean that even if it's beautiful enough to be called one of "Our Favorite Typefaces", it still is a niche typeface for now.
    But I think that I have found a few typefaces that did succeed where LL Bradford failed - Arno is one such, and so is Bara, by Nicola Djurek, and Eloquence, by Paulo Goode. And, for that matter, if one would expect a "big name" like Robert Slimbach to succeed with Arno, what about Palatino or Aldus by an even bigger name? Maybe none of them can quite be used as much as Times Roman, but they are typefaces that can support being used a lot.
    No, a typeface that bids fair to be the next Caslon won't have equals. But if overuse is depriving it of the respect it deserves, using other very good typefaces some of the time when possible is not a bad idea.
  • Claudio Piccinini
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    Finally, a glimpse at the text-size italics, which are also very good. 



    For comparison, I submit another version of Corps Douze italics that were in vogue then, very beautifully but also understated, just the way Frutiger liked a text font. These ones went by the strange name of Elzevir Plantin. 





    The “Elzevir Plantin” italic issued by Fonderie Typographique Française actually is just the french cut of Römische Antiqua Cursiv (which precedes De Vinne and many american more or less eccentric elzevir types). :-)
    You can see it here, courtesy of the Letterform Archive:


  • konrad ritter
    konrad ritter Posts: 202
    edited December 2020
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    Yes, you're right. I had a strong hunch about that, I just didn't know which one came out first. I think Koenig/Schoeder's Roemische was cut around 1884 or 1886? Anyway, I'm a big fan of that font. Another great type that German craft expanded into all kinds of good variants in the 1920s and 1930s. Also, sorely under-represented in the digital font landscape (and no, Romana, Rando, and Paratype's Literaturnaya don't count).  
  • Claudio Piccinini
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    Yes, you're right. I had a strong hunch about that, I just didn't know which one came out first. I think Koenig/Schoeder's Roemische was cut around 1884 or 1886? Anyway, I'm a big fan of that font. Another great type that German craft expanded into all kinds of good variants in the 1920s and 1930s. Also, sorely under-represented in the digital font landscape (and no, Romana, Rando, and Paratype's Literaturnaya don't count).  
    Yes, but released in 1888, I believe. According to Philipp Bertheaum, its capitals cut in 1895 were acquired from Genzsch & Heyse by DeVinne and used as reference in negotiations with the Central Type Foundry in 1888/90, which led to the De Vinne types.
    If you are interested, I am doing an accurate revisitation of De Vinne/Howland, here, which I will expand into an exploration of the eccentric and not eccentric related faces of the period. I always liked Haas' Romana but I am also very fond of Lipsia Antiqua (which in Italy was recut as Raffaello).
    This is also in order to acquire familiarity with the forms and get back to the elzevir roots, as I am interested in exploring specific (non typographic) italian forms for a new design of mine. Rando is “neither fish nor flesh”, IMO.
  • konrad ritter
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    Thank you for the pointer -- I wish you every success in your work on revisiting that lovely family. I have somewhat mixed feelings about what DeVinne did with that face. He 'victorianized' them a bit too much, to the detriment of the pleasing sobriety that the German original had. His angled, chopped terminals tend to draw too much attention to themselves, I feel. Which is great at display sized, but not really welcome for a text face. DJ Ross' Roslindale Text kept those idiosyncratic features of DeVinne's version, and it shows. 
  • Claudio Piccinini
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    Thank you for the pointer -- I wish you every success in your work on revisiting that lovely family. I have somewhat mixed feelings about what DeVinne did with that face. He 'victorianized' them a bit too much, to the detriment of the pleasing sobriety that the German original had. His angled, chopped terminals tend to draw too much attention to themselves, I feel. Which is great at display sized, but not really welcome for a text face. DJ Ross' Roslindale Text kept those idiosyncratic features of DeVinne's version, and it shows. 
    Of course, De Vinne’s aim was to capture attention, so it should not be compared with the thoughtful, proportionate and fine-tuned elzevir faces which were its inspiration.
    I am reviving it for its cultural impact, but of course I mean to study it and the american excesses put in this vein of types in order to consider well-balanced text solutions as well. Roslindale is delightfully designed but it places itself “halfway” between the turn of the century american excesses and their opulent revisitations of the late 1960s-early 1970s, while mantaining a homogeneity which is not to be found in neither, so the result is strange, as it’s neither “100% De Vinne”, nor a “book” elzevir.
  • Claudio Piccinini
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    @konrad ritter: Which is your opinion on Lipsia Antiqua? I think it works pretty well in book typography.
  • konrad ritter
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    I agree with everything you said above. I couldn't have put it better myself. 

    Unfortunately, I haven't been able to see many samples of Lipsia Antiqua. In fact, I couldn't find enough of it to see all the glyphs. I have little doubt I'll like it. 
  • konrad ritter
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    I took DeVinne's semibold face and I whittled it way back to an anonymous text face, for my personal use. Lower contrast and darker, to suit my weakening eyes. 




  • Claudio Piccinini
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    I agree with everything you said above. I couldn't have put it better myself. 

    Unfortunately, I haven't been able to see many samples of Lipsia Antiqua. In fact, I couldn't find enough of it to see all the glyphs. I have little doubt I'll like it. 
    Sorry, I miswrote: I also like Lipsia Antiqua, but actually I meant to ask you about Anker Romanisch, which in Italy was cut as Raffaello.


  • konrad ritter
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    Oh, it's beautiful! I can see why they called it 'Rafaello,' of all names. Breathtaking. 
  • konrad ritter
    konrad ritter Posts: 202
    edited December 2020
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    However, the bottom serif on G/ may be a bit too high. At smaller sizes, it detracts from legibility. I'd lower it by about 10 to 20 points. 
  • konrad ritter
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    A treasure of beauty: the famous specimen of the Turlot Foundry, in a good quality scan.  Behold those elzevirs. 
    https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k5844525t/f7.item.r=Fonderie Turlot.zoom
  • konrad ritter
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    Mr Piccinini, I came across this (very partial) sample of a Rafaello cast in Italy decades ago. 

  • Claudio Piccinini
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    Mr Piccinini, I came across this (very partial) sample of a Rafaello cast in Italy decades ago. 

    Thanks. This one, however, is a pretty crude (albeit charming) woodtype version. Anonima Impressori collects many rare woodtypes, but one thing is when the face is an original, another when it is an adaptation of a lead type. The lead version of Raffaello is identical to the original (Lipsia Antiqua). I have a number of scans, I would love to do a digital version at some point.
  • konrad ritter
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    I hope you will! I've become infatuated with that face. 
  • Claudio Piccinini
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    Here’s a cute text-size sample of Raffaello from an Augusta specimen of the 1910s for you. :-)

  • konrad ritter
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    Dear Lord, it's so beautiful! Please let me know when you digitize it, even in a rough draft. I'd be happy to buy it and support your work. It's absolutely marvelous! I'm in love.
  • John Savard
    John Savard Posts: 1,094
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    I took DeVinne's semibold face and I whittled it way back to an anonymous text face, for my personal use. Lower contrast and darker, to suit my weakening eyes.

    I happen to think that your anonymous text face is a very good anonymous text face.
    You're certainly within your rights to keep it for your own personal use; there are enough suitable typefaces for the same purpose available commercially, that this sphere can do without it - and if you are a professional type designer who has released commercial designs, naturally you would not wish to compete with yourself (and you might even have a contractual relationship with a type foundry that prevents you from releasing fonts except through it).
    If, however, it were possible for you to release it as a free font, and the only reason you didn't was because you didn't think anyone would be interested - well, I've looked through Google Fonts, and they don't seem to have an anonymous text font there that is its equal.
  • konrad ritter
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    Thank you, Mr Savard. You're too kind. 

    Even by the disappointingly low standards of Google Fonts, the home-cooked face I made still needs work. If any kind soul with talent and time to spare is interested in taking it further, I'm happy to pass it along. Please get in touch, whoever's interested. I'm just an untrained amateur -- an aging dad who teaches history and math by day. 
  • konrad ritter
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    Maybe Mr Piccinini could digitize a rough version of the italics he posted above, and we can start polishing it a little, to go with the roman I half-baked. :-) 
  • Claudio Piccinini
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    Maybe Mr Piccinini could digitize a rough version of the italics he posted above, and we can start polishing it a little, to go with the roman I half-baked. :-) 
    Right now I need to stay put, as I am trying to make of type design my main job (I quit my job last year) and so I have to go ahead and complete both families of historical revivals (like the original De Vinne which I am working on right now) and my own original designs. :)
    But it’s a kind of types I’m surely interested to explore. Your text face is halfway between De Vinne and Times, which in the end came partly from that lineage. Before working on a brand new design, I would love to digitize the original De Vinne Text by Goudy, but I have almost no source material.
  • konrad ritter
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    Um, not the Scotch Roman they sell as De Vinne Text at MyFonts, is it? 
  • Claudio Piccinini
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    Um, not the Scotch Roman they sell as De Vinne Text at MyFonts, is it? 
    No, that is a different design altogether. I am doing a digital version of the original De Vinne from 1892, see here. The one you are talking about is from 1902, here.
  • Florian Hardwig
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    MyFonts is confused, too. That DeVinne is yet another unrelated design. It originated as Les Modernes at Deberny & Peignot. Stephenson Blake thought that De Vinne Ornamented sounded better. And MyFonts dropped the “Ornamented” from Linotype’s digital version. Now it’s being presented with images showing Linotype’s De Vinne.
  • Claudio Piccinini
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    MyFonts is confused, too. That DeVinne is yet another unrelated design. It originated as Les Modernes at Deberny & Peignot. Stephenson Blake thought that De Vinne Ornamented sounded better. And MyFonts dropped the “Ornamented” from Linotype’s digital version. Now it’s being presented with images showing Linotype’s De Vinne.
    What a chaos! :-) Thanks Florian!
    I have to say that Stephenson Blake had an intuition with the new name, as its decorative features remind of the original De Vinne & related, and also of Ihlemburg's work. I wonder who the french designer of "Les Modernes" was.
  • Stephen Coles
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    Are we sure that Le Modernes came before De Vinne Ornamented, @Florian Hardwig?
  • Florian Hardwig
    Florian Hardwig Posts: 264
    edited February 2021
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    Good point, @Stephen Coles. No, I’m not. The earliest showings that I’m aware of are from 1906 for Les Modernes, and from 1908 for De Vinne Ornamented. Les Modernes has one more style, the condensed étroit. Linotype credits “Deberny et Peignot Design Studio, ca. 1900” for their digital DeVinne Ornamental. However, none of these findings prove that Les Modernes came first. And of course the foundry’s name was Deberny & Cie. (the Deberny & Peignot merger didn’t happen before 1923) – sorry for adding to the confusion!
    There were several early-20th century designs that originated at Deberny and/or Peignot and ended up in Stephenson Blake’s library, like Astrée, Robur, or Nicholas Cochin. Then again, it happened the other way around, too, with Flemish. Roy Millington’s book on Stephenson Blake might have info on this question, but I don’t have it at hand right now.
  • Claudio Piccinini
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    Are we sure that Le Modernes came before De Vinne Ornamented, @Florian Hardwig?
    We need to discover it! :-)