Hermann Zapf (8 November 1918 – 4 June 2015)

The great calligraphy and type design master Hermann Zapf passed away yesterday, on 4 June 2015, at the age of 96. Hermann has been a defining force behind type design and typography in the 20th century.

His breathtaking calligraphic skills have impressed me first when I saw them in books, but impressed me even more when, ten years ago, at the age of 86, he casually took out his pencil and inscribed a few books for me. His typeface designs were simply beautiful, perhaps most importantly Optima, which has created an unmatched class of its own and stood for decades as an penultimate expression of letterform elegance.

But his contributions went way beyond that — Hermann Zapf served as typographic advisor to both Dr. Peter Karow (URW) and Professor Donald Knuth (TeX), the pioneers of computerized typography whose legacy we all benefit from today. Hermann had as much mastery in writing and drawing letters as he had in arranging them. The typographic arrangements that he devised are full of joy, beauty, balance and harmony — and deserve to be studied meticulously.

I had the great pleasure to work with Hermann on Zapfino Extra. I’ll always remember his quick wit, his friendliness, his open mind — regardless of his age. Thank you, Gudrun and Hermann, for the encouragement that you have given me in the early years of my typographic journey, and for the immense work that you have done for the beauty of letterforms. The word “legend” should be used sparsely, but Hermann Zapf definitely deserves it.


  • Palatino was my favorite font growing up on a black-and-white Mac... and I couldn't believe Zapfino when it was distributed with a later MacOS; it was the most beautiful thing I'd ever seen. Too bad everyone else thought so as well! 

    Nice lettering! I like that proud /g in "Krieg".

    BTW, it's Goldmund, not -münd.
  • Thanks, Christian. I forgot that the mark is a ‘u’ distinguisher, not an umlaut.
  • Very sad news indeed. I will humbly add Zapf Renaissance to Stephen's list

  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 1,370
    edited June 2015
    Well said, @Adam%20Twardoch
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    edited June 2015
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  • Craig EliasonCraig Eliason Posts: 1,370
    Is the "p" in his name really silent (per nytimes obit)?
  • Nope, and neither is its onset voiced. It's [tsapf]. Typical case of journalist phonetics.
  • joeclarkjoeclark Posts: 122
    Word that looks best in Zapf International and vice-versa: Afghanistan.

  • Chris DChris D Posts: 76
    Sad to hear of his passing - 96 is a great innings too. Palatino was and still is one of my favourite serifs in the toolbox, it was only the other day I was telling my wife how it was the the font of choice for my high school essays on my old PowerBook Duo!


  • Always thought Zapfino was a classic typeface. 
  • The Hermann Hesse dust jacket is not be Hermann Zapf. HZ designed the book, but not the dust jacket.
  • Thanks for the correction, Jerry! I read it was his cover but I guess someone was mislead by the book design credit and I passed on the misinformation.
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