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This is a nice start, Andreas. The general impression I get is that the font is somewhat wobbly, with some letters being slightly right-leaning (alef, bet, zayin, tet, kaf, kaf sofit, mem sofit, nun sofit) and others being more straight for even slightly left-leaning. The design has many echoes of Frank-Ruehl (1910), which is an unfortunate resemblance, in my opinion, as that type has some perversely narrowed glyphs (hei, chet). Frank-Ruehl departed from the tradition of earlier metal-cast Hebrew type that was established in the early 16th century and remained more or less stable for over three hundred years. It’s difficult to explain why it became so popular, but I suspect that the gap in Hebrew typefounding in the 1930s-1940s had extended its shelf life long after the expiration date.
Because the 16th-century typefounders made their merubah (square) text types to be combined with the elaborate diacritics of Bible and liturgy, almost all set on separate lines above and below, they divided the em square into quarters, so that the alphabetic glyphs occupied 2, 3, and 4 quarters and the diacritics either 1 or 2 quarters. The letter shin was an exception, as it often occupied 5 quarters, but so too did the extended letterforms used for justification (these often went to six or even seven quarters).
Since your design is typographic (as opposed to calligraphic) and traditional in style, I think it would be a good idea to revise the design with the classical proportions and see where you want it to go after that. The restriction will allow you to become more confident in the letterforms. It would also be a good idea to start making words. If you do, you’ll see that some of your details will make it very difficult to achieve good spacing. For example, the upper arms of alef (which looks a little lost) and tsadi extend to the right beyond their feet below and this will cause you nothing but trouble.
Good luck—I look forward to seeing where you go with it!
Andreas, I need to ask a fundamental question: What is the purpose of your type? If your intent is to use it for Bible and liturgy, you will need to become schooled in the two kinds of diacritics: the nikkudot (vocalization vowels) and the taamim (cantillation tropes). If your purpose is Modern Hebrew, then the job is simple, as you won’t need to bother with any of that. The difference between the two uses also determines, to some extent, the proportions of the letters. In Israeli types, which generally have no use for the diacritics, certain letters (such as nun and gimel) can be rather narrow, whereas the same letters used for religious work have to be wide enough to accommodate the diacritics. Retrofitting the diacritics to modern designs seldom succeeds.
The book samples you show are excellent ones. The greatest of all Hebrew typefounders was Guillaume Le Bé (1525-1598), who worked in Venice and Paris. We know more about him and his work than we do about any other type founder working in any script because he left behind a set of notebooks in which he recorded every type he made, the publishers for whom he made them, and the books in which they were used. The notebooks (bound together) are in the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. You can see them here: https://gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/bpt6k841173q.r=Guillaume Le Bé?rk=107296;4. (Also see Hendrik Vervliet's Conspectus.) Le Bé, who apprenticed in the shop of Robert Estienne, was, in a sense, the first person to become an entirely independent typefounder—the godfather of almost everyone here on Typedrawers! Not only did he sell his own types, but he bought up types of others for resale. (You’ll see some in his notebooks.) Best of all, a large number of his types—complete sets of punches, strikes, justifieds, and castings—can be found at the Plantin-Moretus and the BN. If you want to know how Hebrew types worked, you need to study the justifieds (finished matrices) and the casting records at the Plantin-Moretus. The published works on Hebrew type are clueless about these mechanics, without exception. Appended here are two Le Bé-based fonts I made with Matthew Carter some years ago.
Le Bé’s designs were the basis for almost all of the Amsterdam Hebrew types made during the 17th century. But these are all examples of the Sephardic style of script; to see the Ashkenazic style, you need to look at the types used in Prague, in the 1530s, by the publisher/printer Gershom Cohen (Gershom ben Shlomo haKohen). They are superb. I recently made a set of fonts based on these. The 19th-century style, a “Modern” hybrid of the Sephardic and Ashkenazic, are typified by “Vilna” types made for the Romm family, who published a vast amount of rabbinic literature.
This is one of my Prague fonts, which I mentioned above. It’s an interpretation of types that appeared in several publications of Abraham Cohen, in 1530. The leftward slant was typical of the Ashkenazic script since the Middle Ages. The style is “spikier” than Le Bé’s, which reflects the different tools with which these letters were written by hand. The Sephardic and Middle Eastern scribes used reed pens, whereas the Ashkenazic scribes preferred the quill or stylus.
For years, I had wanted to make a font based on the Prague types. When Covid-19 struck, it became urgent—a now-or-never kind of thing, despite extra busy with other work. So I did, in two weights. (The text here, from the Book of Proverbs, is in the lighter version.)
Scott-Martin Kosofsky said:
… What is the purpose of your type? …
… What is the purpose of your type? …
Ahh, I understand. Andron is a great and vast work, so adding a basic Hebrew would make sense. Given Andron’s roots, you might do well to look at the types used by the Soncino family in the late 15th and early 16th centuries, some of which were cut by Francesco Griffo. They tend to be lighter than most of Le Bé's text fonts, making them a better match for Latin texts. I’d also recommend taking a look at Baruch Gorkin’s Venecia fonts, which are based on them, though in a rather original and engaging way.
Steve Gardner said:
… are the differences highlighted intended?
1. Fei is a little too wide, even though it is equal to most of the other square letters. The right side will need more sidebearing than, say, bet. Try to keep sidebearings in mind throughout the design.
2. Chaf, ditto
3. Mem Sofit looks a little narrow.
4. Chaf Sofit and Fei Sofit would be better if they were 3/4 of the square, rather than 4/4.
5. Gimel and Nun would be better as 3/4 letters in this design, which is a traditional one, rather than Modern (Israeli) Hebrew.
6. Tet could be slightly narrower.
7. The vertical stroke in Qof should move left. Although you say you do not intend to include diacritics, there’s no reason to make it difficult to place them.
8. Read what I wrote above about overhanging arms and spacing.
9. Bet, Mem, and Alef still lean a bit to the left.
10, The downstroke angle of Resh, Nun Sofit, Chaf Sofit, and Fei Sofit should be more similar. I would try splitting the difference between Nun Sofit and Fei Sofit and applying the result to all of them (more or less). There's no need to be rigid about it, but you shouldn't veer off too far either.
You need to make some words at this stage.
Hope that helps!
Regarding what I wrote above about the Mem Sofit appearing narrow and the sidebearings of the square letters, I meant to add that the Mem Sofit, being the only “fully closed” letter with two vertical sides, will be the one that determines the right sidebearings and, therefore, the widths of the other square letters. Keep in mind, though, that this was the practice of the metal typefounding tradition, in which the medium demanded obedience if the letters were to accommodate the diacritics. While it does not have to be followed literally in digital type, it still is the general guide for traditional designs. To do otherwise can look “incorrect.”
Andreas Stötzner said:
I have adjusted the widths of most glyphs to one size, from which follows that a number of letters are wider now. This tendency I also spotted in various printed samples.
Thank you, John Savard, for mentioning metal Monotype Hebrew. You are correct in saying that the composition matrices had only two widths. This system was developed at the Lanston (American) Monotype Co., not by the British Monotype Corp. Ltd., which had tried and failed earlier, though later made Hebrew types using the American system. The guiding light for this effort was a Philadelphia printer, typesetter, and publisher named Maurice Jacobs (1896–1984), whose company become the principal typesetters for “exotic” languages and scripts in the U.S. They claimed to have the capability to edit and compose type in 165 languages.
The two-width system for Hebrew was a severe compromise dictated by the capacity of the composition matrix case. The issue is not so different from making monospaced Latin sans serif fonts. And yet it worked well enough for its moment. The Monotype Hebrew types with diacritics could not be used to set the Hebrew Bible, as they lacked the ±30 cantillation marks, but it could be used successfully for setting liturgical texts, which have only the vocalization “vowels.” The character set can be seen below. The glyphs with superior (cholom) and medial dots (dagesh) can also be found in foundry-cast Hebrews.
For anyone interested in the history of the development of these types, the papers of Maurice Jacobs can be found in the archives of the American Jewish Historical Society (part of the Center for Jewish History), in New York City.
Much better, Andreas! There are still a few thing you should look at:
• Regularizing the vertical stroke angle of nun sofit (should be like chaf sofit.
• The weight of the vertical stroke of tsadi sofit.
• The slant of the nun (a little more left).
• It’s good for the zayin to have a somewhat different angle from the vav, but this one looks confused.
• I agree with John about the ayin, though I think the word space is nearly correct‚ just a little more. You'll need that kern lookup especially for glyphs that are very open on the left side.
Obviously, you have some spacing and kerning to deal with. It would be help to make sure your test words are in the correct direction! Overall, though, this should make a useful addition to Andron. I think you've got the height right, which I prefer to see a little higher than the small caps, but well under the caps.
John Hudson said:
The word space is a little too narrow for Hebrew.