Hermann Zapf’s Rare Sketches

Posted inThe Daily Heller
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Jerry Kelly, type historian and biographer of Hermann Zapf, has announced a new Kickstarter campaign for The Zapf Sketchbook Facsimile edition project, which has just gone live. Kelly narrates the informative funding pitch video, which provides a wealth of exquisite Zapf material. Although I am reluctant to promote crowdsourcing projects until they are actually funded and published, this reprint stands apart. I asked Kelly to discuss the project.


What is the importance of this sketchbook to students and professionals?The importance lies mainly in the significance of any well-done graphic art: From examples such as these we can learn a lot about what “works.” Calligraphers in particular are always looking for exemplars to base their practice on, and in these pages I see specimens of many alphabets that make me want to line up some paper and take out my pens. Of course we always want to add something of ourselves into our work, but we all start by basing our work on things we admire. As Picasso said: “Good artists copy; great artists steal.” Refined and or iginal letterforms such as these are an inspiration to all who work with beautiful letterforms.The layouts can also be viewed as models of design. The same would be true for students or professionals.


What is its history? When was it last seen?Essentially, these books have never been published before and have only been seen by a handful of people, which is a good part of what makes this project so exciting. I believe two or three pages have been reproduced in compendiums of Zapf’s work, but the overwhelming majority of the 71 artworks have never been reproduced before. Only people who have visited Zapf in his home have had the opportunity to see these; he will not let them out of the house. And even among visitors, it is only the lucky few to whom Zapf has shown them.


Where does this fit into Zapf’s collected works on and of type and design?I could write a book on this. Take a look at the Kickstarter page, where I show a page from the 1942 sketchbook followed by the same text set in Linotype Zapfinio, a type made by Zapf over 50 years later! The resemblance is telling. Other pages show the progenitors of types such as Michelangelo and Novalis.

Almost as interesting are pages which show things that would virtually never be seen in Zapf’s later work, such as an illuminated page (HZ almost always aims for simplicity), and some charming paintings and sketches.

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