12 Overlooked & Underappreciated Typefaces

Posted inPaul Shaw
Thumbnail for 12 Overlooked & Underappreciated Typefaces

The end of the year / beginning of the year list-making spirit is still with me and so here I go with another typeface list. This one is devoted to typefaces that have been overlooked and/or underappreciated. The typefaces are listed in chronological order of their design.

Walbaum by Justus Erich Walbaum (1768–1846) c.1800

 Paul Shaw
 Paul Shaw

Monotype Walbaum in text sizes (machine composition). From a specimen book produced by The Press & Letterfoundry of Michael & Winifred Bixler.

 Paul Shaw

Monotype Walbaum in display sizes (machine composition). From a specimen book produced by The Press & Letterfoundry of Michael & Winifred Bixler.

Walbaum’s romans, along with those of Johann Carl Ludwig Prillwitz (1758/1759–1810) c.1790*, represent the first important break from blackletter in German typographic history. Both men were inspired by the interest in classical art and literature shown by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe and Friedrich Schiller and their types were influenced by the work of Firmin Didot. Walbaum’s were the more polished types and the ones that were first revived in the 20th century.

Within the Neoclassical trinity of Didot, Bodoni and Walbaum, the latter is always the forgotten type. But, as Erik Spiekermann has pointed out, it is the better one for text setting. However, it is important to note that there are two basic Walbaum designs available today, one derived from 8 to 10 pt samples and the other from a 16 pt sample. The former, a light (almost spindly) design, is Walbaum (Monotype Corporation, 1930s) or Walbaum Standard by Gunter Gerhard Lange (H. Berthold AG, 1976); the latter, a darker design with a tall x-height, is Walbaum (Linotype), Walbaum Medium (Monotype Corporation, 1930s) or Walbaum Buch by Lange (H. Berthold AG, 1975). This second design is historically a display face but it is the one more commonly used for text today. [There is also Walbaum 2010 Pro by Frantisek Storm (Storm Typefoundry, 2010), a new interpretation of Walbaum that tries to negotiate between its text and display sizes.]

Walbaum is not as dandyish as either Didot or Bodoni. It lacks spur serifs on C, G, S and s; a foot serif on b; and a beard on G. Its stroke contrast is not as severe and, at least in the text version, its serifs are slightly bracketed. Walbaum has influenced a number of contemporary type designs from Hermann Zapf’s Marconi (1973) and ITC Zapf Book (1976) to Robert Slimbach’s Kepler (1996) and Cyrus Highsmith’s Ibis (2010).

*a digital version of Prillwitz’s type is available as Prillwitz by Ingo Preuss (Preuss Type, 2005).

Schadow by Georg Trump (C.E. Weber, 1938–1952)

 Paul Shaw
 Paul Shaw

Schadow (metal)

Schadow is a slab serif with stroke contrast and light slabs. When it appeared it represented a major break—along with Eric Gill’s Joanna and Jakob Erbar’s Candida—from the 19th century Egyptians and the square serifs (Memphis, Stymie, Rockwell) that dominated the category in pre-1950s typography. Joanna is a humanist slab serif (like Scala today) while Candida and Schadow are industrial, with Schadow being the livelier of the two.

One of the things I most like about Trump’s work is his willingness to rethink each letter of a typeface at each weight. Thus, Schadow is a subtly different design from weight to weight. For instance, in the regular weight Q has a stubby diagonal tail, g has a closed loop, 2 has a sweeping curve reminiscent of Akzidenz Grotesk, and 7 has a crossbar while the book weight has Q with a bent tail, g with an open lower loop, 2 with a bend in its curve, and 7 without a crossbar. Trump’s families manage to retain their common identity while avoiding the blandness found in most of today’s type families. This is because he worked in an era before weights and widths were roughed out by computer interpolation.

The loveliest member of the Schadow family is Schadow Werk (called Schadow Light in the version available from Bitstream) both in its overall lightness and in the livelier design of many of its individual characters.

Trump Medieval by Georg Trump (C.E. Weber 1954–1960)

 Paul Shaw
 Paul Shaw

Trump Medieval (metal)

Trump Medieval was mildly popular in the 1960s and 1970s among book designers and a few advertisers, but has fallen out of favor over the past several decades. This may be due to its confusing name which suggests it is a blackletter which it is not. Medieval has nothing to do with the Middle Ages. It is a German adjective describing roman typefaces that are dark in color like the oldstyle faces we associate with Venetian printers (such as Wendelin da Spira, Nicolas Jenson or Erhard Ratdolt) in the Incunabula period (1470–1500).

Trump Medieval has been my unofficial house face since I began as a graphic designer in 1981. Thus, I am a bit reluctant to urge others to discover virtues. But it is such a great face—even though none of the digital versions due justice to its metal forebear*—that I am fighting the urge to be secretive.

What I have always liked about Trump Medieval is its crispness and modernity. Although designed by a calligrapher, the influence of the broad pen is not as obvious in it as in Palatino, its rival in the 1950s and 1960s. Trump Medieval has thin wedge-like serifs, abrupt transitions from straight to curve and sharp crotches that, when it was designed, set it apart from most other oldstyle romans of the time. Over the past 25 years, these features have become more common in typefaces (i.e. ITC Charter by Matthew Carter, Swift by Gerard Unger, Scala by Martin Majoor or Whitman by Kent Lew) and thus Trump Medieval can seem contemporary.

Trump Medieval has a very readable italic and a pleasing bold, two things that cannot be said for most oldstyle faces, no matter how wonderful their romans are. Its italic is actually a quasi-sloped roman and that is the secret to its success. At first glance the presence of foot serifs on the majority of letters makes the face look like an oblique. But, in fact, the bowls and humps of letters such as b and n have a chancery structure and a few letters (a and f) are clearly italic. Even the kerning limitations of metal type (e.g. narrow f and j) are normally a defect are here an asset. Georg Trump has pulled off a miracle: an italic that is open, flowing and dynamic—and is a harmonious match to the roman rather than simply a friendly companion. This is an italic that you can use to set large chunks of text without fear of tiring the reader’s
eyes. It also has one of the best ampersands ever designed for a typeface.

Trump Medieval Bold and Trump Bold Italic are not miraculous. They are just examples, rare in the days of metal type, of a heavy weights of a type that are not caricatures of the base design but are strong designs in themselves. This is due, I believe, to the underlying sharpness of the Trump Medieval. In being heavied up it did not turn into a gloppy mess like the various foundry versions of Garamond, Caslon or Baskerville.

What is most wrong with Trump Medieval is that the complete family is not available digitally. Missing are the swash capitals and lowercase alternates for Trump Medieval Italic, Trump Medieval Extra Bold, Trump Medieval Bold Condensed and Trump Gravur. (The latter, an inline titling face, is available on its own from ARTypes.)

Trump Gravur (metal) by Georg Trump (1960).

 Paul Shaw

Trump Gravur (metal) by Georg Trump (1960).

*Trump Medieval Office (Akira Kobayashi, Linotype, 2006), the newest incarnation of Trump Medieval, was supposed to be an improvement on the Postscript Trump Medieval of the 1980s, but it is actually an emasculated interpretation. Kobayashi has stripped the face of much of its power and dynamism. In his redrawing he has softened curves and smoothed over inflection points, reduced stroke contrast, changed character widths, and added little calligraphic fillips to some terminals where they are not needed. Some of these changes are obviously the result of the misguided decision to make the four members of the family—Linotype botched the opportunity to make the missing members available once again—have identical set widths. Overall, the result is dispiriting.



Marconi by Hermann Zapf (Dr.-Ing Rudolf Hell GmbH, 1973)

 Paul Shaw

Icone by Adrian Frutiger (Linotype, 1980)

 Paul Shaw
 Paul Shaw

Trilingual text set in Univers / Méridien / Icone. Typography by Erich Alb.

Icone is one of a trio of innovative types—the others being Iridium (1972) and Breughel (1978)—that Frutiger designed in the 1970s as part of his exploration of what was possible once type was no longer bound by the restrictions of metal casting and composing. It is the most fascinating of the three.

Icone is a monotone design distinguished by exaggerated asymmetric flaring stems that place it—even more uncomfortably than Optima—between a serif and a sans serif face. It also has a large x-height that lends it a squat appearance. Together, these features give text set in Icone an unusual color and rhythm with a strong horizontal feel. At small sizes it is not only very readable but pleasantly lively in a way unmatched by sans serifs.

Icone can be an alternative to grotesques in text and captions. Swiss typographer has used it brilliantly in combination with Univers and Méridien since most Frutiger faces share a common DNA. I would suggest pairing it with Frutiger. At display sizes Icone is more of an acquired taste.

Icone has a large family (including a bold outline version) but it is best in the light and regular weights. The distinctive sparkle disappears at the bold and extra black—what happened to just plain black?—weights and the italics are just obliques. A medium weight is needed. Surprisingly Icone has small capitals and oldstyle figures.

Hollander by Gerard Unger (Dr.-Ing Rudolf Hell GmbH, 1983)

 Paul Shaw

Infuenced by the work of the 17th century Dutch punchcutters Christoffel van Dijck and Dirk Voskens, Hollander can be seen as a modern interpretation of the goût hollandois. Or it can be viewed as a softer, and thus warmer, variation on Swift, Unger’s more famous design from the 1980s. Both have the same proportions, structure and large serifs, but Hollander’s serifs are bracketed rather than wedge-like and its stroke terminals are lobate instead of blunt. Like all of Unger’s designs, Hollander is immensely legible.

Utopia by Robert Slimbach (Adobe, 1989)

 Paul Shaw

Although one of Robert Slimbach’s earliest faces, Utopia is one of his best. It is what used to be called a workhorse type, a term frequently applied to Morris Fuller Benton’s Century Oldstyle. That is, it is a typeface that is not flashy but can work well in many situations. Yet, Utopia has more panache than Century Oldstyle while being more legible. The latter is due to its Transitional structure which results in more open counters and negative space. The former comes from the presence of some of Slimbach’s recurrent motifs such as the k without a foot serif or the t with an angled top.

Utopia has one thing that many workhorse faces lack: small capitals and oldstyle figures—and it has them in the italic as well as the roman. This makes it especially good for complex texts and yet it is one of the best choices among serif faces for signage. The Pro version (in three weights) has four optical sizes (caption, text, subhead and display) which further enhances Utopia’s versatility. Of all the fonts on this list, it is the one I would pick if I was forced to work with only one typeface.

Dorian by Elmo van Slingerland (Dutch Type Library, 1996)

 Paul Shaw
 Paul Shaw

Contemporary calligraphy exhibition catalogue designed by Elmo and Els Perdijk (Ampere) using DTL Dorian.

Dorian is the first and only typeface designed by calligrapher and graphic designer Elmo van Slingerland. It is a remarkably assured effort, despite an irritating letter or two. The family has five weights, each with italics and small capitals and oldstyle figures (as is common with Dutch Type Library fonts). There are also alternate sorts never released before which are rumored to be included in an upcoming OpenType version.

Dorian has a modest stroke contrast and, rare for contemporary oldstyle faces, long ascenders and de
scenders. These features combine to give text set in it a pleasing warmth, grace and openness. Dorian is both sturdy and stylish. Oddly, I have never seen Dorian used except by Ampère Graphisch Ontwerpers, the design studio run by van Slingerland and Els Perdijk.

Koch Antiqua by Rudolf Koch (Klingspor, 1922)

 Paul Shaw
 Paul Shaw

Cover of Koch Antiqua specimen (Klingspor, n.d.). The type is the Oberlängen capitals.

Koch Antiqua, sold in England as Locarno and in the United States as Eve or Eve Antiqua, has been available since the late 1980s from Adobe/Linotype, Bitstream and Alphabets but not as a complete family. The Adobe/Linotype version only has the roman while the Bitstream version has the bold weight as well. The Alphabets version, which is no longer available, had light, regular, demibold and bold weights—two more than the original design. Phaistos by David Berlow and Just van Rossum (Font Bureau, 1989–1991), an ugly reimagining of Koch Antiqua, consists of roman, italic and bold. The most complete family available is Eva Antiqua by Jim Spiece (Spiece Graphics, 2001) which has light and heavy weights with their italic companions and, oddly enough, Paramount Ultra and Paramount Black as well.

The complete Koch Antiqua family was, like many of Koch’s typefaces, peculiar in its make-up. It eventually consisted of Koch Antiqua (a light roman) Grobe Koch Antiqua (a bolder weight), Koch Antiqua Kursiv (a light italic—almost an oblique—with decorative capitals), Koch Antiqua Oberlängen (excessively large capitals and ascenders as companions to Koch Antiqua), Zierbuchstaben (decorative capitals) for both Koch Antiqua and Koch Antiqua Kursiv, and Initialen. The latter, created by Koch’s associate Willi Harwerth, were the oversize capitals intertwined with floral designs.

The absence of Koch Antiqua Kursiv today is not surprising since its decorative capitals have no counterpart in the roman and its sloped lowercase is unexpectedly unimaginative for a calligrapher, especially one of Koch’s genius. Perhaps this is due to Koch’s immersion in blackletter and a lack of confidence on his part in tackling a true chancery cursive. (Both Koch Antiqua and Koch Antiqua Kursiv began life as calligraphic alphabets by Koch in 1915.) David Berlow’s decision to make a new italic seems sensible. Unfortunately, it has only a tenuous connection to the roman. Eva [sic] Antiqua accepts the original italic for what it is, though it is missing the alternate a and the ch ligature; and it has ruined the eszett and added f ligatures and a looped l. Worked into the italic are roughly half of the decorative (swash) capitals that were formerly separate. Why the rest are left out is a mystery since they are not strange in any way.

The lack of the Oberlängen, the roman Zierbuchstaben and the Initialen is the most puzzling since all three are perfect companions for Koch Antiqua that enhance it more than the italic or the heavy weight. As a set they reinforce the sense of Koch Antiqua as a quintessential Art Deco-era face. And the Oberlängen capitals on their own are breathtakingly elegant.

The inclusion of Paramount in a Koch Antiqua family is not only strange but insulting. Paramount was designed by Morris Fuller Benton (American Type Founders, 1930) as a heavy companion to Rivoli by Willard T. Sniffin (American Type Founders, 1928) which was so close to Koch Antiqua that Klingspor sued ATF over copyright infringement. ATF countered by claiming that Koch stole his design from Urban Wyss, a 16th century writing master! For the full story—which is full of chicanery and hubris see “A Face by Any Other Name Is Still My Face: A Tale of Type Piracy” by David Pankow reprinted in Texts on Type: Critical Writings on Typography edited by Philip B. Meggs and Steven Heller (New York: Allworth Communications, 2001). Thus, the joining of Eve (Koch Antiqua) and Paramount is a slap in the face to Koch.

For more on Koch Antiqua see Rudolf Koch: Letterer, Type Designer, Teacher by Gerald Cinamon (New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press and London: The British Library, 2000), pp. 84–85.

Semplicità by Alessandro Butti (1893–1959) (Fonderia Nebiolo, 1930)

 Paul Shaw

Semplicità medium by Alessandro Butti (1930).

Alessandro Butti, the head of the Studio Artistico della Nebiolo from 1936 to 1952, is always overshadowed by Aldo Novarese, his younger colleague. However, in his day he created several lovely moderne typefaces such as Quirinus and Fluidum. And he was responsible for Semplicità, the Italian answer to Futura.

Semplicità was the most popular sans serif in Italy during the Fascist era, but it is little known outside of the country. The interwar sans serifs all have geometry at their core but they range from Euclidean severity to Art Deco frivolity. Semplicità is closer to the first pole but not as much so as Futura. It has a funky U with a sharp lower right corner; A with a low crossbar; tall ascenders that poke above the caps; an f that drops below the baseline and (like the t) only has a right-side crossbar; a with a rounded bowl (in the style of Gotham); and crotch-less a, p, d, b, q in the manner of Gill Sans (and FF Dax); and Q with a slightly curvy tail that begins in the counter and ends on the baseline.

These idiosyncrasies suggest that Semplicità might find a warm reception today, given the current love affair with Gotham, Neutraface and Proxima—and the resurgence of ITC Avant-Garde Gothic.


Pegasus by Berthold Wolpe (Monotype, 1937)

 Paul Shaw

From the outset Albertus was a hit and it continues to be available today. Wolpe himself helped its popularity by constantly using it on book jackets for Faber & Faber, the publishing house for which he worked from 1941 to 1975. Pegasus never gained the same fame and it disappeared from view when type shifted from metal to film. Albertus became its own text companion at that point. The last time that anyone paid serious attention to Pegasus was in 1980 when Matthew Carter designed several characters for Pegasus for use in the catalogue accompanying the Wolpe retrospective at the Victoria & Albert Museum that year.

Pegasus should be revived and paired with Albertus, just like Linotype has rightly joined Michelangelo and Sistina with Palatino (but unfortunately erased thei
r original identities in the process). Like Albertus—as well as other German roman typefaces of the first half of the 20th century—it is full of eccentricities. The design is not slickly homogenized like most of today’s kit-of-parts fonts are. These oddities—the crossbar on A that is heavier than the left leg for instance—not only give the face its charm but make it functional. As befits a typeface designed by a metalsmith, it is sculptural with the spirit of incunabular type. What matters with Pegasus, as it should with every text face, is not how an individual letter looks, but how the entire alphabet works when in concert with other letters in a word or block of text. And in this, it is a success. This is not a font for libertarians.

 Paul Shaw

There are other typefaces besides these eleven that I could have included if I had more time. I am sure that some of them will be nominated by Imprint readers. If not, I will have fodder for a follow-up column.