Since before agricultural civilization, humans have used plants for their special properties – to nourish and heal, to harm and to poison. The earliest written compilations of plants can be traced back to the second millennium BC, with early traditions in Egypt, Mesopotamia, China and India. In Greco-Roman antiquity, the Athenian, Theophrastus (c. 371 – c. 287 BC), a contemporary of Aristotle and Plato, is often considered the father of botany; his Historia Plantarum (‘Enquiry into Plants’) proving influential right through to the Italian Renaissance. Books dedicated to describing herbs and plants and their properties and uses are known as herbals. Such books proved popular with doctors and apothecaries throughout the entire Middle Ages.
Informal is not an adjective that readily comes to mind in describing anything in the type catalogue of New York foundry, Hoefler & Co. From the highly formal sparkle of Renaissance inspired text romans like Requiem through its humanist sans, Ideal Sans, to the precision and aplomb of the shaded and layered Obsidian, all walk the page with a decidedly formal poise. Perhaps the closest they have come to informality is in the beautiful cursive letterforms in the italic styles of the recently released ‘non-typewriter typewriter face’, Operator – but again, informal those letters are not.
David Ricardo (1772–1823) was a versatile man. A stock trader, politician and, most importantly, an economist. He is considered the first of the classical economists, thus symbolizing the transition from mercantilism to capitalism. While his theories are mostly derived from mathematical abstractions, he communicated his ideas in understandable, down-to-earth language. Besides a versatile man, Ricardo is also a versatile typeface that bridges the gap between geometrical and humanist typeface design.
Recipes are as old as eating and recorded recipes date back to the invention of writing, with the most ancient examples from Mesopotamia, written in Akkadian cuneiform and dating to about 1750 BC. From late Imperial Rome, a collection of recipes from the late fourth or early fifth century, commonly referred to as Apicius, has survived via eighth- and ninth-century manuscript copies. Moreover, dozens of recipe books have survived from the Middle Ages, including the tenth-century Baghdadi cookbook by Ibn Sayyar al-Warraq and the fourteeth-century treatise on cookery and cooking techniques, Le Viandier, written by Guillaume Taillevent, chef to the Court of Charles V of France. The book includes a section on dishes for the sick, in which barley gruel and, naturally, chicken soup is recommended.
It has been estimated that prior to the European invention of typographic printing in the mid-fifteenth century, some ten million manuscripts were produced.* During the incunabula (c. 1450–1500), some 30,000 editions were printed in as many as thirteen million copies. Thus, in the course of just fifty years, more books were produced than had been in the previous 1,000 years! But what did fifteenth century readers read? For the most part, Renaissance readers differed little from their medieval forebears. One third of everything published in the fifteenth century was religious in nature, and as this is Europe prior to the Reformation, then by religious literature we mean that of the Catholic Church. The greatest proportion comprised liturgical books, like missals and psalters. Then the many smaller format books for private devotional use, like Books of Hours and prayer books. Then Bibles (Latin and vernacular) and Bible commentaries and books on canon or Church law, various edicts and Papal Bulls and broadsides (a single large sheet printed on one side).
Color fonts or chromatic type are not new. The first production types appeared in the 1840s,1 reaching a peak of precision and complexity a few decades later as efficiencies in printing enabled greater creative freedom. In 1874 William H. Page of Greeneville, Connecticut, published his 100-page Specimens of Chromatic Type & Borders2 that still has the power to mesmerize designers today.
In my experience, life presents a fascinating series of opportunities, decisions and challenges, each of which impact us in different ways. Pushing and pulling us in various directions, and introducing new opportunities, decisions and challenges along the way. Of these experiences, one of the most special was my time at TypeParis.
The concept behind Thesaurus goes back to 2014, when I was finishing my bachelor’s degree in visual communications at the Haute École d’Art et Design, Geneva. My final project, ‘Genèva’, was to be a type family inspired by the city of Geneva itself, an attempt to answer the question ‘If Geneva were a typeface, what would it look like?’ My research into Geneva’s typographical history led me to the fascinating work of the Estiennes, Robert (1503–1559), printer to King Francis I and later to the reformer John Calvin, and his son Henri (1528?–1598), the printer, editor and publisher of the famous Thesaurus Græcæ Linguæ.
In 1450, Johannes Gutenberg entered into an agreement with one Johann Fust, a Mainzer goldsmith and guildsman, to borrow a staggering 800 Rheingulden at 6 percent interest. Gutenberg’s sales pitch must have been convincing, for Fust would later testify that he himself had borrowed money in order to fund the loan. Gutenberg sank the money into his workshop and promptly defaulted upon the interest payments. Fust must have been incandescent in his rage, and yet, two years later, as recorded in the inevitable court judgment, he would go on to lend Gutenberg another 800 Rheingulden on the condition that Gutenberg take on Fust’s adopted son, Peter Schöffer, as his foreman. Gutenberg assented, Schöffer was hired, and Fust paid out the second loan.
When I started the development of Proza, I didn’t want to deal with the limitations of a low-resolution rasterizer. As a result, Proza is completely stuffed with diagonal and curved lines, and tiny details that help to bring the texture alive in print, but that are something of a nightmare for a low-resolution rasterizer. As soon as Proza was done, however, I felt the need to make a version that would work well on digital screens, so I simply converted it to a web font, and made my own web test page to see how it would look. It looked as terrible as I expected, so I opened up the font and began editing; hesitantly at first, trying to keep as much of its character alive as possible, but more vigorously with every update. By the time I was done, only the skeleton of Proza remained. The result, Proza Libre, is released on Google Fonts, freely available to use for anybody under an open source license.
Grifo, the Portuguese word for griffin, a mythical creature with the head and wings of an eagle and the body of a lion. We can imagine how threatening this creature might appear, and would probably want to stay well clear of its sharp claws and beak. Grifo the typeface also has sharp serifs and terminals. It’s full of talon shapes, like the c, e, the bottom curve of the t, and, most obviously, in the commas and quotes. The name of such a hybrid creature like the griffin felt appropriate for a typeface that is itself a hybrid, both in terms of its letterforms and function. Grifo’s design draws on the rationality and extreme high stroke contrast of the neoclassic types, but has bracketed serifs and sharp triangular terminals, instead of ball terminals. Some serifs in the lowercase letters were removed, therefore a, d, and u are a mix of sans serif and serif forms. Moreover, because Grifo comprises different optical sizes, its suitable for both display and text settings.