5 Interesting Font Histories

Graphic Design
futura typeface

By Kayli Kunkel

Anyone with a ballpoint pen and an Internet connection can publish a font these days (we’re looking at you, dafont.com). But typefaces used to be monumental creations. Today, many classics offer clues to old eras, and they’ve got tales to tell. Here are some of my favorites.

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A text sample of Mrs. Eaves, available at http://emigre.com

1. Masterpiece for a Mistress: Mrs. Eaves

John Baskerville was a famous typesetter and namesake of—you guessed it—the typeface Baskerville. He died in 1775 leaving unfinished work. Sarah Eaves, his former housekeeper and (ahem) mistress, published the volumes and preserved type history. More than two centuries later, Émigré type foundry created the honorary Mrs. Eaves typeface, a dolled-up Baskerville. Just gaze at that glamorous ‘Q’ swash! You’ll find this face on Penguin book spines, the Wordpress logo, and Radiohead’s “Hail to the Thief” album cover. Mrs. Eaves is the delicate, charismatic stuff of designers’ dreams.

2. Sans Serif Royalty: P22 Johnston Underground

All hail the sans serif, a contemporary king among type styles. One darling is P22 Underground, the posh face of the London Tube. Edward Johnston designed the face in 1916 (How many 100-year-old things look that good?). In 1979 it was redesigned as “New Johnston,” the reigning font of The London Underground. The typeface is now available for your own ground-level projects. And though it’s older than the Queen, P22 is a crown jewel nonetheless.

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One small step for Futura, one giant step for sans serifs.

3. Lunar Legend: Futura

Futura is the only typeface to hold a copyright as an original work of art, and almost 100 years after Paul Renner created the face, it’s still everywhereLauded as one of the first widely distributed sans serifs, this face is a radical relic of its time. Geometric shapes were all the rave (think Bauhaus design and flapper hats) when this timeless typeface made waves in 1927. Now you’ll find Futura adding flair to the Volkswagen, on Wes Anderson’s title cards, and engraved in Apollo 11’s historic moon plaque.

4. Clownish Nightmare: Comic Sans

We love to hate Comic Sans. It’s spawned websites of rage, a nauseating spin-off font, and one million witty t-shirts. But it was made in 1995, so cut designer Vincent Connare some slack: That year also brought us the “Saved by the Bell” board game. Now, Comic’s designer may be the world’s most loathed creative, but he had honest intentions. While working for Microsoft, Connare designed the face for “Microsoft Bob,” a software package designed for young users. Fun-loving it may be, but it’s also fun to hate. Says the creator in an interview about his detractors: “I think most of them secretly like Comic Sans—or at least wish they had made it.” Gag—we could all use some Comic relief.

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Courier: The icon of anonymity and antiquity.

5. Spies, Presidents, and Movie Stars: Courier

Although Courier is the icon of anonymity and spy docs, this stout typeface may be the most widely used of the last 50 years. The monospaced face was commissioned in 1955 for IBM typewriters. It soon became the U.S. State Department’s official typeface for decades. Originally named “Messenger,” designer Howard Kettler said this about the type: “A letter can be just an ordinary messenger, or it can be the courier, which radiates dignity, prestige, and stability.” Fit for a presidential memo, right?

Courier also has a classic-cool streak in the movies: Studios often require Courier 12-point for screenplays, using it as a standard for movie runtimes. The face is now royalty-free, but that doesn’t mean it’s not stately.

What are your favorite typefaces? Our design team loves fonts, and we can use them to help bring your design dreams to life. (We promise we won’t use Comic Sans)

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