Choosing Typefaces

Perpetua from Flickr
Perpetua from Flickr

In the letterpress world, the choice of typefaces was a very big consideration.  Remember that today we can download new faces and use them immediately.  In letterpress settling on one face meant a large outlay and physical space occupied by typecases and lead type.  It was no simple matter to adopt a new house face once all that money had been spent.

Printers seldom had the opportunity to start afresh so this article is somewhat idealistic, but all printers were encouraged to have a system or a house approach to types.  This article is based on a November 1957 article in Print in Britain, and is unusual because it wasn’t based on the self-interest of any one founder or composing supplier (like Monotype or Linotype).  The article assumes a smaller printing works where there could not be an endless supply of space or capital to spend on type.

The first concern is around the class of work that the printer would undertake and we can classify our small printer in to one of three groups —

  • Class A: All round small jobbing: commercial work, adverts, shops and tradesmen’s printing
  • Class B: Professional-class jobbing: brochures, leaflets and more ambitious than Class A
  • Class C: Further developed jobbing: an extension of Class B that might include colour work or some books

We also need to know whether the printer has chosen to be a Monotype house or a line-casting house (using a Linotype or an Intertype).  The faces available on each of these systems was different.

The Monotype House

Class A Printer

The recommendation here is that because Times New Roman (Monotype Series 327) is so ubiquitous, it does need to be included but should not be first choice.  An old face design like Imprint (101) might take the top slot in 9, 11 and 12pt.  The Gill family (262) would come next considering the many variants that might be used within this family and the fact that it can be supplemented with display faces.  Start with 6, 8, 10 and 12pt.  Finally, Times New Roman should be bought in 8, 10 and 12pt with 6pt an option for small advertising work.  The rule here (and for all other faces) is to get italic, then small caps, then bold if needed.

Class B Printer

The emphasis here is on the professional approach and so the choice of faces changes slightly.  Knowing that this work is to produce more lasting items (like brochures) rather than the throw-away circular the approach is a little more classic.

The recommendation is to use Baskerville (169) instead of Imprint (in sizes 8, 10, 12pt).  Plantin (110) (in 8, 10 and 11pt) would be used in lieu of Times.  Plantin is recommended because of its ‘august’ appearance when well-leaded and its economy of space when needed.

Gill is used again for the sans serif face.

Class C Printer

The Class C printer will also need to be able to tackle some book work, and we recommend Bembo (270) in 10, 12 and 14pt to supplement the Class B list.  One word of caution here, the italics and small caps will be critical in this work so need to be seen as integral with the purchase of the roman.  Bold might be bought at a later stage.  This printer might also buy Times New Roman as a fifth choice.

The Linotype or Intertype House

With a slightly more limited range of faces, there is perhaps less scope to discuss the various combinations.  One consideration is the faces to be duplexed that’s to say which two faces should appear on each matrix.  Some faces had no related bold so a bold from a similar face had to be supplied.  For most work the italic (rather than the bold) was best to be duplexed with the roman.

Class A Printer

  • Times (with italic and small caps) 8, 10, 12pt
  • Granjon (with italic and small caps) 9, 11, 12pt
  • Metroblack No. 2 (perhaps with Metrolight No. 2) 6, 8, 10, 12pt

Class B Printer

This printer would keep Metroblack as the sans serif but use some more traditional faces:

  • Granjon (with italic and small caps) 8, 10, 12pt
  • Times New Roman (with italic and small caps) 9, 10, 12pt
  • Plantin (with italic and small caps) 8, 10, 11pt

Class C Printer

  • Granjon (with italic and small caps) 8, 10, 12pt
  • Plantin (with italic and small caps) 8, 10, 11pt
  • Caledonia (with italic and small caps) 8, 10, 12pt

With a fourth face of Pilgrim (10 and 12pt) and a fifth for book work of Minerva (8, 10, 12pt).

Display Types

Types larger than 14pt are classed as display types and are usually used for headings rather than body text.  The choices here expand depending on the house.

Monotype House

The Class A printer is recommended to get the companion display sizes for his basic selection: so Gill and Times in display sizes.  Spreading further Headline Bold (595) or Perpetua Titling (258) might be used.

The Class B printer might use Albertus (481) and maybe Rockwell Bold (391).

Printers in Class C will need Perpetua for headlines, chapter openings and dropped capitals in book work.

For all of these groups, a useful script would be Klang (593); but this will need to be contrasted with the rest of the piece.

Linotype or Intertype House

Again, we have the issue around a more limited number of faces.  Some faces also had variants or sizes missing in the series.  For the Class A printer, Century Bold, Metromedium and Granjon should be used, with Pabst Extra Bold as a fourth choice.  Class B printer should use Memphis Bold, Plantin and Times New Roman.  Printer C should use Minerva Bold and Scotch Roman No. 2.

Because line casting houses typically included a Ludlow machine, Ludlow faces in sizes 36 to 72 should be reviewed: Tempo Heavy, Bodoni Bold, Franklin Gothic, Caslon and Garamond are candidates.

Founders’ Types

Regardless of the house approach to typesetting, some more exotic types could be employed that have been bought from typefounders.  This list should be strictly limited, though, considering the expense and space that these less-used faces would need.

From Stephenson, Blake the recommendations are: Grotesque No. 9 and italic; Chisel, Old Face Open and Franchesca Ronde; along with an antique face like Consort (or Antiques No. 3 and No. 6 from Stevens, Shanks).

Continental founders’ might supply Mistral, Sapphire Initials, Studio, Holla, Paris Weiss and Stop.