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Hermann Zapf at ninety.

THE 8th of November 2008 marked the ninetieth birthday of one of the greatest type-designers, not only of our time but of all time: Hermann Zapf. The book designer Carl Zahn has summed up Hermann Zapf's unique combination of skills aptly: "... his love of the beauty of type and calligraphy combined with an earlier ambition and talent in engineering; he is very much at home in the computer-oriented high tech that is America today. His openness and lack of pretense are particularly welcome in America. Hermann Zapf has fortunately inherited the great typographic and calligraphic traditions of Germany; but he has also a deep sensitivity to nature, the analytic mind of the scientist, a humanistic concern, and a hand blessed by God. These gifts he presses into the service of all mankind with an intensity that knows no waste." (1) Those who have met Zapf know these words to be true. Zapf is justly celebrated not only as a type-designer but also as one of the most important calligraphers, and in addition he is a most notable book designer and typographer. This article, however, will concentrate mainly on his activities as a type-designer.

Zapf has designed more than 200 fonts, and of course I cannot cover them all here. If I devoted even a paragraph or two to each, it would take well over a hundred pages just to touch on this body of work. Instead, I'd like to concentrate on several seminal types: not necessarily the most important-or most popular--of Zapf's fonts, but a very few that are representative of his work in the field of type design. His designs can be divided into three periods: the early era, during the heyday of metal type, when his work at one of the largest type foundries in the world led to some of the most important fonts still in use today; the middle period, during the transition to different technologies such as photocomposition and digital character generation; and the later period (up to today), with important type designs still emanating from Zapf's hand more than half a century after his first types.


Zapf's first typeface was a fraktur design, christened Gilgengart. Zapf was a mere twenty years old when the basic design was accepted by the Stempel Typefoundry. The elegance of the design and the refinement of the drawing are already sophisticated and of the highest quality. The birth of this type was not easy. It was actually about eight years between the first drawings (and the acceptance of the design for production) and the release of the final font. First, the design-with its thin hairline decorative strokes and slender proportions-was found to be a bit busy in the text sizes. So the entire type was re-cut, an extremely large and expensive undertaking in metal type. Then, as work was proceeding on finalizing the typeface, the Nazis proclaimed their absurd edict that black-letter types should no longer be used, since (they claimed) there was Jewish influence in these gothic letterforms. (Of course this assertion was totally unfounded.) The Gilgengart type was finally released in 1948. A specimen from Zapf's first Manuale typographicum (1954) shows quite clearly the first and second versions of the design [Fig. 1].



What were the influences on the young Hermann Zapf, and where did some elements of the Gilgengart design come from? Hermann Zapf's first publication (not counting a text on William Morris) was a display of twenty-five alphabets and quotations in oblong format, handcut in metal by August Rosenberger [Fig. 2]. There are some similarities to Rudolf Koch's ABC Buchlein (1934), a display of twenty-four calligraphic alphabets in oblong format by Koch and Berthold Wolpe, handcut in wood and metal by Fritz Kredel and Gustav Eichenauer [Fig. 3]. But there are also some significant differences as well as parallels. Both books were in the less common oblong format, both showed calligraphy in positive (black on white) and negative (white on black), and both were printed from expertly hand-cut plates; but Zapf's designs were more finished and refined, characteristics of his future work.


Still, Rudolf Koch was also capable of extremely refined work. The ABC Buchlein, published in the last year of Koch's life, emanates from a period when Koch was more interested in a more direct and expressionistic calligraphic style. Much (though certainly not all) of Koch's early work was far more finished than this. Koch excelled in various approaches to calligraphy and letter design, from direct and expressive to elegant and refined. We can see characteristics of the latter in the Wilhelm Klingspor-Schrift textura font by Koch [Fig. 4-]. Note the thin, decorative strokes emanating from junctures in the strokes, and the slight calligraphic swelling throughout the letters, so that, in an almost imperceptible way, no line is perfectly straight--just as with pen-written letters. I would say that if you took these same principles, as displayed in Koch's Wilhelmklingsporschrift, and applied them to a fraktur instead of a textura design, you would have the beginnings of Zapf's Gilgengart design. This is not to say that there is not much of Zapf's hand in Gilgengart-there definitely is, and it could not have been drawn by Koch or anyone else-but many principles from Koch's type are at play in Zapf's earliest type design.


Zapf's second design (not counting an obscure music type) was a roman font called Novalis, a type that was created but never commercially issued. I do not know if there is any font of this type in existence today.

Palatino is the first typeface that made Hermann Zapf's name preeminent in the world of type design. If Zapf had designed no other typefaces, Gilgengart-and to a lesser degree Novalis-would have gone down in typographic history as lovely, even excellent, designs that found little use, similar to the Gavotte font by Rudo Spemann or Rhapsodie by Ilse Schiile. How many type aficionados are aware of these excellent fonts (let alone use them)? But with Palatino, typographers around the world became aware of Zapf's work. Early drawings for Palatino from around 1948 show many of the essential elements of the design: a calligraphic ancestry tempered by typographic influences, slight swelling to the strokes, classical proportions combined with modern, open counters, etc. But some details were changed as work on the type progressed.

We can conjecture about how the changes may have developed for this seminal design. I would guess that many of the revisions perhaps stemmed from the work done on the type by Stempel's punchcutter, August Rosenberger. Prior to Palatino, Rosenberger had worked on the meticulous hand-cutting of the plates for Feder and Stichel (1949; later issued in America as Pen and Graver, 1952)-a prodigious task-and the cutting of the pilot size of Zapf's Gilgengart font. Zapf acknowledges his debt to Rosenberger, perhaps because at least some small part of the enormous success of the Palatino type may be attributable to minute changes Rosenberger made when cutting the punches. In 1996 Zapf wrote a book on Rosenberger, who had died in 1980, in which he remarked that Rosenberger "was a man of unbelievable patience, and no job was too complicated for him.... I never wanted to cut punches or to engrave in metal once I saw the perfection of August Rosenberger's work:" (1)

Palatino became successful in Germany almost from the start. Within a few years it became one of the most popular new types in England and the United States also. As Sebastian Carter wrote in Twentieth Century Type Designers: "Palatino has proved so universally popular that its remarkable qualities tend to be taken for granted :" (2) The Palatino family was expanded, eventually including--aside from the usual roman, italic, small caps, and bold--two beautiful titling fonts (Michelangelo and Sistina), a lighter and narrower version for book work (Aldus with italic, small caps, and a special extra-narrow version), and italic swash capitals, making it the largest type family based on classic renaissance forms [see cover of this issue]. Today the character set has been expanded in Linotype Palatino Nova to include a Greek, Cyrillic, and the complete accents and unusual characters needed for nearly every western language.

Another early successful metal type designed by Zapf for Stempel was Melior. Stempel had very close connections with the Linotype Company; in fact, the German matrices for Linotype were manufactured at Stempel's plant. Linotype held a large share of the newspaper typesetting market (by contrast, Monotype was used by many book printers). With a proven young type-designer like Zapf on their team, Linotype would of course want a new newspaper font that might become a bestseller. The Melior design was that type.


These designs, and several other handsome types--such as the Spencerian script Virtuosa and decorative Saphir capitals, and even some ornament designs--bring us up to the mid-1950s.

Starting around 1950 Zapf began work on a novel new typeface, which at the time he was calling "Neu-Antiqua,'I or in English, paradoxically enough, "new old-style." Virtually every typographer today is familiar with the design principles behind this enormously successful typeface: it is a sans serif design, but it has thick and thin parts, unlike the optically monoline drawing of virtually all other sans serifs. The main strokes and endings are subtly tapered, lending an extremely elegant appearance, which is further enhanced by the perfectly classical proportions of both the capitals and lower case. These features had appeared in almost no typefaces before Optima, so we can call this a truly revolutionary design. Never mind that now, more than fifty years after its release, Optima has become commonplace. It was eight years between the time Zapf made his first sketches for Optima in 1950 and the type's release. Todaywe see Optima everywhere, from letters cut in metal for signage on new buildings to Chinese take-out menus.

After Optima only one more metal type, Hunt Roman, was designed by Zapf and produced at Stempel. This brings us to the end of the first period of Zapf's work in type design, from roughly 1938 to 1960. But before we leave the period, I'll mention one more that "got away." In the mid-1950s Zapf designed a sans serif, in the usual sense of the term: a serifless roman without any apparent thick and thin strokes. But this type, called Magnus Sans [Fig. 5], was never issued. Many of the design's features were incorporated decades later in URW Grotesk, but Magnus itself was left on the drawing board.


The next period of Zapf's type-design work is characterized by designs for new technologies. These can in turn be broken down into two groups: (1) new designs specifically created for modern typesetting equipment; and (2) adaptations of earlier designs made for metal casting to these newer computerized technologies. This second sub-group is easily covered: modifications were made to Palatino, Melior, Optima, and other types to make them more suitable to photo and later digital composition.


From a purely visual standpoint, Palatino was the most heavily modified of Zapf's earlier typeface designs adapted for photocomposition. When the first widely used photocomposition machines were developed in the 1950s and 1960s, manufacturers were naturally eager to supply film versions of the most popular fonts to typesetters. At this time Palatino was one of the most common fonts around, and everyone wanted to have it available for their equipment to stay competitive. Companies rushed to produce versions for their machines, often somewhat ineptly. Even the Linotype Company, which had issued the type in metal earlier, re-drew Palatino in a not very sympathetic way, but for the Linofilm machine (which was widely used, especially in the United States), Zapf re-drew the type himself. The result [Fig. 6], which is what we see as Palatino today from almost every type company, is actually quite far removed from the original metal design. An even newer re-drawing by Zapf of Palatino, and its related family members Aldus, Sistina (now called Imperial), and Michelangelo (now called Palatino Titling) has recently been issued by Linotype. This latest version includes a wide assortment of accented letters and non-latin characters, supported by Unicode, for composition in numerous languages.

One of the most important, yet overlooked, typeface designs from this middle period is Marconi, made for the Hell Digiset Company of Germany. Hell may sound like a funny name to English-speakers, but anyone in the printing industry will be familiar with Hell scanners, which were considered the finest around. Hell was also a big player in the newspaper printing field. Much of this printing equipment was, by the early 1970s, incorporating digital technology. It may seem obvious to us today, but when Dr. Hell came up with the idea of storing fonts using digital code, nearly everyone thought he was crazy. There was a real problem at the time with achieving sufficient resolution to render curves at small sizes (a problem that would not be overcome for a decade or more), but in principle the concept was the way of the future. Again, keep in mind that with hindsight this is easy to see, but around 1970, when Dr. Hell introduced his type composition equipment at a Drupa printing equipment exhibition in Germany, there was virtually no one who thought it could work in place of the then-prevalent photo-type systems. But one person involved with the type industry did see the potential of digital typesetting: Hermann Zapf. Unlike almost everyone else, Zapf felt digital composition had great potential, and he worked with Dr. Hell on the new typesetting technology. Their collaboration resulted in Zapf creating Marconi [Fig. 7], the very first font specifically designed for digital character generation (before Marconi, all types prepared for digital composition were adapted from earlier metal or phototype fonts).

Around 1960 Zapf was becoming increasingly disenchanted with the Theft--without compensation-of his type designs by other manufacturers. The new phototype technologies meant that almost anyone with a camera could easily copy an existing typeface (such was not the case with metal type, where the infrastructure needed for--and cost of-manufacturing a new font was very large). Countries in Europe and even the USSR enacted legislation to protect type designs and other intellectual property, but the United States did not. Zapf's losses from this thievery must have been staggering. The result was that Zapf was reluctant to continue designing fonts for type manufacturers, only to see his work quickly stolen by others. However, two companies in the United States worked to prevent such abuses: Hallmark Cards commissioned and copyrighted quite a few type designs for their own corporate use, and later International Typeface Corporation, founded by Aaron Burns and several partners, came up with a plan for the trademarking and licensing of typeface designs that proved very successful.

Hallmark's typefaces were used, of course, mainly for their greeting cards, as well as a series of books published for sale in their stores from the 1960s through the 1970s. Therefore, most of the types designed by Zapf for Hallmark were strikingly calligraphic, including some scripts like Jeanette and Firenze, an uncial or two, and an excellent textura called Hallmark Textura.

The ITC fonts were a very different story from the proprietary Hallmark fonts: they were made specifically for wide distribution to typesetting shops, which old-timers may remember was a thriving industry in the days before every designer got a computer on his or her desk and started setting type themselves, instead of paying some other company for composition. Zapf's first font for ITC was Zapf Book, something of a misnomer, since this design, like virtually all ITC types, was made with an eye toward the advertising/ display market. ITC Zapf Book is a very crisp design in the Walbaum vein.


One of the most popular of Zapf's designs for ITC is Zapf Chancery [Fig. 8]. It was clearly a suitable design for the period, and it had an unusually large number of alternate swash characters for the time. Interestingly, it is quite different from Zapf's other italic designs, such as Palatino italic, Medici, or Firenze, all of which have a more Renaissance feel to them.


The third period of Zapf's career as a type-designer is characterized by experimentation with unusual challenges in alphabet design. By the late 1970s Zapf's reputation as a type-designer was secure, and through the efforts of ITC and the continued success of his types in Europe and other royalty-paying areas, Zapf's financial prospects made him, at last, a modestly wealthy man. This meant that he was free to pursue unusual projects rather than work on more commercial fonts. He became more active in teaching, working with major institutions including the Technische Hochschule in his native Darmstadt, as well as the Rochester Institute of Technology and Stanford University in America.

At Stanford Zapf became associated with the mathematician Donald Knuth. It was a fortuitous match: Knuth was one of the world's leading mathematicians, with a side interest in type design (he produced the MetaFont program and created an alphabet for his own mathematical books). Zapf was the world's leading type-designer, but he had from his youth wanted to be an engineer and displayed a deep interest in mathematics. Knuth was a leader at the American Mathematical Society (AM S), through which he sponsored a complex scientific font with a wide assortment of characters required for setting mathematical texts and equations. Such a font would need-aside from the usual Latin letters, punctuation, and figures -a Greek character set, a fraktur alphabet, and numerous special characters used in mathematical composition. Zapf took the interesting approach of designing a simple, calligraphic letter, through which all of these various elements could be united under the the pen's influence.

At about the same time Zapfwas at work on a space-age digital font with a large character set for technical use, he was also designing an old-fashioned metal typeface in an archaic style for hand-setting and letterpress printing. In the early 1970s Paul Hayden Duensing, a Michigan typefounder, had the idea of reproducing a Civilite-style alphabet, similar to one shown in Zapf's writing manual, Pen and Graver [Fig. 9], as a new metal typeface. Not surprisingly, Zapf felt that an entirely new design created specifically for casting as a metal printing type would be best. The result was Zapf Civilite, which is to date the most recent original metal type produced, coming out more than a decade after the last commercially manufactured metal types.


The final type design I will describe has a very unusual history. I have mentioned that Zapf spent some time working with mathematicians at Stanford University in the 1970s. The students studying computer science at the time were fascinated by a new field called chaos theory. One of the students at Stanford at the time was a young man named David Siegel. Among many other ideas, he had the hypothesis that you might be able to apply chaos theory to fonts. We have seen how Zapf was interested in science and engineering from an early age, so it is no surprise that Siegel and Zapf should combine forces on such a project.


Like many of Zapf's projects, this one went on for many years. Along the way Siegel graduated from Stanford and consulted for computer companies. He also started a company doing Web design. For that company he hired the very talented Gino Lee, who, as a young man, had printed letterpress in his dorm at Harvard and also for John Kristiansen's Firefly Press in Somerville, Mass. In addition, Lee was an accomplished calligrapher. Somehow he wound up out in California working for Siegel. Siegel had Lee devote almost all his time while working for him to digitizing the thousands of letterforms needed for this program. But the market was not right for such a complex type program, and the type languished for quite a few years. After a little while Zapf did something quite uncharacteristic for him: he showed the design to Bruno Steinhart [Fig. 10], then the director of Linotype in Bad Hamburg, Germany. Steinhart thought it might make a good typeface. The thousands of characters drawn for the project were distilled down to four variants of each letter (capital and lowercase), plus some additional swash characters and ligatures. Those six fonts were released in 1998 as Linotype Zapfino [Fig. 11]. The rest is, as they say, history. Linotype Zapfino has become one of the most popular typefaces of today. Like all of Zapf's designs, not only has it proved universally accepted among the general public, but it is also admired by the experts in the field. Like Optima and ITC Zapf Chancery before it, Zapfino has been selected as one of the core fonts shipped with every Macintosh Computer-all this half a century after Zapf's first great commercial success, the Palatino type family.

I make no attempt to hide my admiration for Hermann Zapf and his work. But I am interested in the entire history of type design, and I feel I can step back and take a look at the landscape objectively. And if there is anything I know, it is that Hermann Zapf's place is secure as one of the greatest of all type-designers.

I would also add a word about Zapf's humanity. His generosity and modesty are extraordinary. While, as Carl Zahn has written, Zapf uses his extreme gifts in "the service of all mankind with an intensity that knows no waste,"' he also has time for any request from a friend or neophyte. All who know him can bear witness to his kindness and consideration, and many have benefited from the association. He always has the greatest respect for the work of other craftsmen, while Zapf himself humbly produces his own work to a level that exceeds others. On his ninetieth birthday we can look back at seventy years of exceptional new type designs for all composition methods-from metal type through digital character generation-executed to the highest standard of quality and usefulness.

Jerry Kelly is a designer, calligrapher, and printer working independently in New York City. His work varies from fine books and pamphlets to brochures and ephemera. Clients include the Grolier Club, the Morgan Library, Rochester Institute of Technology, Columbia University, the Library of America, and H. P. Kraus. Prior to striking out on his own, he was a designer for the Stinehour Press and the Press of A. Colish. He has taught at Pratt Institute, Parsons School of Design, Queens College, and several calligraphy societies and conventions, as well as other schools and workshops. He studied with Hermann Zapf from 1979 to 1989 at special summer courses at Rochester Institute of Technology. This article is based upon a talk delivered to the Type Directors' Club in November 2008.

(1.) Zapf, August Rosenberger 1893-1980 (Rochester: Melbert B. Cary, Jr. Graphic Arts Collection, 1996), p. 8.

(2.) Carter, Twentieth Century Type Designers, rev. ed. (Aldershot: Lund Humphries, 1995),p.149.
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Author:Kelly, Jerry
Publication:Printing History
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:4EUGE
Date:Jul 1, 2009
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