The Academy of Sciences of the USSR’s hieroglyphs font (1928)

Posted on 22 February 2019 in:

In 1928, the Academy of Sciences of the USSR – then still in Leningrad – published a specimen of their press’s oriental typefaces. This small book’s ancillary text is in both German and Russian. The Academy printed it for the Internationale Presse-Ausstellung (Pressa) held at Cologne that year. One of the book’s pages displays Egyptian hieroglyphs. Its specific sorts were almost certainly cut in Berlin during the mid-nineteenth century by Ferdinand Theinhardt for the Egyptologist Karl Richard Lepsius.

Ferdinand Theinhardt

Beginning in the 1850s, Ferdinand Theinhardt (1820–1906) cut the punches for several scholarly typefaces. Most were commissioned to enable text composition in other writing systems, such as Avestan, cuneiform, Cypriot, Demotic, Devanagari, Hebrew, or Tibetan. Theinhardt’s foundry then cast these types, and sold them to academic printers. In the same vein, Theinhardt produced Monumental, a series of scholarly types commissioned by the Prussian Academy of Sciences, with which the texts of the inscriptions in Theodor Mommsen’s Corpus inscriptionum latinarum were set.

Above, four lines from the hieroglyphs page in the 1928 Academy of Sciences of the USSR’s catalogue. The punches for these types were probably cut by Theinhardt (some may have come from Beyerhaus, making them a bit older). I don’t know where the Academy purchased this type. It could have bought the fonts from the Theinhardt foundry, as long as the order was from before 1910. Or it could have been placed afterwards, with H. Berthold AG. Perhaps Theinhardt sold duplicate matrices of these hieroglyphs to other foundries, from whom the Academy press might also have sourced its fonts (I don’t know this, either). You can see the full hieroglyphic setting from this catalogue’s page on Flickr. Thanks to D.P. for letting me make this scan from her copy.[1]

I am not sure what the exact nature of the collaboration between Theinhardt and his academic counterparts was, or how the design and making of those typefaces unfolded (I mean: what was the step-by-step process like?). A 1875 specimen of the hieroglyphs types hinted at the exact division of labor behind their design’s creation.[2] This specimen included a foreword from Lepsius, who – on an expedition to Egypt from 1842 to 1846 – had been accompanied by the draughtsman Ernst Weidenbach. Lepsius wrote that Weidenbach prepared detailed drawings of each hieroglyphic character, which were the provided to the fonts’ punchcutters. Aug. Beyerhaus cut the first of Lepsius’s hieroglyphic sorts,[3] but the project was transferred to Theinhardt in 1851.[4] Theinhardt – who had only started to work independently in 1849 – began fulfilling orders for the Prussian state printing house in 1851, too, which could have led to his receiving the hieroglyphs commission. Beyerhaus seems to have closed his own typefoundry down around 1850; I have written a bit more about his foundry below.

In his autobiography, Theinhardt also briefly touched upon specific documents that he consulting while cutting his e.g., Tibetan and cuneiform types.[5]

Money and reputation

I suspect that the hieroglyphs were not a big money-maker for Theinhardt. According to his autobiography, he cut at least some of the punches on his own time, and subsidised at least a part of the fonts’ typecasting costs:

When the funds granted by the government for the work were exhausted, I offered to continue cutting the punches and casting the type for this valuable undertaking at my expense, and I also cast fonts of the hieroglyphic types to be given to Munich, Leipzig, Heidelberg, London, Edinburgh, Chalon-sur-Saône, Christiania [Oslo], and Cairo. I made it a matter of honor for myself.[6]

Theinhardt must having been willing to invest in the project because he believed that it would be good for his business in the long run. That was almost certainly borne out. His hieroglyphs probably led to the commissions for the other academic types I mentioned above. In his lifetime, Theinhardt was most well-known and regarded for those types, and not for the bulk of his foundry’s output – i.e., the “normal” fonts that he produced for newspaper and jobbing printers. The product range of the Ferd. Theinhardt foundry was typical for its time, all except for its academic faces. Putting it another way: if Theinhardt’s other work was typical, his academic typefaces were exceptional.

Adolf Holzhausen of Vienna was one of the printers who purchased Theinhardt’s hieroglyph types for his printing house’s use. Holzhausen provided the setting for the short specimen included in the Viennese author Karl Faulmann’s 1882 book, Illustrirte Geschichte der Buchdruckerkunst (see below), where Faulmann also wrote that “among the punchcutters, Ferdinand Theinhardt won an international reputation through his hieroglyphs and cuneiform typefaces, yet he is no less distinguished by the other work he cut.”[7] Faulmann’s statement isn’t merely a résumé of Theinhardt’s oeuvre: at the time of the book’s publication, Theinhardt was still active as a punchcutter and typefoundry owner.

Writing in 2007, Jo De Baerdemaeker stated that, “Theinhardt’s Tibetan is generally regarded as an optimal design of the Tibetan characters in metal.”[8] While De Baerdemaeker applied his praise specifically to Theinhardt’s work in one script, it makes me suspect that late nineteenth and early twentieth century praise for Theinhardt’s academic types within the German printing trade media was not merely hyperbolic.

Aug. Beyerhaus?

Friedrich Bauer’s 1928 Chronik der Schriftgießereien in Deutschland und den deutschsprachigen Nachbarländern only has scant information about Aug. Beyerhaus’s typefoundry. That regards it’s activities in 1840:

From the typefoundry of A. Beyerhaus, an 1840 specimen of characters from a Chinese typeface is known. These were cut in steel “under the direction of Director-General Dr. von Olfers by A. Beyerhaus in Berlin for the Royal Academy of Sciences in Berlin and for the missionary Carl Gützlaff in China.” In addition to standard typefaces, an octavo specimen from this period (1840) has a total of 16 pages showing 165 figures of kaleidoscopic border-printing elements, printed at the office of A.W. Schade.[9]

I’m not sure if Beyerhaus’s first name was August or Augustus. Since I don’t know when he was born, and when he passed away, I can’t say how old he would have been when he began cutting hieroglyphs for Lepsius. In the early 1840s, Berlin’s address books listed Beyerhaus as a typefoundry owner living at Spandauer Straße 30; his place of business was Spandauer Straße 53.

Beginning in 1845, address books described Beyerhaus as a »Hofgraveur, Wappenstecher, Steinschneider und Schriftgießerei-Besitzer« (court engraver, heraldist, punchcutter, and typefoundry owner), and listed him as doing business at Oberwallstraße 6. Note that Theinhardt, despite his having undertaken work for Prussian institutions, was never granted a title along the lines of Hofgraveur or königlicher Graveur – at least according to any documents that I have been able to find.

From 1850, the term »Schriftgießereibesitzer« (typefoundry owner) was no longer part of Beyerhaus’s address book entries. This likely indicates that he closed his foundry down around that time.

Fonts of hieroglyph type

Hieroglyphs cut by Friedrich Nies, as reproduced in Faulmann, p. 738. Today, matrices of Nies’s hieroglyphs are part of the collection at the Haus für Industriekultur in Darmstadt; see Karl Zimmermann’s 2012 article about them in the Journal für Druckgeschichte.[10]

Faulmann’s history provides a brief summary of the first few decades of hieroglyphic type, although his account focused almost exclusively on hieroglyph examples produced and used in German-speaking Europe. For example, while he stated that Delafond in Paris had made the first hieroglyphic type, he did not give his readers a date for this, or describe its appearance, moving swiftly on instead to the hieroglyphs cut by Nies at Leipzig in 1835. Faulmann then presented a two-line sample text composed with type from the Viennese k. k. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei (the Court and State printing house). According to him, these had come from the Imprimerie nationale in Paris. Like Nies’s hieroglyphs, that design’s letterforms were made to print dark, or “filled in” – unlike Beyerhaus and Theinhardt’s characters, which are “outlined.” Faulmann wrote that the Beyerhaus/Theinhardt hieroglyphs were “the most beloved among Egyptologists,”[11] and my half hazard internet searches have not turned up any criticism of them. Since Theinhardt only inherited the hieroglyphs project from Beyerhaus, I assume that the “design decision” to have its letterforms be outlined – instead of filled – had already been determined by Beyerhaus, Lepsius, and/or Weidenbach, years before Theinhardt’s involvement with their cutting ever began.

Imprimerie nationale (?) hieroglyphs acquired by the Court and State Printing house in Vienna, as reproduced in Faulmann, p. 739

Faulmann may have left some things out of his summary, and of course my notes on his historical overview above don’t touch on the long period after 1882 at all. I don’t have a handle on what has since happened with hieroglyphic type development, although I did read that several more types were produced, and there seems to have been some fine English examples, too. I was intrigued to find snippets of the digital hieroglyphs typeface that Jonathan Fabreguettes designed at the École Estienne in 2006–2007 online, as well as the one designed by Pierre Fournier at the ANRT Nancy in 2015. Do check their projects out!

H. Berthold AG

After the Berlin typefoundry H. Berthold AG acquired Theinhardt’s former foundry in 1908, they began to sell Theinhardt’s hieroglyph fonts. Here is a showing of them, from one of Berthold’s undated type specimen catalogues,[12] printed during the 1950s:

The Berlin Reichsdruckerei’s catalogue of oriental and occidental alphabets

The Academy of Sciences of the USSR may have been inspired by a similar type specimen catalogue produced by the Reichsdruckerei (imperial printing house) at Berlin in 1924. That also had an entry for hieroglyphs. While the Reichsdruckerei catalogue does not include an attribution of their source for them, they are almost certainly Theinhardt’s hieroglyphs.[13] According to Hans Reichardt’s Ferdinand Theinhardt PDF on the Klingspor Museum website, the Reichsdruckerei eventually acquired the steel punches for the hieroglyphs Theinhardt cut.

I have heard suggestions that – because they had been purchased by the Reichsdruckerei – Theinhardt’s punches for these hieroglyphs had survived into the twenty-first century. Nevertheless, I have not yet found their location. Although the Museum für Druckkunst Leipzig does not have those hieroglyphs’ steel punches, they do have matrices for the hieroglyphs of the Beyerhaus/Theinhardt design, which came from the Reichsdruckerei. They also have a second set of matrices for those hieroglyphs, from the Holzhausen printing house in Vienna mentioned above. Incidentally, the lock-up of the type for the Reichsdruckerei’s hieroglyphs page in [13] has been preserved for almost 100 years, and can be seen today at the Typostudio SchumacherGebler Dresden.

The Reichsdruckerei book had a larger page size, as well as a completely different format than the Academy’s catalogue. It was also altogether more opulently produced. The Reichsdruckerei book presented readers with explanations of each alphabet or writing system it included, rather than a sample page of text composed in type made for those scripts: its pages were filled with texts about each writing system, not sample typesettings in each writing system. The intended audience for the Reichsdruckerei book was not international fair visitors. Instead, it was made for a broad range of readers. Its title page contained the subtitle: »zur allgemeinen Gebrauch mit besonderer Berücksichtigung des Buchgewerbes« (for general use, especially in the book trades). This was probably a book that many of the workers in the various printing industries could afford to buy. Or at least, it would be the kind of book that a printers’ or typesetters’ training school might acquire for its library.

While the Reichsdruckerei book does not give a source for its hieroglyph types, it does cite the sources for some of the fonts used in its explanations of other scripts. For example, the Devanagari font it used was attributed to H. Berthold AG. Although Berthold acquired Theinhardt’s foundry in 1908, they did not adopt the Devanagari that Theinhardt had cut – for whatever reason. Instead, Berthold sold another design (I don’t know its source). The Reichsdruckerei’s Tamil page was composed with type that came from the J.G. Schelter & Giesecke foundry at Leipzig, but I do not know who cut those punches, either, or in which timeframe that work was undertaken.[14] No source is given for the type on the book’s Tibetan page,[15] and I cannot tell if it is the Theinhardt design lauded by De Baerdemaeker.


  1. Akademie der Wissenschaften der Sozialistischen Sowjet-Republiken (ed): Proben Orientalischer Schriften der Akademischen Druckerei. Verlag der Akademie der Wissenschaften, Leningrad 1928, p. 63
  2. Ferdinand Theinhardt: Liste der hieroglyphischen Typen aus der Schriftgiesserei des Herrn F. Theinhardt. With a foreword by Karl Richard Lepsius. Buchdruckerei der Königl. Akademie der Wissenschaft (G. Vogt). Universitätsstrasse 8, Berlin 1875. [Link to the online edition]
  3. ibid., p. v
  4. Friedrich Bauer: Chronik der Schriftgießereien in Deutschland und den deutschsprachigen Nachbarländern. Bearbeitet von Friedrich Bauer, Offenbach am Main 1928. Mit Ergänzungen und Nachträgen von Hans Reichardt. PDF file. Hans Reichardt, Frankfurt am Main 2011, p. 25 [link]
  5. Ferdinand Theinhardt: Erinnerungsblätter aus meinem Leben. Second edition. H. Berthold AG, Berlin 1920, p. 18–19. [Available online here]
  6. ibid., p. 15–16
  7. Karl Faulmann: Illustrirte Geschichte der Buchdruckerkunst mit besonderer Berücksichtigung ihrer technischen Entwicklung bis zur Gegenwart. A. Hartlebens Verlag, Vienna/Pest/Leipzig 1882, p. 589 and 568
  8. Jo De Baerdemaeker: “An introduction to the Tibetan script and typography.” In: Filip Blažek, Pavel Kočička, Jakub Krč, and Pavel Zelenka (ed.): Typo – typografie, grafický design, vizuální komunikace. Issue 26. Vydavatelství Svět tisku, spol. s r.o., Prague 2007, p. 2–9
  9. Bauer, p. 24–25
  10. Karl Zimmermann: »Neuguss von Hieroglyphen nach 180 Jahren«. In Harry Neß und Silvia Werfel (ed.): Journal für Druckgeschichte, Neue Folge, vol. 18, no. 2 (2012). Internationale Arbeitskreis Druck- und Mediengeschichte 2012, p. 28.[link]
  11. Faulmann, p. 738–739
  12. H. Berthold AG Schriftgießerei und Messinglinienfabrik (ed.): Schriftprobe Nr. 405. H. Berthold AG, Berlin/Stuttgart. Undated (1950s), p. 173
  13. Direktion der Reichsdruckerei (ed.): Alphabete und Schriftzeichen des Morgen- und des Abendlandes. Reichsdruckerei, Berlin 1924, p. 6
  14. ibid. See p. 45–47 for Devanagari and p. 54 for Tamil.
  15. ibid., p. 50