Some Letters in Cologne


Last week, I was in Cologne (or Köln), and I felt the need to take a lot of pictures. I’ve been to Cologne about a dozen times over the past five years, but I rarely have found the time to photograph much of anything. Cologne has a rich history, going back two thousand years, and it has a lot of lettering as well. I just managed to hit the touristy things in the inner city this time around. There are plenty of newer things to take note of as well. Someday…

The image to the left is from one of the pillars in the cathedral transept. It is above a little box, in which you can donate money for the building’s upkeep. The text is in German, French, and English. The German is an odd painted textura variety, with lombardic capitals. I guess that the artisans assumed that foreign tourists wouldn’t be able to read blackletter; the lettering style that clothes the French and the English lines is interesting, but it doesn’t match the heavy oddity of the German. “All or nothing,” I would have said. Interestingly, the four lines of serif lettering use an alphabet that is even more condensed than the textura, a hand normally more condensed than typical old style.

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No, It Isn’t…


This picture to the left may be the most delightful typographic oxymoron I’ve yet to encounter. A sign for an art gallery in Cologne, which seems to be called “Antiqua,” its text is set in Wilhelm Klingspor Gotisch.

I like to see this sign as one sort of big inside joke; a gift to all typographers. In German, the word Antiqua also means “old style,” or serif typeface. Antiqua types can be used in text, just as blackletters could, or grotesks, script faces, etc. Wilhelm Klingsport Gotisch is not an antiqua type, of course, which is why this sign sings out to me so much.
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New Page for Blackletter Resources

Blackletter Flag

Recently, I’ve received several requests from visitors asking for good resources on- and offline regarding learning more about blackletter type. After typing out the same bits of information multiple times, I decided to build a static page here on TypeOff. that I could just link to in the future. So, if you are looking for more information on blackletter, look no further than TypeOff.’s Blackletter Resource Page.

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Carved Blackletters from Strasbourg

Strasbourg Cathedral

On a recent visit to Strasbourg, I made several photographs of carved blackletter inscriptions from the city’s cathedral.

Strasbourg is the capital of Alsace, in the Alsace–Lorraine region of France. Almost directly across the Rhine from present-day Germany, Strasbourg and the surrounding territories were diputed for centuries, passing hands between the French and German states several times. Although Strasbourg is now French, the city has quite a Germanic-tradition, and many Germans seem to still identify with it on some level.

Strasbourg is interesting for type-lovers on several levels, not least because Johannes Gutenberg may have invented the art of [Western] printing there, instead of in Mainz. (Gutenberg lived in Strasbourg for several years before returing to Mainz somewhere between 1440 and 1450).

The cathedral of Notre-Dame de Strasbourg is built in the gothic style, and was completed ca. 1439. Interestingly, it was the tallest building in the world from 1625 through 1847.

Gothic architecture is a traditionally French style, although it became quite popular in German-speaking territories by the fifthteenth century. Gothic writing is most likely of French origin as well; the hands used during this time period would develop and influence what we now come to classify as “blackletter” typefaces.

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Writing Lessons from the Koch Book

From DSaKf

About a year and a half ago, I purchased a copy of Das Schreiben als Kunstfertigkeit online. A German book on calligraphy, perhaps the German book on calligraphy, DSaKf (an acronym I just made up…) was written by Rudolf Koch during the early 1920s. The book’s title could be roughly translated as: Writing as a Technical Skill. The book is subtitled (again, this is a rough translation) “A complete introduction to the learning of the writing styles necessary for the profession of calligraphy.” The first edition of DSaKf was published in 1925. Several editions followed. The following summary is based on the third edition, which was published in 1934 by the Publishinghouse of German Book Designers in Leipzig (Verlag des Deutschen Buchgewerbevereins Leipzig).

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Berthold Wolpe Exhibit, Part 2


On Thursday, September 7, I visited the opening of the Berthold Wolpe exhibition at the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz. In another post last week, I touched briefly on Berthold Wolpe’s career, as well as the digital version of his Albertus™ typeface. This article covers the Mainz exhibition more directly.

The opening began with an introductory talk by Susan Shaw from the Type Museum in London. She would pause every few sentences for Dr. Eva Maria Hanebutt-Benz, the director of the Gutenberg Museum, to translate into German. Afterwards, Jost Hochuli (St. Gallen, CH) gave a slide presentation that delved a bit deeper and more anecdotally into the life of Berthold Wolpe than the exhibition itself did. Hochuli knew Wolpe for many years, particularly through the annual conferences of the ATypI.

The show itself is housed inside a large, single-room basement gallery inside the Gutenberg Museum’s newer building. Pieces were on loan from the Type Museum and Faber & Faber in London, as well as from the Klingspor Museum in Offenbach. An exhibition catalog, a 2005 reprint of the catalog from Wolpe’s 1980 retrospective at the V&A, is on sale for 18 Euros. A poster showing a number of Wolpe’s book jackets for Faber & Faber is also on sale in the museum shop.

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New P22 Blackletters

P22 Bastyan

P22 has recently brought two Blackletter fonts onto the market—or three, if you add P22 Declaration, which was released on the Fourth of July. All of these typefaces are of the handwriting variety. It is no secret that script typefaces are among the most popular fonts at the moment. Blackletter styles have been cropping up all over the world with a vengeance as well over the past year, used in campaigns ranging from Snoop Doggy Dog’s new album to Reebok. In my opinion, P22 has successfully interpreted the desires of the font-buying public; they’ve mixed two trends together.

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Rudolf Koch’s Deutsche Schrift Family

Antiqua or Fraktur? By 1900, German printers increasingly wanted both—and something new as well. Inspired by British Arts & Crafts efforts, type producers such as the über-creative Klingspor foundry closed-out the art nouveau era by bringing new hybrids onto the market. Seeking out new artists to design these, and reinvigorate the tradition-heavy blackletter motif, they came across Rudolf Koch.

Deutsche Schrift type specimen 1
Click on all the images to open up larger samples in the lightbox!
The above comes from a Klingspor specimen book for the Deutsche Schrift showing a heavier weight, fette deutsche Schrift.

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Buy this Magazine, #2

Linotype Matrix 4.2 Cover

Linotype began distributing the second issue of the Linotype Matrix at TYPO Berlin 2006. This issue’s cover story reports on the life and work of W.A. Dwiggins (the article was written by Paul Shaw, and designed by Tiffany Wardle). But you should really buy the magazine to read my photoessay on historic type specimen in the Gutenberg Museum library.

The magazine is available on the Linotype website. With 64 pages, it is a bargain at just 15 USD/EUR. Order it today!

Below are three snapshots of my article.
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Lombardic Lettering at Chartres

Sample of Lombardic Lettering from Chartres Cathedral, France
A few days ago, while I was still in France, I came back to Chartres Cathedral for the first time in over a decade. This time, I was looking for lettering. While I didn’t see much, there was a series of dazzling little pedestal inscriptions on the North Portal. Like captions in a book, these texts describe the sculptural scenes above them. I suspect that these letters were carved during the 1200s. Their style is similar to the all-caps lombardic alphabets that would develop in later centuries.

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