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Typographische Mitteilungen, vol. 17, No. 7, July 1920

Contributed by Kirsten Solveig Schneider on Jun 24th, 2016. Artwork published in
July 1920
Typographische Mitteilungen, vol. 17, No. 7, July 1920
Photo: Kirsten Solveig Schneider. Collection Kirsten Solveig Schneider. License: All Rights Reserved.

The German typographer’s trade journal Typographische Mitteilungen: Zeitschrift des Bildungsverbandes der Deutschen Buchdrucker (Typographic Messages: The Journal of the Education Association of German Printers) was founded in Leipzig, the capital of German printing in 1903. As an “educational” tool for printers and typographers it covered type, printing, illustration and trademark design.

Typographische Mitteilungen was an important platform for the new typography movement. Two years after the 1923 Bauhaus exhibition, Jan Tschichold was invited to serve as guest editor for the October 1925 issue, for which he designed a twenty-four-page special issue entitled “elementare typographie” (elemental typography).

The designer of the cover of this issue from July 1920 is not credited. The typeface is Feder-Grotesk (“feather grotesque” or “pen grotesque”), designed by Jakob Erbar and first cast in 1909 by Ludwig & Mayer. The bold (as used here) was added in 1910, and the Kursiv (actually an extrabold italic) followed in 1925.

3 Comments on “Typographische Mitteilungen, vol. 17, No. 7, July 1920”

  1. Thank you for your lovely contribution, Kirsten!

    Feder-Grotesk is a fascinating typeface. I have no hard proof, but I’m convinced that the name refers to Feder as in quill or pen, alluding to the high contrast that is atypical for a Grotesk. Ludwig & Mayer also had a Feder-Antiqua in their library, drawn by a different artist and first cast in 1911. This design is not directly related, but it also exhibits a distinct vertical contrast, emulating a (broad-nib) pen.

    Feder-Grotesk comes with a narrower alternate ‘C’. This glyph is used for the ‘CH’ and ‘CK’ pairs in “Buchdrucker”, but not in the three instances of the ‘SCH’ trigraph. Chances are it was mainly employed to get a nicely balanced alignment, with a short last line. The tighter spacing suggests this as well.

    Feder-Grotesk, Federo, Romanovsky, Sonrisa

    There are two digitizations of the regular weight of Feder-Grotesk, Federo (Olexa Volochay for Cyreal, 2011) and Romanovsky (Vasily Biryukov for ParaType, 2013). The latter is loosely based on a Russian typeface cast in 1910 by the Lehmann foundry in St. Petersburg, with the Latin part derived from Feder-Grotesk. The brief comparison above shows that Federo (2) has narrower glyphs, but a looser spacing than the original (1 – taken from a large 84p showing). It has more compact extenders. Its ‘a’ and ‘e’ are less faithful to Erbar’s design than the digital Romanovsky (3), which in turn clearly deviates in ‘i’ or ‘g’ (among other glyphs not shown here). Romanovsky is even more open in the spacing. The last line shows Sonrisa Regular (CastleType, 2011), which is only indirectly related to Feder-Grotesk: It is part of a 7-weight family built upon “the skeletal structure of Jakob Erbar’s Koloss”. Koloss was originally released by Ludwig & Mayer in 1923 and advertised as the extrabold companion to Feder-Grotesk. Oddly enough, the extrabold italic was not named Koloss-Kursiv, but Feder-Kursiv (1925).

    Feder-Grotesk Bold, Romanovsky Bold, Sonrisa Bold

    To my knowledge, there is no digitization of the bold weight of Feder-Grotesk as used on this cover (1). The closest option is Romanovsky Bold by Olexa Volochay (2). It is lighter and wider, with several details off, see ‘G’ or ‘P’. Sonrisa Bold (3) has the right weight, but is essentially a condensed version.

  2. I’m convinced that the name refers to Feder as in quill or pen

    Florian, I can confirm your suspicion: the essay at the beginning of Ludwig & Mayer’s comprehensive specimen says as much. It’s an interesting text, also bemoaning the fact that no one found a better term for sans-serif typefaces than “grotesk”. They suggest that “block” or “stein” (stone) would be more suitable, as virtually all sans serifs up to that point were plain, nearly monoline designs.

  3. That’s great, thank you for sharing, Stephen!

    Here’s a transcript of the first page, and a slightly touched-up machine translation to English below:

    Eine neue Grotesk
    Dieser Titel des vorliegenden Probeheftes besagt eigentlich nicht viel, und doch haben wir manches darüber zu sagen. Es sind stets neue Grotesk-Schriften geschnitten worden, und es steht wohl außer Frage, daß dieser Schriftcharakter einer von denjenigen ist, welche für den Buchdrucker die dankbarsten sind. Der Name Grotesk erscheint ja heute für unseren einfachsten und klarsten Schriftcharakter eigentlich nicht mehr angebracht, aber er ist derart tief eingewurzelt, daß er sehr schwer durch einen andern zu ersetzen wäre. Ursprünglich, als man nur die Antiquaschrift und die gotischen Schriften gewohnt war, mag wohl allgemein die gleichmäßige Schwere und die absolute Schmucklosigkeit der Buchstabenbilder grotesk erschienen sein, aber heute hat man sich so an diese Formen gewöhnt, daß man leicht jeden andern Charakter grotesk nennen möchte. Man hat auch andere Namen gefunden, die diese Schriftart genauer bezeichnen sollen, wie Steinschrift und Blockschrift, jedoch der Name Grotesk konnte nicht ganz davon verdrängt werden. Für unsere neue Schrift kommen nun diese beiden Bezeichnungen gar nicht in Betracht, da dieselben dem Ursprung unserer Schöpfung direkt entgegen laufen. Unsere neue Grotesk ist geschrieben, mit der breiten Feder geschrieben, und wir nannten sie deshalb Feder-Grotesk.
    Nachdem bereits seit einiger Zeit das Schriftschreiben wieder in Aufnahme gekommen ist und auch von seiten des Schriftgießers das Gebiet der geschriebenen Schriften mit Erfolg bearbeitet wird, lag es nahe, auch geschriebene Formen des einfachsten Antiquacharakters, der Grotesk, neben den bereits vorhandenen gotischen, Fraktur- und Antiquaschriften dem Buchdrucker zur Verfügung zu stellen.


    A new Grotesk
    This title of the present specimen booklet does not really say much, and yet we have a lot to say about it. New Grotesk typefaces have always been cut, and there is no question that this typeface genre is one of the most grateful for the printer. The name Grotesk no longer seems appropriate for our simplest and clearest typeface genre, but it is so deeply ingrained that it would be very difficult to replace it with another. Originally, when only roman and Gothic scripts were used, the uniform heaviness and the absolute lack of ornamentation of the letterforms may have seemed grotesque, but today one has become so accustomed to these forms that one would easily call any other character grotesque. Other names have been found to describe this style more accurately, such as stone script and block script, but the name Grotesk has not been completely displaced. Now for our new typeface, these two designations do not come into consideration at all, since those run directly against the origin of our creation. Our new Grotesk is written with a broad pen, and we therefore called it Pen Grotesk.
    Since writing has been resumed for some time now and type founders have also been successfully working in the field of written styles, it was obvious to make written forms of the simplest roman style, the grotesque, available to the book printer in addition to the already existing Gothic, Fraktur, and Antiqua typefaces.

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