Haüy’s Essay on the Education of the Blind (1786)
One of the earliest forms of sans serif type ever seen in a book was designed for those who couldn’t see at all.
3 Comments on “Haüy’s Essay on the Education of the Blind (1786)”
Thank you very much for this intriguing article!
You mention that Haüy’s typeface is extraordinary — it certainly is. I wonder how different it is from other French script typefaces of that time, though, apart from the wide spacing and the eliminated contrast. The former was probably introduced for better letter separation. The latter is a consequence of the writing tool and technique — Haüy mentions that in his writing method (which is emulated by his typeface), the lines are made on heavy paper with an iron pen whose nib is not split, without ink. The letters are impressed, separate and a little big, but otherwise not essentially different from the cursive of the sighted (p23f).
Upright scripts known as Ronde have a long tradition in France. They are still used in the classroom, or serve as reference for new typeface designs. Attached below is a detail from a specimen by Gillé from 1808, but the style has certainly be made into type earlier. Gando Ronde by Hans-Jürg Hunziker and Matthew Carter (Mergenthaler, 1970) is based on the work of Nicholas Gando, who was active in the mid 1700s. I’m grateful for any information about earlier typefaces in this style.
Source: Hathi Trust (Public Domain). Digitized by the Getty Research Institute
Wow, you made it a blog post! Thanks so very much to Florian for editing this and making it look wonderful.
Yes, that is a very good point: it’s inherent in script faces that they will have fewer serifs than a text face, if not none. One can also compare with civilité types. Which makes it a much more “natural” place to start sans-serifs from than the British style of Figgins that dominated by 1840, that seems to have originated by fusing neoclassical Roman capitals with the build and condensation of the fat face to produce a letterform that has no roots in script at all, and indeed really no natural lower-case that can harmonise well with it.
You wouldn’t want to use it for everything, but my own feeling is that this is a style that – perhaps modernised a little – could look really good in many uses today. It’s legible, characterful and different. So that Jean-Baptiste Levée face is also interesting to see for its fusion of cursive and static features.
I should add, by the way, that this embossed lettering formed a diverse range, and from samples I’ve seen the range of letterforms used by Hauy’s institute was expanded over the period of its use. If you look at that 1829 Braille title page, there’s a large face with a strong slant that appears nowhere in the 1786 text, and looks very like a Didot italic with most of the serifs taken off. Typographica (no, not that one, the magazine published in the 1960s) has photos of something similar but not quite identical (different capital ‘M’) in an 1819 text on issue 6 p. 3, which has been digitised. And there were several other versions of this embossed lettering in use in different countries in the early nineteenth century. If you’re a font designer, I absolutely think you could find a lot of inspiration for a blockbuster multi-weight family if you do a little research. Maybe Mr. Lohner would consider expanding the family, say adding a boldface, lining figures and some alternate non-swash caps and small caps?
Sorry, that should read “fusing neoclassical Roman capitals with the build of the fat face and adding condensation” – fat faces generally aren’t particularly condensed!
Incidentally, as a personal comment, one topic that I have not really seen in discussion of early sans-serif letterforms that are not written is needlepoint samplers, on which it is easiest to fit a monoline letterform onto the grid structure imposed by the substrate cloth. Many of these – this one, say from 1760, and there are surely many more like it – have some kind of limited number of serifs, and indeed this also has in contrast ornamented capitals of the kind that mostly do not appear in printing just yet. But this is not something I can say much about, and I don’t know who has written about this.
On that topic too (since it’s beautiful and little-known), here’s a text written by a future queen of England (then eleven) in 1544. This is a source that sans-serif letterforms in mass-market printing easily could have come from, but didn’t.