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Langst-Kierst commemorative boulder

Contributed by Christopher Bergmann on Jun 18th, 2020. Artwork published in .

    Most figures in contemporary typefaces for the Latin alphabet can be classified using two criteria: The first criterion concerns the width of the figures. If all figures (0–9) have the same width, they are referred to as tabular figures (because it looks neat in a table when all figures align across rows). If they don’t, they’re not. They are called proportional figures then. The second criterion is about the design of the figures and their placement with respect to the baseline of the typeface. There are lining figures that have roughly the same height as uppercase letters and are all placed on the baseline of the typeface (which looks neat when combined with uppercase letters). And there are old-style figures: Some of them basically look like lining figures, standing on the baseline and rising to cap height; some are equally tall, but placed in a way that their top only reaches x-height, while the lower half of the figure extends below the baseline; and some have the height of extenderless lowercase letters, not going above the x-height of the typeface or below its baseline. It is due to the figures that extend below the baseline that old-style figures are also referred to as hanging figures.

    And then there is this. The boulder shown above was placed in 2004 by a local heritage and history society (a ‘Heimatverein’ in German) to commemorate the founding of the villages of Kierst (some 1100 years earlier) and Langst (fairly long ago) as well as the fact that the villages were combined (not so long ago). The typeface used for the letters is Lucida Calligraphy, described by its designers – Charles Bigelow & Kris Holmes – as a “modern chancery cursive”. Lucida Calligraphy has proportional old-style (or hanging) figures.

    But do you see anything hanging there? I don’t. All figures – hanging, shmanging – were mercilessly placed on the very visible baseline of the typeface. ‘1842’ may look tolerable to the untrained eye (but the figure ‘4’ should be hanging if we go by the original design). But you don’t have to be a typophile to sense that something is wrong in the other two combinations. Or maybe you do have to. How would this thing have come into being otherwise?

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    1 Comment on “Langst-Kierst commemorative boulder”

    1. Thanks for the photo and the insightful commentary, Christopher!

      What makes this Use even more curious is that appears to be a revised version. Heimatkreis Lank has a pdf from 2004. The last page shows a photo of this boulder. The typography is in Lucida Calligraphy, too, but the letterforms are narrower and also a bit smaller, with higher contrast. From this poorly reproduced photo, it is not clear to me whether this original inscription was also made from mounted metal letters, or if a different technique was used. One thing seems evident, though: The error of aligning hanging numerals to the baseline was made twice.

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