The second image shows Gill Sans with its Futura-like alternate sorts, most notably the single-storey ‘g’ and the splayed ‘M’. More about this “German Gill” in an upcoming Blog post on Fonts In Use. Interestingly, the ad’s text exhibits a number of orthographic errors, which suggests that it wasn’t created in Germany.
I continue to wonder what the heck was going on with these alternate Gill versions and what the printers were trying to emulate – if anything. So in the picture, you see they use the Futura ‘g’, ‘M’ and ‘R’ – but not the alternate ‘a’ or ‘G’. I wondered if they were trying to make it look like Kabel or Erbar, but Kabel has a double-storey ‘g’ and four-terminal ‘W’ and Erbar a Futura-style ‘G’. To me looks like printers or type founders just ordered whatever alternates they liked the look of – but any ideas?
This led me down a bit of a black hole recently looking through Wikimedia Commons and archives of old ads to see what GS versions are used. Gill Sans seems to have been much less popular outside Britain in the ’30s (where almost without exception the defaults are used), but this Polish ad (partly in another font) uses the Futura ‘A’, ‘a’, ‘g’, ’M’ – but the default ‘b’, ‘d’, ‘G’, ‘R’, ‘t’ and ‘W’. The small size text seems to have been ordered with the same set of alternates, although it’s not possible to say for sure due to the few characters – still, it makes me wonder if thought went into it to order the same set for multiple sizes. I can’t say if this is consistent, since I haven’t found any other ads from the same period using Gill Sans in Poland at all except possibles in too bad a quality to see the font clearly and use of a few characters.
Meanwhile, in Britain, I’ve only found one really obvious use of alternates – this map uses a pointy ‘A’ and the compact (but Gill-style) ‘R’ in top right and I think perhaps a few other places too.
An additional interesting topic is signs that are not printed from type but inspired by Gill Sans. I have seen many British gravestones like that from the period, where the carving seems clearly inspired by Gill Sans. On this topic, any ideas for this? I imagine it’s a custom stencil design, and it doesn’t match any particular Gill Sans competitor I know of, but I’d love to know more.
Nice finds, Blythwood. You should submit them as uses!
In my experience, Gill Sans’ single-story ‘a’ and ‘g’ were commonly used in Germany, though as you point out this ad only uses the alt ‘g’. BTW, here’s a showing of even more Gill Sans alts than the one you linked to.
Ooh, that’s nice to see – Monotype really had no shame at this. It’s still not the end to them either – the first titling versions had a crazy 7 that matches the curve of the '9', and a very odd '5'.
For all these alternates, I’ve never understood why they didn’t ever offer small caps or text figures in metal, both of which you’d imagine much more demand for.
Photo(s) by “email@example.com Jordan Smith” on Flickr.
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