How Many Type Categories?

Two type systems that agree—but only in part

During the past 60 years, numberless attempts have been made to evolve the system by which printing types may be reasonably classified. Hopefully, this would ease the problems of type recognition by neophyte typographers and graphic designers when they first gaze upon an ordinary type specimen book. Relatively few of these attempts have been acceptable to printers. In some instances the innovators foundered upon the rocks and shoals of terminology, and in others upon the inherent difficulties of trying to put a label on every design.

Possibly another reason for the lack of a standard procedure for classifying type has been the disinterest of most experienced typographers. They argue that type is simply one of the units of design and that it is more important to learn how to use it properly than to try to categorize every style. While this is sound reasoning up to a point, the problem still remains for the young printer or designer: you first must become familiar with the types themselves. This can only be accomplished by a systematic approach, since the types are simply too numerous to lend themselves to such a slow process as memorization.

During the last decade, European printers have become interested once again in type classification and have decided to do something about it on an international scale. Probably the most publicized system has been that suggested by the well-known French typographer, Maximilien Vox. His system has already received the backing of many knowledgeable type men and has also been used by typefounders.

In 1961 the Vox classification was recognized by the Association Typographique Internationale, and adopted by that organization’s General Assembly.

The system has ten categories in which all types are placed:

1. Humane (Venetian)
2. Garalde (Old Face)
3. Réale (Transitional)
4.Didone (Modern)
5. Mécane (Egyptian—Square Serif)
6. Linéale (Sans Serif)
7. Incise (Latin)
8. Scripte (Scripts)
9. Manuaire (Display Types)
10. Fractura (Black Letter)

The British Standards Institution, in its recently circulated draft of the revision of its pamphlet, Typeface Nomenclature, as used the Vox table as a guide and now suggests a classification system containing nine categories. Its compilers hope to promote wide discussion on an international level among typographers. Only in this way can there be meaningful negotiations which may result in agreement upon a rational method of classifying types.

The proposed British Standards Type Classification System is divided into nine sections, as follows:

Graphic—Typefaces whose characters suggest that they have been designed individually by drawing, in contra-distinction to the freer style of writing. Examples: Libra, Cartoon, Dom Casual, Old English.

Humanist—Typefaces in which the cross stroke of the lower case “e” is oblique; the axis of the curve is inclined to the left; there is no great contrast between thick and thin strokes; the serifs are bracketed; the serifs of the ascenders in the lower case are oblique. (Note: The spaces were formerly known as Venetians, having been derived from the 15th century minuscule written with varying stroke thickness by means of an obliquely-held broad pen.) Examples: Centaur, Kennerley.

Garalde—Typefaces in which the axis of the curves is inclined to the left; there is generally a greater contrast in the relative thickness of the strokes than in the Humanist designs; the serifs are bracketed; the bar of the lower case “e” is horizontal; the serifs of the ascenders in the lower case are oblique. (Note: These are types in the Aldine and Garamond tradition; formerly called Old Face or Old Style.) Examples: Bembo, Garamond, Caslon, Vendome.

Transitional—Typefaces in which the axis of the curves is vertical or inclined slightly to the left; serifs are bracketed; those of the ascenders in the lower case are oblique. (Note: This typeface is influenced by the letterforms of the copperplate engraver. It may be regarded as a transition from Garalde to Didone, and incorporate some of the characters of each.) Examples: Fournier, Baskerville, Bell, Caledonia, Columbia.

Didone—Typefaces having an abrupt contrast between thick and thin strokes; the axis of the curves is the vertical; the serifs of the ascenders of the lower case are horizontal; there are often no brackets to the serifs. (Note: These are typefaces as developed by Didot and Bodoni. Formerly called Modern.) Examples: Bodoni, Modern Extended, Corvinus, Scotch Roman.

Linéale—Typefaces without serifs. (Note: These were formerly called sans serif.) Examples: Univers, Gill Sans, Optima.

Slab-Serif—Typefaces with heavy, square-ended serifs, with or without brackets. Examples: Rockwell, Clarendon, Playbill.

Glyphic—Typefaces which are chiseled rather than calligraphic informed. Examples: Latin, Albertus, Copperplate Gothic, Augustea.

Script—Typefaces that imitate handwriting. Examples: Palace Script, Legend, Mistral.

From the viewpoint of the printers in the United States, there are several questionable categories in both the Vox system and that put forward by the British Standards Institution, but the effort will have been worthwhile if it promotes discussion and leads to a reasonable international standard. I would like to comment next month, in greater detail, upon both of these classification systems.

This article first appeared in the “Typographically Speaking” column of the October 1966 issue of Printing Impressions.


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