Return to Old Type Faces in Vogue in National Ads

For several years now there has been talk of Cheltenham, that old workhorse and most famous of American types, being in “revival.” In the strictest sense of the word, however, “Cheltenham” has never been completely out of vogue as a dependable type for advertising and general utilitarian purposes.
To be sure,Cheltenham went into some disfavor in the ’20s when American typography began to show the new look which was at that time affecting the appearance of the printed word. Who can forget the black and blatant display faces, followed by the sudden swing to Bauhaus functionalism and devotion to pure line as represented by the sans serif types. Then the swing to the old Egyptians revived as square serifs, which kept the ball rolling, ever seeking out change. And so it went: every few years there would be some kind of upheaval along typographic lines, each new school having its own feverish adherence. Few indeed are the printers remained unaffected.

Old Chelt was consigned to the hell box at fairly regular intervals, and was used but sparingly except by the small printer and weekly newspaper publisher, who never weakened in their devotion to a type which has so many saving qualities, particularly for display composition. So if we see it again in national advertising, it really doesn’t mean a revival, but merely an opportunity for appropriate use at the hands of some discerning typographer or art director.

At the moment, the picture seems to indicate a return to the wide gothics. National advertisers, always alert to changes of form and emphasis, seem to be testing the interesting expressions which can be engendered by types of wide set proportions. Of course, letter spacing is frequently adopted with the sans serifs and the gothics to bring the display line out to a wide measure, but recently released types such as Franklin Gothic Wide (ATF) and the Venus groups (Bauer) lend themselves much more readily to the extended line without resorting to the camera prism.

The type specimen books at the turn of the century were well filled with samples of wide gothics. For example, there were offered Philadelphia Lining Gothic in several weights, Lining Gothic Number 545, Mercantile Gothic, Wide Lining Gothic Number 520, and Commercial Gothic. Examination of almost any of the old type books will turn up several other designs produced for much the same reasons as the present-day crop.

Another “new” and popular typestyle uses the rigid and fairly mechanical lines of such old letters as Lining Roman Number 153, Lining Title, Two Line Number 129, etc. These types, using Bodoni as a basic form, were very popular for the display composition of 60 years ago, and they are again gaining favor, particularly when used as titles of articles and some of the widely circulated national magazines which are putting considerable stress on modern up-to-the-minute layout. Some of these styles have been offered by the photolettering services, and one or two are privately owned types. One of the most recent, Mademoiselle, is being produced by the Baltotype Type Foundry.

There was some hope that the extremely wide square serifs such as Antique Extended and Egyptian Extended would not be resurrected, but very recently one of the British type foundries advertised such a revival, so we may witness a transatlantic immigration before very long.

Another old-timer which has been selected and honored by frequent use is Engravers Roman, both in regular and boldface weights. The use of this particular letter results not from any inherent beauty of form or even integrity, but from the constant search for a visually unique approach to the advertising message.

Approximately 4 years ago, display composition took a swing toward the good legible types bearing the name of Century, designed in the ’90s by Lynn Boyd Benton, with Theodore Low De Vinne—two men who made great contributions to American typography. This mild revival has probably run its course, for display purposes particularly, though of course the text sizes have long been popular with newspapers and publications, and will continue to be so.

It is sometimes surprising to see how frequently Caslon is used in national display advertising, even to the extent of hand-lettered imitations. Caslon has never had the ups and downs of many of the fine roman types. Except for a period of some 50 years during the time when Bodoni was making his influence most clearly felt, Caslon has never been relegated to the discard, although there is no doubt that it has gone into a decline of popularity as a type for book composition.

Hand lettering, and now photolettering, have retarded the introduction of new display types in the last few years, and considering the current cost of developing a new type, it is surprising that the foundries are still anxious to meet every display need demanded by their customers. Very recently, the advent of the distorting camera, a device being marketed to printers engaged in advertising composition, is bound to have some effect upon new display types. Type foundries, therefore, are adopting a well-reasoned approach economically when they reach back into the files and come up with new and refreshing “old” types.

This article first appeared in “The Composing Room” column of the March 1954 issue of The Inland Printer.


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