Webfonts from the 1800's
koppie — Thu, 04/07/2011 - 04:59
Journey with me, into the depths of nerddom. Today we'll be talking about webfonts from the 18th and 19th century.
This came up when I redid the fonts for 69thnewyork.com. This is a site for a non-profit organization concerned with portrayals of life during the 1860's, primarily the American Civil War. I had already designed a site with a very rustic "grunge" theme that did a great job of evoking the "Camp and Garrison Duty of Infantry" that characterized the Union army campaigns during the Civil War. The font wasn't bad either; I was using Georgia, which was designed in the 1990's for use on websites, but was based on Clarendon, a font invented in 1845. It has a clean, classic look and looks great on web pages.
But of course that's not good enough for me, so I did some research. Here are the fruits of my labor, sorted by year.
Garamond was invented in 1621 in France. For most of the Rennaissance, France and Holland dominated the font scene, and England was left borrowing from others. Garamond is still a popular font today and is built into many personal computers. It has a clean, modern look, and it's surprising to know that it's almost 400 years old.
British font design came into its on in 1722, with the invention of Caslon, by Mr. Caslon of London. He created a complete font family, including variants and alternate languages (like Hebrew and Greek).
Caslon was wildly popular for a long time, both in Britain and America. As late as the mid-19th century, Caslon was still the most popular font in the United States. It's easy to see why; it's clean, classy, and very easy to read.
Today, Caslon is often immitated. One example is Wyld, a modern day version of Caslon, lifted from a book published in London in 1725.
Caslon is featured as the body text on 69thnewyork.com
Another British font based on Caslon, invented in 1757 by Mr. Baskerville. It's much more decorative, and very elegant.
Baskerville is available from Fonts.com
Even after Caslon, the French and Dutch still dominated typography. Another attempt to level the playing field came in 1788 from the John Bell British Type Foundry. This font was also based on a French font. It is thicker and very modern looking, with a strong resemblance to the 20th-century Georgia. If you use this font, people might not even realize it's 230 years old.
Bell is featured as the typeface on ACWA.org.
Bell is available from Fonts.com
Another English typeface, this one was designed for a printing of Shakespeare's folios in 1792. Another beautiful font, it's very old fashioned looking.
Finally, font innovation moves to America! Probably the first font created in the United States, it shares an intimate history with Thomas Jefferson. It was revived in the 1980's by Matthew Carter, who also created Georgia and Verdana. You can read the amazing history of the font from Monticello.org.
The lone Italian entry on the list, cast by Giambattista Bodoni in 1798. Bodoni has fabulous tails on the Q and R, giving it an amazingly modern feel. In fact, Bodoni is still wildly popular, being used by Nirvana, Alice DeeJay, and Lady Gaga on their albums.
We enter the 19th century with Walbaum, a German font invented by Mr. Walbaum in 1804. This font has long, clean lines and also looks surprisingly modern.
Walbaum is available from Fonts.com.
This is actually a group of typefaces created by Firmin Didot between 1784 and 1811, and used by his brother Pierre Didot at his print shop in Paris.
Didot was so influential that it gave rise to a whole new style of font, called Didone, also known as modern. That's right; the "modern" classification of fonts comes from 1811.
Didot itself is available from Fonts.com.
Another English font, this one invented in 1845. This one is also surprisingly popular in the modern world. All US national park signs use Clarendon. It's also used in the logos for Sony, Pitchfork Media, and Wells Fargo. Seriously, it's everywhere. This is a thick font with a rustic, old fashioned feel, and yet very readable.
Yes, Bookman, a veritable staple of modern computer fonts. It was invented in Scottland 1858 and was quickly adapted in the rest of Britain and the United States. It's still wildly popular and has a clean, classic look that falls somewhere between Times and Georgia.
I intend this page to be a useful reference for those who want to use a font appropriate to the 18th or 19th centuries. It also serves as a fun trip through the ages. Almost 400 years since Garamond, and not much has really changed.
Updated 2/29/2012: Added Bodoni & Didot, thanks to a tip from Elizabeth Quivey.