History of Typography

As mentioned in the brief, I need to do some good research into the past of type, noting how it started, developed and eventually evolved into what see now as normal typography.

Back in the early times of typography, all books and various other forms of type were hand-written, usually by monks who were some of the only few capable of writing such type in large amounts. While it meant that other people could read books like the bibles they wrote, this method of hand writing each book was costly and incredibly time consuming. Eventually however, a German man named Johannes Gutenberg created a new scribing type called Black Letter which was more compact and made scribing far more easier than the old type that monks used.

Black letter, while good at making more space, and being easier to write, became very messy when printed. Because of this, a new style type soon overtook black letter in usefulness within the 15th century, which was called Roman Type (or cambria). Roman type, as hinted by its name was created by Nicholas Jenson using inspiration taken from old roman lettering, which made the type clear and easy to read when printed. This type was an instant success and quickly spread all across Europe thanks to the renaissance.

The next major development of type was a new for of roman called Italics, which (as just shown) was a tilted/stylized version of roman. Italics were also a success as they allowed people to fit more letters together, saving money. Italics would eventually become a common alteration of all types within the future, being used to make certain words or phrases show more emphasis.

A lot of time passed before in the 18th century, a British man named William Caslon who created a new standard of type when he create a new of his own name, Caslon (which used thick serifs and low contrasting strokes). Despite not being anything too impressive, it was a well received form of type. Caslon would later become known as a style of type called Old Style, Later, a man named Bakerville also created a type of the same named which would become know as a style called Transitional (which uses thinner serifs and more contrasting strokes), who was then followed by two other men called Didot and Bodoni who created the Modern style type (which uses even thinner serifs and extremely contrasting strokes).

Eventually however, Calson’s great grandson, William Calson the 4th, decided to create a new type by removing the serifs from his grandfathers type. The new type was called Sans Serif. While originally not catching on at first, it eventually began to pick up over time.

During the 2nd industrial revolution, new versions of sans serif were created for advertising, which made it both longer and/or wider, which were used on billboards and posters.

During the 20th century, yet a another new type was created by a man called Paul Renner who created the type called Futura, using simple geometric shapes (also called the Geometric Sans. During the same time, another man called Eric Gill made another type called Gill Sans, which used smoother, gentler curves (which was also called the Humanist Sans).

Next, in 1957, another type known as Helvetica came along with simpler curves and a variety of different weights, which was a very successful type and is still well received today.

Typography struggled for some time with the introduction of the computer, as its screen could only create very crude pixel type, which din’t look very good and was very messy. But nowadays the type available on the modern computer screen has far improved to where thousands different types are crisp and beautiful.


Having done this research into type I have indeed gained a lot of knowledge into how much type can differ and how important even the smallest parts can make an word look. This has been very useful and I will keep in mind what sorts of type I will use in the future.

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