August’s Font of the Month: Glyptic DJR

Font of the Month, 2022/08 PDF Try
Glyptic djr microscopic 2000

When I look at a Victorian type specimen book, I feel like time flattens out. I’ll catch the 1880 vibes, for sure, but also whiffs of 1970 and 2022. I’ll see frilly fonts on one page that feel hopelessly antiquated, relics of a bygone era. Next to them, I’ll see fonts that feel strikingly contemporary, virtually indistinguishable from what’s popular today. It’s funny to see them coexist, and it reminds me of how limited my definition of “contemporary” can be. 

Glyptic is one of those frilly fonts that, at first glance, feels hopelessly antiquated. But underneath its Victorian veneer, it contains fascinating choices that I would never make as a type designer, and I wanted to digitize it if for no other reason than to understand what the heck is going on. So this month I’m sending you my revival: Glyptic DJR.

Glyptic franklin 2000

Glyptic, as shown in the 1889 Franklin Type Foundry Specimen

Glyptic is an ornamented Latin serif designed in 1878 by Herman Ihlenburg and issued by the Philadelphia type foundry Mackellar, Smiths and Jordan. Longtime club members will recognize Ihlenburg’s name, as I’m a repeat-reviver of his work: Bradley DJR is a revival of his interpretation of Will H. Bradley’s lettering, and Crayonette DJR is based on a typeface that was in turn inspired by Ihlenberg’s Crayon.

What to say about Glyptic…it’s kind of a chaotic design! It contrasts sharp triangular serifs against delicate spirals and curlicues. On top of that, it comes with a host of unconventional letters: a razor-sharp R, an uncialesque U, loads of descenders, and a M / W pair that abandons the typical alternating thick-thin construction in favor of a near-symmetrical looped form that is downright bizarre.

Glyptic djr piquant 2000

My digitization mostly follows the proportions of Glyptic’s two-line pica cut (24pt). But in my interpretation, I chose to double down on the design’s frenzied energy and heighten the contrasts between sharp and round elements. The original vertical serifs on letters like T dangled like delicate tendrils; mine, on the other hand, are more angular and severe. The descenders of H, M, and J follow suit. The original K has a surprisingly conventional form, which I felt was a missed opportunity. I drew an entirely new form to match the aggressive tails of A and R. (Don’t worry…the original is available as an alternate.)

As I was making the pointy stuff pointier, I was also adding heft and rigidity to the rounder elements in the design. The counterforms of curved shapes like O have entirely straight sides, and the ends of the curlicues become full-on ball terminals…all of those spirals were surprisingly hard to draw!

Glyptic diagram 2000

Whenever the original Glyptic was shown, they always went really hard with the ornaments. So I made sure to include them in my revival and feature them prominently in my showings too. Since they often enclose the text, I made them alternates of the parentheses, brackets, and braces, so you can type them easily. You’ll even find that the humble wordspace has an ornamented variant!

Glyptic djr antiquites 2000

At least to my knowledge, Glyptic hasn’t been a part of the design conversation for 100+ years, and maybe there’s a reason for that. It is doubtlessly a product of its time, and it’s okay for some styles to get left behind as tastes evolve and trends cycle in and out.

But in my view, this long absence makes it all the more ripe for a comeback. Type revivals give us an interesting opportunity to hack the timeline and short-circuit the cycles of fashion that we live in. It’s a chance to interrogate the vicissitudes of our current tastes and better understand why we use the fonts we use. And in that process, we might even broaden our contemporary tastes.

Glyptic djr cookbook 2000

July’s Font of the Month: Fern Titling Caps

Font of the Month, 2022/07 PDF Try Buy $24
Fern titling caps caps 2000

When it comes to finishing projects, I can be my own worst enemy. The Club keeps me working at a reasonably fast pace, and I love that, but it means I’m constantly switching focus and the progress of any given typeface can get pretty… dang… slow.

Recently, I’ve made a more concerted effort to “graduate” club fonts to full releases (to borrow a term from Future Fonts), with all the specimen-making and documentation that that entails. And Fern is a perfect candidate: it’s a font I started in 2013 that is still represented by a holding page on my website. 😅

Last year I wrote about the multiple failed attempts I’ve made to create a display cut for Fern…nothing I did felt right. This was more of a theoretical problem (wouldn’t it be nice if the family were more versatile?) but suddenly I was presented with a tangible problem: I want Fern to have a new specimen page, I want that specimen page to have a title, I want that title to be bigger than the text, and I want a font that will thrive in that larger setting. Out of this, Fern Titling Caps was born.

Fern titling caps compare 2000

Titling a text typeface is surprisingly tricky. I thought about how W. A. Dwiggins made hand-lettered titles for his type promotions—what a bold move to advertise a typeface with something other than the typeface! And I thought about Bely by Roxane Gataud, which in my mind has the perfect composition for a small family: four text styles accompanied by a single, dazzling display variant.

Fern is rooted in the simplicity of Renaissance books and the twentieth-century private press movement that revived it. All in all, it is one of the quietest typefaces in my library. It lives in the middle ground between traditional, pen-informed shapes and edgy, digitally-made shapes, and I didn’t want a display version to veer too far in one direction the other.

The thing about display serifs is that they tend to gravitate towards extremes in stroke contrast: sometimes they get thin and spiky, and sometimes they get slabby and monolinear. Both of those seem to betray the unusual blend of chunkiness and elegance that makes Fern what it is at small sizes. Fern was originally designed for text at small sizes (particularly on screen), and small-size thinking is baked into the family’s DNA—you can take Fern out of texty situations, but you can’t take the textiness out of Fern.

Fern titling caps sc 2000

For now, I’ve continued my incrementalist approach to this family. Fern Titling Caps needs to be a little more delicate than the Text, just as the Text needed to be a little more delicate than the Micro.

So I started with the four letters I actually needed for my title: F, E, R, and N. All I had to do was make them look like Fern Text, but a little less horsey when blown up to 36 or 40px. Then, I applied the same transformations to the rest of the alphabet and small caps. I retained some of the splotchy color that comes from the fluctuation of thick and thin in the serifs and round strokes, and added generous spacing so that titles feel nice and airy. On average, the thin strokes of the Titling Caps are 20 units lighter than in Fern Text.

I’m still playing with the right amount of taper on the terminals and diagonals, and I’m still filling out the character set. But at least I’ve managed to get out my own way, and I have the thing I need to make the specimen page I want. Perfection? No. But it keeps things moving.

Fern titling caps text2 2000

Fern Titling Caps, as used with Fern Text and Text Italic

June’s Font of the Month: Job Clarendon Compressed Hairlines

Font of the Month, 2022/06 PDF Try Buy $24
Job clarendon xcomp hairline words 2000

How condensed is too condensed? 

I love it when a type family is allowed to cross the invisible threshold between expected, practical proportions and something that bumps up against the limits of what we can read and perceive. 

Job Clarendon is already a narrow typeface. But with the encouragement and art direction of Bethany Heck, I’m sending you some new Hairline weights that are so narrow, they make the original version feel like Hellenic Wide! 😜

Clarendon xxcond

Page’s Clarendon XX Condensed, as seen in my copy of R. R. Kelly’s American Wood Type (I’m not at home, so thank Emily for the photo!)

In the nineteenth century, job printers relied on wood types in an electric array of widths to fill up their flyers and broadsides. Bethany and I are super curious how contemporary designers can translate this playful approach to typographic proportions to variable fonts, navigating between conventional and extreme proportions to find a sweet spot for each particular project, or perhaps even each individual headline within it. (Unfortunately, I am omitting the variable version for now because some outlines are so brittle they don’t survive the conversion...yet 😅)

As the horizontal widths condense, it’s funny to see how many other aspects of the design need to change as well. The straight sides of round letters get straighter, the overshoots get smaller, descenders get smaller, and the rhythm of black and white shapes gets more regular overall (resulting in more of a picket fence effect).

Job clarendon xcomp hairline gs 2000

The extremes in horizontal proportions are echoed in the vertical proportions as well. Following patterns we found in Job Clarendon’s nineteenth century predecessors, elements like the top of g the and the belly of a grow wildly, forcing these letters to feel like funhouse mirror reflections of the original.

I typically gloss over (or don’t even mention) alternate forms in these write-ups; I tend to think of them more as easter eggs that you can uncover as you spelunk around in the fonts. But Job Clarendon’s alternates, especially the “Square Terminals and Dots” are worthy of another mention. This is partly because it was a lot of work to manage all these extra glyphs, but also because they completely change the character of the typeface. In the new Compressed and Extra Compressed, I might actually prefer these to the default ball terminals!

Job clarendon xcomp hairline alts 2000

I believe Job Clarendon is destined to be one of the most versatile titling faces in my library, and I’ve been frustrated with myself for letting it sit for over a year already! (Sorry, Bethany!) You can let me know if you think I’m doing too many updates for the club in general, but I really appreciate the opportunity to pick up projects like this and give them some renewed momentum.

In other news, my month is off to a good start—this week, I am finally getting to visit with some of my family for the first time since the pandemic. I’m also looking forward to Typographics later this month. (At least as of today it’s not too late to propose a talk for the TypeLab...just saying!) I hope your month is off to a great start as well!

Job clarendon xcomp hairline words widths 2000

Condensed, Compressed, Extra Compressed