Orbis Typographicus

Joshua Langman's picture

A rare Zapf masterpiece, newly digitized

Hello, typophiles! I'm proud to share a project that I've been working on for over a year, with the assistance of Hermann Zapf and Philip A. Metzger. I've digitized a somewhat obscure work of Zapf's, a collection of elaborate letterpress broadsides that serve as type specimens, and made them available for online viewing and as high-res, press-quality images for download. Please check out the website and let me know what you think. The press release is below.

— Josh

ORBIS TYPOGRAPHICUS: A Complete Digital Facsimile
A project by Joshua Langman

A rare Zapf masterpiece can now be seen online, just in time for his 95th birthday.

Orbis Typographicus is a rare set of letterpress broadsides created by world-renowned type designer Hermann Zapf, in collaboration with Philip L. Metzger of Crabgrass Press, between 1970 and 1980. The entire set has now been published digitally by Joshua Langman, representing the first time the collection has been reproduced — in any medium — since the original edition of nintey-nine copies.

With Professor Zapf's encouragement, Langman has scanned the entire set of twenty-nine broadsides and made the images available for free on a dedicated website, where the pages may be viewed and downloaded as press-quality 1200 dpi images. This rare work from a widely acclaimed master in the field can now be seen for the first time by those who may not be lucky enough to have access to a hard copy.


About the Broadsides
Orbis Typographicus (“The Typographic World”) is a set of twenty-nine 9 × 12 letterpress broadsides, designed by Hermann Zapf and printed by Philip Metzger of Crabgrass Press between 1970 and 1980. The broadsides feature quotations on art, science, nature, faith, and the human condition, from authors ancient and contemporary. The text includes poetry, prose, anagrams, and palindromes, in English, German, Spanish, French and Japanese. Hand set by Philip Metzger, the set pays tribute to worthy “Thoughts, words and phrases on the Arts and Sciences” through Zapf’s unconventional and ingenious use of typography. Orbis Typographicus functions both as a work of literary wall art and as an elaborate type specimen, showcasing many of Zapf’s own faces, as well as those of his wife, Gudrun Zapf von Hesse.

About the Website
Langman's new digital home for Orbis Typographicus features high-resolution scans, available for download, and a complete computer-searchable transcript. The website also features a specially written essay by Philip A. Metzger, the son of the printer, in which he shares his recollections of his father working on the project. The site will officially launch on 6 November 2013, the week of Zapf's 95th birthday.

About Joshua Langman
Joshua Langman is a freelance graphic designer and typographer based in New York. He discovered Orbis Typographicus by accident four years ago, fell in love with the collection of typographic broadsides, and wanted to share them with others. He built www.orbistypographicus.com, with Hermann Zapf's encouragement, to make his work more accessible to typophiles, calligraphers, letterpress enthusiasts, and anyone with a passion for the printed word.

dhannah1000's picture

Great Work, Joshua! I was a fan of HZ's fonts and calligraphy, how did you came up with the idea?

Joshua Langman's picture

Thanks, dhannah1000!

I explain in detail how I ended up doing this project here:


And Phil Metzger shares his side of the story here:


Nick Shinn's picture

“…variety of humors…” —a promising mode of typeface classification?

Scatterplot chart would be appropriate.

Té Rowan's picture

/me puts on his straightest face...

Y'know, Nick, I think you're standing in Larry Wall's footprints right now: You are either on something or on to something.

Aside: He described his own state thus regarding Perl.

Joshua Langman's picture

Just resurrecting this thread to note that the Orbis Typographicus site (orbistypographicus.com) now supports Retina displays and other similar high-resolution (> 72 ppi) monitors. Each of the images on the site has been exported anew from the original scans, and the extra pixels (c. 220 ppi) make a big difference in capturing the sharpness of the printing on screen. And of course the press-quality 1200 dpi files are still available for download in case even Retina resolution doesn't cut it.

quadibloc's picture

Well, the quote was from Benjamin Franklin, and so we don't have to conclude that Hermann Zapf was going to rate typefaces as sanguine, choleric, phlegmatic, and melancholic.

Martin Silvertant's picture

I downloaded the PDF but it takes 2 minutes each time I want to go to the next page because the PDF is simply too big. I would've preferred individual pictures. Still, this is fantastic to see. Thanks for sharing.

Joshua Langman's picture

Yes, I know the PDF is huge. You can grab web-quality (retina) images straight off the site individually; the PDF is for resolution junkies who want to be able to zoom way in. But you're not the first to suggest individually downloadable press-quality images; it's on the list. Thanks for checking it out.

Martin Silvertant's picture

the PDF is for resolution junkies who want to be able to zoom way in.

I'm one of them, but the PDF is too heavy to be able to do that with ease. I have to say I'm currently on a technically kind of outdated computer though.

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