Quintessential American font?

chadbrewer's picture

¡Howdy!

I was wondering if there are any fonts that scream "American" when you look at em. Fonts designed by Americans, used more by Americans - etc.

A few thoughts I had:

Obviously all the old west looking fonts like Wanted look American.

Some others that have been kicking around for many decades like Copperplate and Cooper Black came to mind.

And maybe P22's Hopper, Edward , since it's based on the handwriting of a big time American artist.

I curious to know what you all think,

Cheers!

SignLion's picture

Beyond a doubt, it is definitely Interstate.

paul d hunt's picture

Cheltenham is about as American as apple pie. (hmmmm... "apple pi" now THAT'D be an American font!)

ericgio's picture

I'd say something by Goudy. one of the great american type designers. Well, prolific anyway. a lot of people would argue with his being characterized as "great".

or others by morris fuller benton (who designed cheltenham)

seeing as how america's a diverse country with a diverse history, it kinda depends on what you define "american" to be...

Nick Shinn's picture

Comic Sans.

Si_Daniels's picture

My votes would be

1. Bud's original Courier for IBM - the official face of officialdom. Don't forget to black out parts of the doc for the authentic declassified security memo look, if that's what you're after.

2. Helvetica, the corporate face of the IRS and all those tax forms.

3. Franklin Gothic

Cheers, Si

hrant's picture

Great thread! I'm especially interested in the texty angle of this issue (since it's too easy to express Americanism in the display realm).

hhp

Miss Tiffany's picture

Caledonia, Electra, Metro ... Dwiggins by jiggity.

dezcom's picture

The problem with the "most often used" angle is that these fonts were mostly not American designs. Times Roman is perhaps the most often used text face. For some reason, Century strikes me as having an American look. Helvetica has more of a Swiss connotation to me. Too often, the most popular fonts are those that come bundled free with either Windows, Office, Mac OS, or Adobe applications.
I guess in this Digital type Internet era, nationalistic fonts are melting into multinational fonts. It is so easy to get fonts from anywhere in the world that being pinned to one country's fonts is unrealistic. I have many hundreds of fonts and have never chosen which to purchase because of its nation of origin. I just by the fonts that work best for me. The only reason I might not buy a font from a country is if I never have a need to set that language (meaning I don't understand it). I am very tempted to by one of the Korean fonts because I am intrigued by the letterforms. I would have no practical use for it other than just appreciating the form.

ChrisL

andyclymer's picture

Being an American studying type design in Europe, it's become a surprisingly often occurance for someone to tell me that I'm designing very "American" type. When I ask the person to elaborate it always seems to come down to "adding something a old into something new." Another explanation went along the lines of "in America you don't have anything old so you feel like you have to make something look older." I think that's true with a lot of things, especially architecture, but what do you think about it in regard to type?

I also agree with ericgio about the Goudy reference, I think Goudyness is what a lot of people would consider to be Americanness in type.

TBiddy's picture

I would've said Interstate too, had I not seen it plastered all over advertisements in London.

Terry Biddle

eolson's picture

Arial Oblique Bold

hrant's picture

Andy, some of that is a European complex though.

hhp

defrancisco's picture

To me, nothing says "America" more than the designs of Benton. But then again, I'm not american myself.

Si_Daniels's picture

Someone (was it Allan Haley?) at Typecon (Minn.?) contrasted US vs European advertising typography letter spacing - as I recall he said the US was a lot tighter. Perhaps setting any American type tighter gets a more American feel.

Cheers, Si

dezcom's picture

The funny thing is that Americans (except for the Native American Indian) are from other countries. We are like conglomerate rock, bits of lots of other things melted together into an undefinable amalgam. I am second generation Greek American. My wife is a combination of Ukrainian, Romanian, Russian, and German. My kids are then a fusion of all of this--notice no English speaking ancestors in the mix. Both my wife and my families emigrated to the USA after 1918 so we are not DAR or Mayflower candidates. All this said, my children are no more American than my Russian, El Salvadoran, or Pakistani 1st generation neighbors living on my street. We can try to picture an "American" typeface but whose America? A descendant of the Mayflower or my Salvadoran neighbor?
Perhaps this is like naive Americans who have never been to the Netherlands and picture the Dutch as all wearing wooden shoes. Perhaps there may be some equally naive Europeans who think we in America all wear cowboy hats and carry guns?
The World has truly shrunk. Many of the nationalistic boundaries that we have been so fond to depend on are just naive visions of a bygone era.

ChrisL

nathanjones's picture

All of these at once.

dezcom's picture

"All of these at once."

Exactly ;-)

ChrisL

ericgio's picture

I think part of the difficulty is that it's hard to put a blanket stereotype on america because of its all the different ideas and influences it has absorbed. i've read a thread or two about typically dutch typography and type design. Is there less diversity of style in dutch design which therefore makes it easier to label? this isn't meant as a disparaging remark in any way, just observational

for example it’s easy to say Helvetica and Univers embody swiss typography because they were designed by swiss designers and predominantly used in modernist design which became widely known as the swiss school. I'm sure there were some other styles in switzerland, but let's be honest, that was the predominant style and the one for which switzerland is best known.

paul rand was a huge proponent of many of those same ideals and he is the father of graphic design in america. but I don't think that connection makes those swiss typefaces “american” in any way.

so maybe there are american ideals that are embodied in certain typefaces?

I agree with chris about century schoolbook. I always picture kids in a one room schoolhouse on the frontier somewhere.

Joe Pemberton's picture

Are you looking for something that a type historian would say is American? Or are you looking for the most popular typefaces in use in the US?

These are entirely different. The former might be Gotham, the latter might be DIN.

Forrest L Norvell's picture

Slap a big ol' all caps Franklin Gothic headline over a lawnmower ad with all the text written white on green in Avant Garde and you'll have a headache that'll last for a week. That's American for you!

Forrest L Norvell's picture

Or, alternately, flip through either of Doyald Young's logo design bibles Logotypes and Letterforms or Fonts and Logos. His designs are rife with Morris Fuller Benton type, and even when the faces he uses aren't American, he uses them in a very American way.

I'm kind of surprised that nobody's mentioned any of the five billion woodtype faces out there, but then again, I doubt many of y'all went to school out Montana way like I did. Nothing says ol' time Americana like some stylized woodtype on a tall skinny poster.

jordy's picture

Franklin Gothic by Morris Fuller Benton, most any Goudy font but especially Goudy Modern, Goudy Extra Bold, and Goudy Old Style, always loved Goudy Thirty in metal, definitely Dwiggins Electra, any style Cooper especially Cooper 570, love Centaur by Bruce Rogers. I guess I am thinking more about metal type as the kind of American type I am used to. There aren't quite "five billion woodtype faces out there" but there are enough to keep me happy doing what I do.

>I’m especially interested in the texty angle of this issue<
Hrant, Goudy Modern is a wonderful text face, again, in metal.

Stephen Coles's picture

If Clarendon was designed by a Swiss man, why is it always the first face that comes to mind when I think of type that feels American?

chadbrewer's picture

To answer Joe's question, I was mostly thinking of a font that says "American" like baseball and apple π (to be honest - from the anglo-saxon perspective).

I can certainly see Cheltenham, Goudy, and Century Schoolbook as all american. And Stephen, I see what you mean by Clarendon. What about ITC Bookman? It kinda has that feel taken even further.

paul d hunt's picture

oooh, better than bookman: Binny.
and any font that's named for a US state, is pretty American to me: Iowan Old Style.

antiuser's picture

As a foreigner living in the US, my impressions are still Franklin/News Gothic, Electra and Metro.

ericgio's picture

should we start a poll here to keep track? (how does one do that?)

I think franklin gothic is winning so far

jordy, centaur is a beautiful face, but does it really make you think “american”? bruce rogers was american, but centaur was a revival of jenson's venetian. so historically speaking it has no ties to america...

Down10's picture

I immediately thought of Cooper Black reading this thread.

Perhaps it's my memory of a book from my childhood featuring numerals in Cooper Black with illustrations by Norman Rockwell...

Nick Shinn's picture

I have the feeling that the classic American faces have a little more virtuoso "drawing" in them than comparable European faces. This would certainly be true of Goudy's faces, and you still see it in Berlow, Hoefler (especially his serifed), and of course Robert Slimbach.

An appreciation for the beauty of line for its own sake, rather than as mere servant to the overbearing rigor of a design system. At the risk of generalizing, there is something of use to commercial showmanship in this, and American culture is very commercial.

Having said that, in the digital revolution (despite the contributions of LettError and FontShop, a largely American-driven phenomenon), there has been a strain of hardcore experimentalism, where American typographers and type designers have been every bit as theoretical as the Europeans, and not afraid to produce conceptually driven work quite harsh in appearance. Many of Licko's designs, such as Matrix and Base, have this quality.

So these two leading proponents, Slimbach and Licko, could be said to represent the dichotomy of American culture, the mainstream (corporate) and the anti-establishment.

TBiddy's picture

"for example it’s easy to say Helvetica and Univers embody swiss typography because they were designed by swiss designers and predominantly used in modernist design which became widely known as the swiss school."

I thought Adrian Frutiger was French? Anywho, this is an interesting discussion and one thing that a few others have commented on already is that its really hard to determine the quintessential American face primarily because America is so different in many ways. I'm from Cincinnati, Ohio and live in New York City and let me tell you they're almost completely different countries. New York has more in common with London and Paris than it does with Ohio (aside from language of course). If I were in Cincinnati I would answer Rotis (since there are far fewer designers there and much work is done by only a few firms), but here in New York there are so many different designers and design firms that there doesn't seem to be just one answer.

On the other hand, I'm surprised no one has really mentioned any Benguiat fonts (aside from Bookman). His stuff is very historically American. Nothing screams American like some good ol' photo-lettering style type.

paul d hunt's picture

I thought Adrian Frutiger was French?

see Adrian Frutiger.

timd's picture

I was going to suggest Rockwell, but I suppose Lubalin Graph would be more applicable, in terms of provenance.
Tim

Chris Rugen's picture

Grunge fonts that sprung from David Carson's aesthetic seem contemporary American to me. Not sure if that's accurate to their origins/influences, but they seem skater/surfer influenced. Also, Ed Fella's vernacular work. I agree with tbiddy about the photo-lettering.

Revivals like Mrs. Eaves and Filosofia (in their method of revival, rather than the type itself). Many of Emigre's fonts, in many ways, actually.

Though, as others mentioned, Century Schoolbook and Clarendon feel American to me. Oh, and boxing poster types in the vein of Knockout and Balboa.

Wow, names keep hitting the front of my brain now. Maybe I agree with Nathan most of all: "All of these at once."

dezcom's picture

Centered Clarenden caps as display and justified Century Expanded as text was, for me, the “American Look” in the 50s. Later (early 60s) Cooper Black was all the rage. The 60s also brought the International style to the U.S. with AG, then Univers and Helvetica. Since then we have gone through many font flirtations. I don’t think I can come up with a single face that would mean “American” over all time. Maybe that is the point. America is always in a visual state of flux. We either borrow form from others or quickly invent our own and just as quickly abandon it in favor of some newer fad.

ChrisL

wallmeyer's picture

Upon reading the initial question, Morris Fuller Benton's Franklin Gothic family immediately jumped to the front of my mind. While I agree that Century Schoolbook and numerous classic woodtype faces have a quintessential Americana flavor to them, among others, I think one would be hard-pressed to find a typeface that has had such consistant and widespread usage since its creation than Franklin Gothic. Perhaps it's just my newspaper background shining through, but I think the typeface has an elegant simplicity to it, with a touch of flavor, as well. Its heavy variety, for example, has a way of being firm without the artlessness of Impact or any number of unfortunate slab serifs. Franklin Gothic is undoubtably "new" -- at least as of the machine age -- and I think its lack of pretense speaks to what I like to think of as one of the best aspects of the American character, assuming there is such a thing. In other words, I don't think the typeface is trying to pass itself off as something it's not. It's just a great, utilitarian sans serif family, and I feel its widespread popularity since its creation near the turn of the century (just as the US was beginning to assert itself as an international power) makes a compelling argument for it as the "most American" typeface.

ericgio's picture

interesting that people are mentioning Licko. she's originally from czechoslovakia. not sure when she came to the US.

doesn't mean her typefaces can't be american, though

chadbrewer's picture

Plus it's called Franklin...as in Ben Franklin ;)

xensen's picture

Everyone seems to be treating "American" like some monolithic thing that a single typeface can somehow express. The first Declaration of Independence was printed in Caslon. Which isn't much like 19th-century slave lettering or contemporary urban graffiti. America is factionalized and always has been. Before you can pick a typeface to represent it you have to specify which America you're talking about. There's a political element implicit in the question.

bieler's picture

Yeah, I'd say Caslon as well, in the end, it is always dragged out. Patriotic zeal. But, remember the last election? Surely, some law must have been passed recently that mandates Folio. But, ultimately, gotta go with the output of Mr Goudy, American as apple pie. Our own typographic Will Rogers.

Gerald

tina's picture

>Caledonia, Electra, Metro … Dwiggins by jiggity.

I've looked it up in all accessible dictionaries, but I can't find what "by jiggity" / "by jickity" means. After finding the complete quotation at http://www.connare.com/essays.htm I can approximately derive what it might say, but I still don't know and it's funny that it's not listed even in my very big dictionary. ... just curious ... -- thanks!

vinceconnare's picture

'If you don't get your type warm it will be just a smooth, commonplace, third-rate piece of good machine technique - no use at all for setting down warm human ideas - just a box full of rivets... By jickity, I'd like to make a type that fitted 1935 all right enough, but I'd like to make it warm - so full of blood and personality that it would jump at you.' From Dwiggins' fictional argument over the modern age of steel and speed[7].

Carter, Sebastian, 'William Addison Dwiggins' in Twentieth Century type designers. London. Lund Humphries. 1995. p. 67.

I couldn't agree more, by jickity.

jlt's picture

I know this might sound ridiculous due to their actual origin, but I always found the Bell types to look tremendously American.

And Christian's Los Feliz is, I think, the most quintessentially American type I've seen - in character, at least, if not often in use.

I'm surprised nobody has mentioned the early Cherokee types as being American. Or perhaps "those Americans" don't count.

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jlt : http://www.hewnandhammered.com : rock & roll mf

Miss Tiffany's picture

Joshua do you have any links or bibliographic information that you could suggest for those interested in the type of the Cherokee?

michael77's picture

First post ever....hello everybody.

The americans I´ve worked with, have had some sort of affection for Gill Sans and Frutiger Light.

caseyctg's picture

How about Americana, it says american and has it in the name! ALSO, I forget the name of them but how about some of the fonts on the dollar bill......

Stephen Coles's picture

Good call, Casey. Federal.

jlt's picture

The Cherokee types (there are a few) are based on the 85-character syllabary and I have only, unfortunately, seen them typeset in specimens and not actual "real world" usage (although I know the historians among you will argue that specimens are just as much an authentic - or even more authentic - use as any other). It's similar to the LDS Deseret type in that it's based on a roman alphabet.

Here's the Cherokee Nation's official page on the alphabet and a freeware font for download:

http://www.cherokee.org/Extras/downloads/font/CherokeeFont.htm

and a few other related resources:

http://www.allthingscherokee.com/atc_culture_fonts.html

http://www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Stadium/7075/cherokee/CherokeePages...

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jlt : http://www.hewnandhammered.com : rock & roll mf

bieler's picture

"I’m surprised nobody has mentioned the early Cherokee types as being American. Or perhaps “those Americans” don’t count."

Geez, I really hate to be so politically incorrect here but you do realize where the word America comes from, hopefully? The European occupation doesn't provide aboriginal claims to Americanism. What the hell does prior soil got to do with it? Who was here before the northern transmigration? There is some evidence that other humans "existed" here prior to the occupation by what you refer to as "those Americans," and who were exterminated as a consequence. And, I should point out, in the typographical vein, the original point of this post would seem to be what is American as thought of in the here and now.

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