single storey g but double decker a

CosiFanTutte's picture

Could anybody please explain to me why helvetica has a double storey a but single storey g? I am sure there are other typefaces that might do this but helvetica is so widely used I wondered why it is like that. I have been trying to find out the whole storey (!) of the lower case a and g as they seem to be the only two letters that have a commonly accepted alternate that all english readers recognise without problem, and maybe without even noticing. Thank you.

dezcom's picture


That was the norm for sans at the time. See AG and Univers.


PS: are you only a Cosi fan or do you also like the other Mozart operas?

Nick Shinn's picture

In scripts, there are a huge number of commonly accepted alternate forms that English readers recognize "without even noticing".

ben_archer's picture

My old 1958 Encyclopedia of Typefaces says that grotesks that follow the German or continental model use a single storey 'g' while grotesques that follow the traditional English pattern use a double storey 'g'. This difference is the basis of grotesque (double storey) and neo-grotesque (single storey) as separate classifications (see the BS:2961 in the back of Rookledges Typefinder). The double storey version is older - essentially 19th century, rather than mid-20th century.

Yes its true that AG set the norm for German grotesks (see also Venus, Folio, Reform Grotesk et al) but I have also seen that variant of AG that includes a single storey 'a'...

CosiFanTutte's picture

Thank you so much for your help. I didn't know about the continental vs English aspect. I have followed the single storeys from script to italic type and through to more general use via modernist faces and am starting to look at use as infant forms for children's books although why that began I don't know.

p.s Dezcom, sorry to disappoint, I know very little about opera, I like some snippets. The Cosi comes from an old college project, I quite liked the sentiment behind the phrase, it always provokes discussion.

dezcom's picture

"...starting to look at use as infant forms for children’s books although why that began I don’t know."

I think it is because they try to model the hand writing forms of a and g that they are taught?


CosiFanTutte's picture

Hi, yes I believe you are right about following handwriting forms into print but some research does suggest the double deckers are better for letter differentiation. I guess familiarity has a strong link to recognition too which is perhaps why the two forms have happily co-existed.

William Berkson's picture

I believe the one story g and two story a are an influence of black letter on Akzidenz Grotesque. The black letters seem to always have a more or less one story g (a hair line closes it), and often a two story a. The English Johnston, with Underground and the American Benton, with Franklin, did the two story g because of no blackletter influence.

hrant's picture

> My old 1958 Encyclopedia of Typefaces says that ...

Interesting distinction.


John Hudson's picture

I believe the one story g and two story a are an influence of black letter on Akzidenz Grotesque.

That makes a lot of sense.

Dan Weaver's picture

The idea was to make anial retentive types crazy. That was the whole idea behind Helvetica. I know Cris and Norbert will kill me on this joke

paul d hunt's picture

anal retentive types don't like being called "anial"... i should know >^P

dezcom's picture

What about finial retentives? :-)


cerulean's picture

They're a pain in the ascender. :=}

dezcom's picture

I'll bet that gets a rise out of them :-)


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