What to do with my Centaur?

raph's picture

Typophiles, I ask you for some advice.

Over the past two years or so, I've been working on a new digitization of the Centaur types of Bruce Rogers. I've publicly posted images of the 60pt caps (visible on my "fonts in progress" page under "Museum Caps"), but have since drawn 60pt lowercase and a moderately complete 14pt optical scale.

My feeling was that Monotype Imaging, the foundry with clear lineage from the Monotype that did the first wide release of this font, should get first dibs. However, I've just received a definite "no" from them, so I'm in a bit of a quandary about what to do with the outlines I've created so far.

My choices include:

1. Give it up entirely.

2. Finish what I have, which is an extremely faithful reproduction of the Monotype metal version, and release it with my own naming (I like "Museum") on, say, MyFonts.

3. Adapt it so that it's still very clearly Centaur, but less slavish to the Monotype metal. There are plenty other sources to draw on, including the original handset Centaur, its predecessor Montaigne, and of course Jenson's original.

4. Start over on my own Jenson revival, with a similar design brief: a calligraphic interpretation with the same letter architecture and proportions as the Jenson Eusebius. A danger here, though, is that if I "clean up" the outlines too much, I might end up with something very close to Adobe Jenson.

5. Go after a different 20th Century metal Jenson revival entirely. I'm intrigued with Mardersteig's Zeno, but haven't been able to get my hands on a really high quality sample (there's a middling reproduction in Anatomy of a Typeface).

Lastly, is there any problem with posting a PDF of what I've done so far? I'm really trying to balance the ethical questions of rights and the like with my strong sense that making a really high quality version of Centaur available is the right thing to do.

paul d hunt's picture

i would say approach other foundries that might be a good fit. if i were you, i might check in with Font Bureau. If you find a foundry that's interested, perhaps the can tell you what they would like and that would help you choose from your options listed above.

George Horton's picture

This is excellent, I think options 2 and 4 sound like particularly good ideas - a genuinely calligraphic, maximally elegant version of Jenson would be a very good thing to have, and it could look very different to Centaur if you wanted it to.

My feeling was that Monotype Imaging, the foundry with clear lineage from the Monotype that did the first wide release of this font, should get first dibs. However, I’ve just received a definite “no” from them.
Fools! Who's been making the decisions at Monotype and Linotype since the end of the metal era? One can understand their not bothering with optical adjustment for photosetting, when it would have complicated the system and when there was always letterpress for serious work, but it beggars belief how much they've not only thrown away in digitisation but seem here to be actively suppressing.

I think that what the world needs and hasn't got right now is a broad palette of text types of the excellence of Centaur, offering separate fonts for each point size rather than just Text and Display variants. The early twentieth century's work of recovery, in often inspired reinterpretations, in which Rogers took part and which Morison oversaw for Monotype, needs to be done again.

How does your Centaur compare to LTC Metropolitan?

(Edited to remove irrelevance)

jason's picture

raph, this sounds very interesting. I spent a research grant a couple of years ago investigating Jenson, staring for days at various copies of the Eusebius at the British Library and digging into Jenson's story for a project I was/am working on, so I'm intrigued by what you're up to (mine was/is a writing project, not type design, but perhaps we could swap notes/ideas/etc.).

I'm not sure about the legalities of posting your work thus far here on Typophile, but I'd be interested in hearing more about your project and what you've put together so far off-forum; especially if you decide to go with option 4. While Adobe Jenson seems to be the most accurate digital version I've come across, it definitely lacks the personality of the original. By all means, if you're inclined, do tell me more via email (you can reach me through the "contact" link in my Typophile profile).

William Berkson's picture

Raph, leaving aside the legal question, the main question I think you should ask yourself is what you intend this to be used for.

Centaur looks fabulous in large sizes, but even the metal looked anemic in small sizes, and if I remember correctly, the x height may be just too small for usual book text sizes. So if you want to make it usable at 9-11 pt, it is definitely a non-trivial exercise. If you can pull it off it would be great. And it would be a different animal either from the original or Monotype's versions. Because it is your hand and eye, it won't turn into Adobe Jenson, unless you copy it, which of course you shouldn't do.

Centaur has a feel of its own, and I don't know if you can ever capture it well for smaller optical sizes. But if you could that would be a worthy goal. Whether it makes any sense for you to spend the time on it is another question.

If you only want a version that works better at large sizes that is an easier job that you have already started. The question is, who will use it, and do you want to produce it for them.

George Horton's picture

Rogers' Centaur was, of course, just a 14 point text and titling design. I don't know how much optical adjustment Monotype made in metal, but whatever their decisions were they could legitimately be made differently in your version, Raph, should you wish to resurrect Rogers' Centaur while providing for more sizes. On the other hand, I don't think getting Centaur to work at 9 point in extended text is all that crucial, since it needs so much less leading than, say, Adobe Caslon that one can reasonably expect it to be used at greater than normal point sizes.

Si_Daniels's picture

Interesting timing...

Kneel Before the Centaur

via engadget

Mark Simonson's picture

Good lord! It's Davros! Can the Daleks be far behind?

dan_reynolds's picture

Dennis wants to pair later versions up with technology from the IBOT electric wheelchair, so the Centaur can climb stairs.

The Daleks figured out how to do that in 1988 ;-)

raph's picture

Thanks for the feedback and encouragement.

William wrote: if I remember correctly, the x height may be just too small for usual book text sizes. This is certainly true for the standard Centaur, but there was also a Bible Centaur, cut specifically for the Oxford Lectern Bible. It has a higher x-height, and is also nice and strong. I have a copy of "An Account of the Making of the Oxford Lectern Bible", put out by Monotype as a promotional item, and it's a nice sample of the 18pt Bible Centaur printed on fairly rough paper, as Rogers has stated is optimal for the font.

George asked: How does your Centaur compare to LTC Metropolitan?

There's not much real difference between LTC Metropolitan and Monotype Centaur. They seem to be digitized from the same source (pattern plates for the 12pt, but without any gain added, so the overall strength is somewhere intermediate between metal 14 and 60 pt sizes). The LTC has less "touching-up" of the original eccentricity of the font (the sharp edges on the bowl of the "a" is the most visible such modification by Monotype), but its outlines are also pretty sloppy. Neither version has anything approaching real optical scaling - that's one of the most important aspects of this project, and of course a major part of Adobe Jenson.

I still haven't decided what to do, but have sketched out a handful of lowercase letters of my own, along the lines of (4) above.

These are still fairly rough, but I'm encouraged. I took a closer look at Adobe Jenson, and I'm no longer particularly worried about ending up with a clone of it. There are clearly some major decisions I would make very differently.

George Horton's picture

Do shout me down if necessary, but I've used Monotype digital Centaur for text with a small dose of FontLab's Bold effect applied horizontally and vertically. I should have thought that, with the exception of the crannies, it should give a reasonably accurate image of the 12 pt letterpress printed page - it certainly looks better than the original digital Centaur. Is this just appallingly wrong in every way? Or does everybody do this? The same could be done for 9 pt Bembo - nice to have for pocket books - etc.

hrant's picture

#1 should not be a choice.

#2 would probably be best but ONLY if you get Monotype's blessing (which however is unlikely, even if you agree to call it something else).

#3, with the handset Centaur as target, is a very good option.

#4 seems too wasteful of your extant effort. BTW "I might end up with something very close to Adobe Jenson" is a non-issue. If it happens, it happens. It's not like Adobe got it out of thin air, or tracked down Jenson's heirs or something.

#5 is also wasteful, and also seems like a fallback.

> is there any problem with posting a PDF of what I’ve done so far?

No. It's the release that counts.

> Centaur has a feel of its own, and I don’t know if you can ever capture it well for smaller optical sizes.

No font can maintain its feel across the display/text divide.

> Neither version has anything approaching real optical scaling

Didn't the Monotype version have seven optical masters?

> Is this just appallingly wrong in every way?

I don't think so. When given lemons, one makes lemonade.


raph's picture

Well, there's been some recent progress in my talks with Monotype, so there may well be a good digital release of Centaur with imprimatur. Wish me luck.

Do shout me down if necessary, but I’ve used Monotype digital Centaur for text with a small dose of FontLab’s Bold effect applied horizontally and vertically.

In fact, my close study of the smaller optical sizes of Centaur shows clear evidence of Benton-style optical scaling with stroke offsets in addition to the fact that different pattern plates were drawn for different sizes. One such bit of evidence is that the outer corners of small size 'v' have much larger radii of curvature than the inner corners. So I think there is analytical support for your hack, in addition to the seat-of-the-pants getting it to look closer.

Didn’t the Monotype version have seven optical masters?

No, four. We've been over this before.

George Horton's picture

> Wish me luck
Good luck! And thanks for the titbit on optical scaling - it sounds rather Metafont-ish.

Palatine's picture

Here is the current problem with Centaur:


Have a look at all of Textism's Twenty Faces, and you'll understand why the Classics have had a rough time in their translation to digital type.

Meanwhile, here's Dean Allen's lucid and sobering take on the Centaur we have now. I might as well reproduce it for all to see.


Bruce Rogers

Like Bembo, released for the Monotype machine the same year, Centaur was an exceptionally beautiful and eminently readable revival of Renaissance type.

Unfortunately, the producers of the digital version made a common mistake: the shapes are based on the most basic starting point of Bruce Rogers’ designs. These designs were intended for metal type that would press into paper, the ink spreading as it absorbed into the fibre. The resulting printed shapes had a good deal more visual force than the original designs. The process was total: design anticipating application.

This version of Centaur suffers from the perfection of the process of digital design and offset printing: the original shape is printed coldly intact, and thus it’s very difficult to set a well-made page in Centaur.

Palatine's picture

So how is this coming along? Are there other Centaur projects going on? I've been looking for a better Centaur, or at least a Centaur alternative/revival that looks decent. This thread has got me excited.


How does one apply this bold effect to Bembo and Centaur?

George Horton's picture

Tools -> Transform -> Effects -> Bold

Palatine's picture

Thanks George, got it. Interesting solution, I must say . . .

Stefan Seifert's picture

Hi Raph!

The letters you show above are very beautiful and sensible in my eyes!
Great work! I do like very much your handsome a and also the g.
The two masterpieces in lowercase typefaces that Adobe in fact spoiled so much
in the Jenson font!!
Yours are very soft and yet not weak. I hope you left them as they are. Seems like handdrawn. Again big compliment.

Good luck!


Stephen Coles's picture

So — five years later — what did you do with your Centaur, Raph?

Stefan Seifert's picture

I’d like to know also!


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