gabrielhl's picture

How come there is no digital version of Erbar Grotesk in its regular width?

I've been thinking about trying to create one, or at least something inspired by it - does anyone think it's worth the try? If nothing else I thought of doing it just to get the hang of FL...

I understand the name Erbar is taken, so that would be a problem, but what about the design? Erbar died in 1935...

Also, Erbar is defined in the wiki as a Grotesk. I suppose this is because in german Grotesk includes both Realist and Geometric sans?

I know I could just change the Wiki to what I think, but I find that some discussion is always much more interesting and educational...

J. Erbar's types:

And Letters of Credit has some samples, too.

Stephen Coles's picture

I've wondered this too, Gabriel. Thanks for the PDF. Interesting that he designed two Erbars with different x-heights. And I love those eszetts. Reminds me that the type is very much like that used on the West Berlin street signs which was digitized by Ole Schäfer as FF City Street Type West.

See also:

Nick Shinn's picture

The 1909 Feder Grotesk looks interesting.
Noted: cap double-S!

does anyone think it’s worth the try?

I'm not a big fan of revivals... they are by nature unimaginative and often barely distinguishable from many already available fonts (which would be the case if you redid Erbar's 1920s Grotesk). Worse still is when the revivalist chooses to tinker with the original and make "improvements", which is like pissing on the original designer's grave.

I wasn't impressed by the Stones at the Superbowl either. Sure, Mick's in great shape, but who needs Satisfaction Next -- it ain't 1965 no more.

However, the exception is if there is something special or unusual in an old face that has been forgotten by history, then I'm all for bringing it back to life, and that seems to be the case with the 1909 face.

And of course, use old designs as inspiration, but please come up with the big idea, don't just fiddle with details.

William Berkson's picture

>they are by nature unimaginative
> the exception is if there is something special or unusual in an old face that has been forgotten by history

So Nick, there is no place for classics? We should ban anyone from playing Beethoven, or writing music in the classical style? Or you would have banned Glenn Gould from playing Bach on a piano rather than a klavicord?

While a great new typeface like Goudy Old Style, Electra or Palatino are more impressive achievements than a great revival like the Monotype Bembo, they are not necessarily more desirable for every project.

I am very happy that we have classical music and classic jazz on the radio, and classic typefaces to use. And if someone can do a better version of a classic in digital form, such as Slimbach's wonderful Adobe Garamond, more power to them.

I would certainly concede that it is a greater achievement to create a great new typeface, but there is imagination and knowledge and skill needed for revivals too. We can see this in the fact that some are much better than others. And the best are rightly welcomed by graphic designers.

Avant garde is passé, and I don't mean just the typeface.

oldnick's picture

use old designs as inspiration, but please come up with the big idea, don’t just fiddle with details.

Wow...a little interpolation and a little extra heft are REALLY BIG...

Nick Shinn's picture

Wiliam, of course there is a (small) place for the classics. One should know the history of one's culture, and maintain continuity. But not at the expense of present day artists and designers.

On the subject of classical music, there was a time when American composers got no respect. Aaron Copland, a great organizer and activist, was a key figure in changing that. As Oscar Levant wrote (A Smattering of Ignorance, 1940) "...a performance of Andromache in Wurttemberg had received more space in that day's New York papers than the domestic Yaddo festival. “Frankly," he [Copland] said "under such circumstances I consider daily newspaper criticism a menace, and we would be better off without it."

Akzidenz Grotesk, Bembo, Avant Garde, Garamond, etc., -- they're a menace, the heavy hand of the past stifling the present.

But as I said, if you're gonna exhume something by Erbar, Feder Grotesk would be cool.

Nick Shinn's picture

Wow…a little interpolation and a little extra heft are REALLY BIG…

I work by eye Nick, not interpolation.
I've never denied that Worldwide is based on Century, and it clearly states that on my web site. It was comissioned as a Century kinda thing by Tony Sutton, for the newspaper World Woman. News text is a notoriously conservative genre. I prefer to get commissions to do original designs (eg Richler), but I'm not going to turn down revivals, and I'm certainly going to add them to my retail collection.

However, when you look at my body of work as a whole, you will see that the designs I've produced for the retail market are all original, far outnumbering the commissioned newspaper revivals such as Walburn (from Walbaum) or Goodchild/Nicholas (from Jenson). When I've done something retail derived from a classic, such as Bodoni Egyptian or Beaufort (based on Times' proportions), I've mixed it up with another idea and moved it a considerable distance from the reference.

oldnick's picture


I didn't mean to belittle your work any more than you meant to belittle the work of revivalists such as myself. And I am quite confident that any resemblance between Eunoia and, say, Radiant Round, is purely coincidental.

Also: believe it or not, I work by eye, too...except, of course, on those rare occasions when I have actual cast type and, then, I work by the Braille method.

William Berkson's picture

So Adobe Garamond is a menace, and Worldwide is just fine?

George Horton's picture

Also Nick (Shinn), doesn't quality, in craft or beauty, matter as well as originality? If one isn't allowed to revisit old ground, then the flaws which affect the vast majority of even the best digital types can never be repaired. I wish it were legal to make and sell, say, a Bembo Book with corrected kerning (the 'at' kerning, for instance, is very noticably wrong), so long as the full price set by the originating foundry was passed back to them; the foundries are never going to fix the problems themselves, except in the occasional Next or Nova or Pro. As things are, Monotype forbid modifications even for private use.

Chris Keegan's picture

Gabriel, if you find it to be interesting, and worth doing, then do it by all means. As you said, you could learn Fontlab, and it would probably be a great learning experience.

Nick Shinn's picture

Nick, what's your problem?
Why do you feel it necessary to imply that I am a hypocrite, by pointing out similarities between some of my original designs and older types? That's a cheap trick -- any typeface is always going to look a bit like some other face. Sure, I was aware that Radiant has some of the same formal properties as Eunoia, but I didn't look at it while I was working on Eunoia, because that wasn't where I was coming from -- my main concern during the design was orchestrating the "mix and match" between the Regular, Round, and Unicase versions, not back-checking some old face.

And calling me a point pirate (for Worldwide) is pretty low.

I said that doing revivals is unimaginative -- perhaps that smarts, but you can't deny it.

Please note that I mentioned the exception: where the face revived is unusual and forgotten -- surely that would would apply to the bulk of your work?

I took particular aim at genres that have been well mined, and Erbar Grotesk is in that category, which is why I suggested to Gabriel that if he is going to revive something by Erbar, then Feder would be more worthwhile. I will always encourage young designers to develop their own ideas, rather than plod clumsily (as the novice always does) along some well-worn path.

If one wants to do a revival, the benefit of taking a crack at Feder Grotesk would be that nobody else has done it, so one's work would be somewhat fresh.

the flaws which affect the vast majority of even the best digital types can never be repaired

George, your perception of the "flaws" is subjective. Those types is what they is. You change one thing, you throw everything out of whack. They're type designs, not chronometers which can be made increasingly accurate.

Actually, I don't see why it shouldn't be legal to sell a set of kern pairs for a font -- for use in Quark XPress, to be imported into "Kern pair edit".

gabrielhl's picture

Thanks everyone for the comments and support. I didn't think this would lead to such a big discussion.

Nick, Feder Grotesk is indeed interesting, but I have the feeling that it would turn into a "funny" face - as in "curious but without much practical use". However I suppose in better hands the concept behind it could be used to produce a working text face.

Maybe I'm seeing too much in Erbar-Grotesk: my favorite version is from the 1922 drawing shown in Tracy's book. In this one, among other things, the uc U is "cursive" and the bars on t and f are also "broad nibbish"; to my eyes it's a lot less Futura-like, putting it somewhere between a 19th century and a true geometric sans, with a touch of calligraphy.

I could always create a new typeface using that last sentence as a starting brief, but the idea isn't mine, it's Erbar's, so it seems more honest to admit the source. Who knows, in the process I may wander and turn it into a completely different face.

I could scan the page from Letters of Credit but... doesn't everyone here own the triumvirate?

On a side note, I was very surprised to find out from that Klingspor-Museum document that Erbar designed Candida. There's an Anthropology journal from Rio de Janeiro that uses it as their body face (PDFs here) on a cream-colored paper and it looks very good, though certainly too light for some typographer's tastes. I first saw one a few years ago, and since then I always wanted to use Candida but never had a good chance.
It may not be the best typographic design around, but compared to most scientific periodicals it's very good. I don't know about your countries but here many use combinations of Arial for headings and Times for body, and I've seen at least one with Avant-Garde(!?) for headings and Arial for text. Ugh.

John Nolan's picture

Nick, interesting idea, although it wouldn't help InDesign users like me.

The weird restrictions on alterations for personal use are a personal bug bear of mine. Porchez's EULA would even disallow what you propose: "The fonts must not be disassembled or altered in any manner whatsoever.... Alteration includes manipulation of... the position of the characters (in all caseevents," [sic] "including spacing and kerning which leave the original font intact)"

Imagine agreeing to that!

oldnick's picture


First, let me clarify one misconception you have: when I said "interpolation," I did not intend to imply a purely mechanical process (point piracy), but merely to suggest that elements from the two examples could be cross-bred (maybe "pollination" would have been a less pejorative term?) to achieve a result similar to the one you obtained.

My problem is that you seem compelled, from time to time, to make provocative pronouncements about revivalists—which I will not let go unchallenged—as well as patently absurd claims to operational superiority (hence my equally absurd claim of working by the Braille method). Anyone who designs type uses his or her eyes; simply because you choose not to use scanned images as templates doesn't make your method better. It's just different.

And, despite your insistence that revivalist work is irrefutably unimaginative, I must once again point out that a revivalist NEVER has a complete character set from which to work. The percentage sign, cent sign, commercial at, brace, bracket, florin, dagger, double dagger, pound sign, yen sign and mu were traditionally treated as pi characters, so there are no design-sensitive examples to go by; likewise, German double-s, eth and thorn are not present. And only in very rare cases are there design-sensitive examples of section marks and pilcrows. Applying the design "rules" of the letters and numbers to these neglected orphans requires insight, discipline and...dare I least some modicum of imagination.

I have said before, and will gladly repeat, that I have a great deal of respect for your work. Yes, I took a few cheap shots, but I was only returning fire...

gabrielhl's picture

(nevermind, gave up on this last post. moderators feel free to delete)

Nick Shinn's picture

Porchez’s EULA would even disallow what you propose

Yes, with his stipulation, merely setting justified text with the default H&J settings in either Quark or InDesign results in a EULA violation!

provocative pronouncements about revivalists

I did once last year, when I said that doing a revival wasn't type design.
Yes, that was provocative, but here I'm talking about the process of revival, not the people who do it. In my first post here, there are shades of grey.

Nick, what imagination is required to expand a character set? None, as far as I can tell. The "Design vocabulary/design rules" of the typeface have been established in the basic character set, and adding characters is merely a matter of playing out the rules. Sure, it requires skill and sensitivity, but not imagination.

oldnick's picture

The “Design vocabulary/design rules” of the typeface have been established in the basic character set, and adding characters is merely a matter of playing out the rules.

True: but sometimes the rules in all instances are not necessarily clearly defined. Without enaging your imagination, please tell me what rule governs this sequence of words?

domain - restive - mischief - fatality - solitude - latitude - titular - docile

William Berkson's picture

musical scale

And Nick Shinn, all design, including revivals involves creative problem solving. How innovative and how good depends on the person and the project, and not only whether it's a revival or not. Also it could be argued that in some respects every typeface is a revival, and it is only a matter of degree. So I think the formula

revival:unimaginative :: 'new'face:imaginative

is a simplistic and false comparison.

Nick Shinn's picture

Nick, William,

Pardon me for being simplistic, but you will never convince me that copying other people's designs requires any imagination whatsoever.

As I've said, novel revivals, bring 'em on, and I'll join you. Quality, craft, beauty, sure. But imagination? Pull the other one.

Uli's picture

In case someone is still interested in the original topic mentioned in the header:

I've just seen that the final cut of Erbar was issued in 1960, decades after Erbar's death, by the original foundry Ludwig & Mayer in Frankfurt which completed the font. The source for this info is Willi Mengel's German book "Druckschriften der Gegenwart", published in 1966. I have just made a documentation about this highly interesting statistics book, but it is in German language only (see

oldnick's picture

Pardon me for being simplistic...

Okay, Nick, you're pardoned for being simplistic: didactic, pedantic, arrogant, dismissive, inflexible, self-contradictory and imperious, too...all forgiven. Oh, and that ridiculous Inspector Gadget (or whatever it's supposed to be) avatar/icon: we'll overlook that, as well.

Nick Shinn's picture

we’ll overlook that, as well.

Yes, it's time for a change.

Syndicate content Syndicate content