Egyptian slab serif

missgiggles's picture

Did the Egyptian slab serif in the late 19th century take inspiration after the discovery of Tutankhamen's tomb by Howard Carter? but wasn't that in 1922 though? so how was it possible?

James Mosley's picture

James, you should be studying my update. This is what Justin Howes found in the British Library – somewhere. It is indeed a wood engraving, not type.

James Clough's picture

Thankyou very much James. So the lottery bill was on your blog and never was a part of this discussion. Is that correct? Obviously apart from the blog (for which I have boundless admiration) this image greatly enriches the present discussion. And what a charming and highly interesting piece of ephemeral printing it is too. Look at the pound sign (like some of the pre-euro Italian Lira signs). I've never seen a lottery bill in two colours either. Justin really was quite a sleuth to have unearthed it.

fritz's picture

Ok, my post comes some 2 years too late but I would like to add a comment and a source to this thread:

— my source is Alan Bartram: The English lettering tradition from 1700 to present day. Lund Humphries Publishers Ltd., London 1986

— Egyptomania: in the time right before Egyptomania, there had been a very strong Greece-o-mania, regularly refered to as Philhellenism. This movement, it seems, was quite influencial among British intellectuals. Quotes from page 12:

“ By the early nineteenth century, commerce and industry required more agggressive letterforms. At the same time architects, aided by the intelligentsia, developed theories about primitive and elemental simplicity, such as (they believed) the currently fashionable Greek idiom displayed. Thus was developed the idea of a simple, more rational (and therefore more “Greek”) form: what we now call the grotesque, that is, a letterform, often monoline in colour, with no serifs. Egyptians, as has been said earlier, are grotesques with serifs. That such letterforms are more suitable for architecture is indisputable. But, besides beeing more architectural, they could take on forms which were far more aggressive than the civilised and refined english letter. So a letterform dreamt up to solve an intellectual and archaeological postulation was seized upon by signwriters and, soon, printers, to perform deeds quite beyond, in fact almost contradictory, to its civilised progenitors’ ideas. ”

“The classical revival was soon reflected in the work of architects. By 1789 Sir John Soane was using a carefully drawn sans-serif letter in his drawings, both as titling and also on occasion as an inscription on the building itself. About the same time, sans-serif lettering began to appear on sculptural monuments. By 1806, rude remarks were beeing made about the current shop boards displaying ‚common characters deprived of all beauty and all proportion by having all the strokes of equal thickness‘. The grotesque (and, probably a little later, the egyptian) had arrrived in town.”

— I would like to add that there might have also been some more direct inspiration by original, ancient greek inscriptions that show capital letter-forms without serifs. Also the early Roman inscriptions (lapis niger) where not yet serifed. And finally greek inscriptions could have also been found in Egypt, as it belonged to the greek world from Alexanders conquest to the Roman take-over and later again for some time under byzantine rule. But the latter is mere speculation.

— As far as the slab-serifed forms are concerned, I’d like to add that the principle of emphasising the Serifs already showed up in the ornate flowerish Caps forms of copperplate engraving. There is a huge unresearched field here. In the 17th and 18th centuries, lots of phantasy-enhanced forms evolved that later got translated to printing type (Pierre Simon Fournier probably beeing the first). Engravers were the earliest advertisers (so-called enseignes-adresses, handbills for businesses) and their models were largely copied by early letter painters, who then modified these forms for public space application (less sophisticated in construction and detail, but poignant in shape and often enhanced in visibility by application of 3-d effects or colouring).

In my oppinion, most of the early 19th century type designs must be seen as the attempt of book printers to get their share in the booming market for printed advertising. Therefore they copied the engravers’ and letterpainters’ forms that had long been arround outside the type world.

I agree with James Mosley that we urgently need to leave the specimen books and get a larger view of letter forms beyond type itself.

fritz's picture

I forgot ! Thank you so much, Mr Mosley for your post on your blog ! I had to stop from time to time because I was too excited to read on.

Sye's picture

{just writing so i can track this and read through later}

fritz's picture

This picture shows a 18th century sign from Paris that I took at Musée Carnavalet in Paris in 2005. It is registered in the catalogue: Enseignes du Musée Carnavalet – Histoire de Paris, Jean Pierre Willesme/Paris musée, 1995, page 57.

It could be an evidence that the sans was also in French streets before it showed up in type specimen books. On the other hand, the picture in the catalogue shows a whole different design in a black and and white photograph. So it still needs to be clarified if this sign had been altered by restaurators or alike.

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