Where did Umbra come from?

miss c's picture

I've read on the linotype website that Umbra was originally devised
as a "second-color drop-shadow for the typeface Tempo". However,
the only Tempo I can find is a condensed version.

Is there a link between Tempo and Futura? And which other faces
could I use to "fill in the gaps"?

Ehague's picture

Tempo light?


The Ludlow Typograph Co., Chicago. Washington Luddlow of Chicago began making typecasting machinery in 1906, but the Ludlow caster which his company sold throughout the early twentieth century was a later device, designed and built by William Reade in 1909. The machine casts slugs from handset proprietary matrices and was therefore used for little except display type, but several Ludlow faces have been successfully adapted for digital text composition. The comapny issued both historical revivals and original designs, chiefly by its director of typography, R. H. Middleton. It ceased operation in North America in 1986. The English arm, founded in the early 1970s, closed in 1990.

-Bringhurst, The Elements of Typographic Style, pp 315-316

will powers's picture

Miss C:

Tempo has been overlooked as metal faces have ben revived. The Tempo family was devised by the Ludlow Typograph Company as their answer to European sans, including Futura. It was pretty extensive:

Tempo Light & ital
Tempo Medium & ital
Tempo Medium Condensed
Tempo Bold & ital
Tempo bold condensed
Tempo Heavy Condensed
Tempo Heavy Inline
Light & Bold ad figures, up to 144 point
Tempo Black

& in my undated Ludlow specimen book [the marrooon one with the silver panel on the top board] Ludow Umbra comes right after the Tempo family. It is weighted about the same as Tempo Bold.

As an apprentice I set a lot of Umbra, but never set it as part of a 2-color setting with Tempo. It was always used alone. I suppose a careful compositor and then a careful press operator could have made that effect work, though.

Head to a library and take a look at the Ludlow specimen books; you'll see Tempo in all its glory. Take note of the differences among the itals in different weights.

Compare Umbra to Gill Sans Shadow.

This morning I cannot get to my other books about Ludlow to offer you other details; sorry. There's a book about Ludlow's guiding typographic light, R. Hunter Middleton; maybe it offers more info. & RHM wrote a small book about designing types; maybe there's something about Tempo in that.

I hope this helps.


miss c's picture

Thanks for these comments.

I started wondering about it because I'm doing a logo for a new building. We're suggesting setting the name of the building onto a large expanse of white wall, and as the sun passed over during the day it would throw different shadows (inspiation is mainly drawn from modernist architecture and how they applied signage to their buildings – see pic). In order to do the visualisation in photoshop, I wanted the "positive" version to work with.

jordy's picture

As it turns out Umbra is very similar to Plastica, a three-dimensional version of Berthold Grotesque. So if you wanted a "positive" version of the type you could start with Berthold Grotesque. This info from the 1983 edition of Encyclopaedia of Type Faces by Jaspert, Berry & Johnson, my bible of type, or one of them.

will powers's picture

I should have slapped myself into more wakefulness before I made my first response this morning and gotten down another source of info about Tempo: Mac McGrew's book "American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century."

There he shows several other styles of Tempo, and credits R H Middleton with the entire series design. McGrew also alerts me to the fact that I was "reading" my Umbra specimen wrong; it is not weighted as heavily as Tempo Heavy, being in fact closer to Tempo Light.

I've always considered Umbra a far more successful attempt at shadow than Gill Sans Shadow. The relation of positive to negative is much better realized in Umbra.

Good luck with that project.


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