Your opinions on Century

BrooklynRob's picture

Hello
Which version of Century is best, in your opinion? Is there a good version with small caps?
I'm also wondering if people think it looks dated. I really like it and actually think it looks contemporary in some ways, but I've had other people tell me it looks old-fashioned to them.
Thanks for any thoughts you have...

William Berkson's picture

edit: I see now you have edited out an insult that I responded to, and I have deleted my response. I'm happy that you thought better of it, but I'd be still happier if you'd cease the tiresome one-upmanship. And I hope I'll be wise enough not to push back, which always makes it worse.

hrant's picture

Big Edit:

I spent a good ten minutes addressing your hissy-fit, and now almost all of it needs to be dumped because you changed your mind. But it's worth the effort, especially since admittedly it was a change of mind on my own part (even though the span was less than 5 minutes, not an hour...) that apparently triggered most of it, even though your edit (and the subsequent IM to me to do likewise) is not unlikely to have been self-serving, at least in some ways (as in to cover up bad judgment). Here, however, is what remains:

1) My post did not previously contain an insult - please watch your terms.

2) You're seeing one-upmanship because that's what's in you own head. What I'm seeing is attempts to correct disinformation on your part; I don't want Typophile to harbor advice that I consider bad. Your persistent denial of this simple reality in favor of demonization is convenient, and typical.

hhp

Koppa's picture

Hello everyone. New guy here. I'm a letterpress printer with a hundreds of pounds of Century and a little bit to say about it. Century Schoolbook was designed for text books with maximum readability in mind. It was "mechanically" designed by ATF under Morris Benton's guidance, meaning its form was dictated by the use of mechanical tools rather than by a pen in the hand of a typographer. They (ATF) conducted "studies" to perfect it, and in my mind it worked, as it is an extremely readable type face, and is, to this day, perfectly suited for children's books. In fact, I don't think any other type face should ever be used for a children's book, but I suppose that would take too much away from everyone's creative "freedom." It is what a lot of us Gen-Xers recognize as the classic American alphabet. Century Old Style, another ATF typeface credited to Morris Benton (along with 221 others), is also truly American. Stan Nelson, formerly of the Smithsonian, once told me it was "about as exciting as a truck...but some people like trucks." I like trucks, basic pick up trucks without extended cabs and flared wheel wells...like a Ford F-150 or something. In fact, last time I checked (about 7 years ago), it sure looked to me like the NY Times was set in Century Old Style. I could be wrong. But if you're one of those people who think the NY Times is to America as the BBC is to Great Britain, there is nothing more American, more utilatarian, than Century Old Style. Century Expanded is definitely old fashioned, dated, American (of course), and cool. I like the Century family because of its classic nature. The real stuff is about a hundred years old, it does what it needs to do exceptionally well, and I don't see any reason to try to improve it.

hrant's picture

> perfectly suited for children’s books.

I think it would be even better without serifs.
Which is why I once made a sans Armenian derivative:
http://www.themicrofoundry.com/f_arasan.html

hhp

kentlew's picture

The New York Times text is Imperial. Has been for at least the last several years (couldn't vouch for 7 years ago, but I believe it's been Imperial for quite a long time). Imperial was originally an Intertype design from 1954.

The primary headline style is now a specially harmonized suite of Cheltenhams, especially re-crafted for The Times by Matthew Carter. Prior to that update (ca. 2003, I think) the headlines were a cacophany of several styles. I suppose Century may have been among them, but I don't recall.

Nevertheless, the whole Century family does seem to epitomize a certain American quality, albeit early 20th century.

-- K.

Koppa's picture

If your comment is to be taken literally...

I think it would look stupid without the serifs.

Which is why we have News Gothic.

hrant's picture

> I think it would look stupid without the serifs.

I think that seeing a font as being perfect,
even for one specific task, is what's stupid.

hhp

Koppa's picture

> ...seeing a font as being perfect...is what's stupid.

Then I must be stupid.

I'm logging out before I cause too much trouble. Never been any good at these kinds of discussions. Peace be with you.

hrant's picture

You know, I have this thing against people claiming and adulating "perfection". I managed to restrain myself after your original post, but I guess I failed when I read your own "stupid". I really have no reason to think you're stupid, and I apologize. I'm a big fan of letterpress, and we don't have enough of such experts here, plus my difficult attitude is not typical of this forum, so please accept my apology, and stay.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

your hissy-fit,

Welcome to the club, Bill.
Did you dare to proffer an opinion that differs from that of the omnuisciant Hrant?
Well shame on you, the world must be protected from such "disinformation"!
And did you dare to object to the magisterial dictates of one so knowledgable and accomplished? -- well then, the insult must be all in your mind, and you must be stupid, and thankful that he pointed it out, so please work harder to be smarter, and he will make you a better person, OK?

hrant's picture

Nick, you don't value the intergrity of discourse. For you Typophile seems to be simply a means to further yourself. But at least realize that not everybody is always like that; some people sometimes object to things simply because they feel it's untrue, even if that causes people to dislike them.

hhp

William Berkson's picture

>he will make you a better person

I figure if I learn to handle Hrant's rants graciously, I will be able to do anything. Something like Miyagi in movie 'Karate Kid':

Daniel: Wouldn't a fly swatter be easier?
Miyagi: Man who catch fly with chopstick accomplish anything.
Daniel: Ever catch one?
Miyagi: Not yet.

I haven't caught one, but I'm still trying :)

hrant's picture

Nick, pay attention. There's always room to grow, even in the
strangest places. Enjoyment isn't everything. But you do need
the right attitude - so you might be happy to hear that it's really
all up to you after all.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

Hrant, be a good fellow and give us all a break from the amateur psychology, would you?

hrant's picture

Nah, you give us all a break from the infallible flaming artiste routine.

hhp

Koppa's picture

> The New York Times text is Imperial.

That makes perfect sense, as the Times was set with Intertypes till, what...not too long ago...wasn't it 1977 or something like that? Or was it even later?

Anyhow...just did the research, and sho'nuff if that Imperial isn't an interpretation of Century Old Style, designed almost 50 years prior, and it illustrates my initial point well...it's just not as well balanced, not as gracefully proportioned, not as classically truckish as the type it's trying to duplicate closely, but not copy, because there's copyrights on all this stuff, remember, and Century Old Style belonged to ATF, and Linotype surely had a type face that was similar. So maybe it doesn't illustrate my point (which was that you cannot improve upon these things because they were designed so perfectly) because it was not an attempt at improvement, but rather an attempt at close-as-possible mimmicry. Am I right? I mean...I could be wrong, but that's sure what it looks like to me.

charles ellertson's picture

Sigh . . . I think another neutrino just whizzed by.

Koppa's picture

> sigh

Okay. Man...first stupid and now a *sigh* response. Whew. Y'all is uptight over here. All I'm looking for is someone... kentlew, I suppose... to respond to my observation that the NY Times Imperial designed by Intertype looks like an ATF Century Old Style rip-off. This thread is titled "Your opinions on Century," right? And this is directly related to my opinion that Century = Classic = Very Good. The real stuff, that is...the lead stuff...the undiluted original ATF Century family.

hrant's picture

Isn't the "real stuff" what the original designer (Harry Carter?) intended? Because it's no secret that metal type had limitations that skewed things around (like making kerns more modest to reduce breakage). A good example is Octavian, which actually improved when it moved out of metal - like look at the "f".

hhp

Koppa's picture

> Isn’t the “real stuff” what the original designer (Harry Carter?) intended?

Eesh. Now I sound like the pompous letterpress ass...let me take back that "real stuff" comment, please. But I will stick with my opinion that the original, the metal Century Old Style, credited to M Benton, is better than the copy-cat Intertype Imperial and most definitely better than the copy-cat digital Imperial I saw on myfonts.com last night, with or without the limitations you mentioned. (Maybe there's a better version of the digital Imperial out there...I don't know...I'm not especially hip to the world of digital type.) And it's better than the Century that's on my Mac. When I look at them side by side, the same typefaces, metal vs. digital, the metal reigns.

This could very well be purely subjective, and I like to stick to objectivity whenever possible, but for now I don't have the time to put together an objective arguement...I'm at work for cryin' out loud!

I'm not going to deny your opinion that some letterforms may have improved when they moved out of metal. That very well may the case. Mostly I registered and logged in to give my opinion about the Century family.

William Berkson's picture

Koppa, I don't think the 'neutrino' was you...

According to Mac McGrew's 'American Metal Typefaces of the 20th Century' Imperial was designed by Edwin Shaar.

Incidentally, I notice that the text of the McGrew book is in Century Schoolbook.

I don't know whether the choice of Century Schoolbook for the text was made by Mac McGrew, or by my Uncle, J. Ben Lieberman, who was a moving force behind that book, and printed the first edition himself. In either case, it was selected as the representative American face of the 20th century by someone who knew these faces well, and lived through most of that era.

kentlew's picture

A few points (ducking any neutrinos):

Koppa -- Are you certain you aren't confusing Imperial with Ideal? Both are Intertype newspaper faces. Ideal was indeed designed specifically for The NY Times, ca. 1926 or 1928 (I have conflicting sources). Imperial was designed ca. 1954/57 and wasn't adopted by the Times until 1967. I don't recall when they stopped composing in metal.

Here are visuals for those attempting to follow along at home:

Intertype Ideal

Intertype Imperial

Ideal does indeed show a debt to the Century family. However, it appears most similar to Century Expanded, not Century Oldstyle. Notice details like the terminal and tail of the 'a', the terminals of the 'c' and 'r', the overall character of the 'g', and the straight serifs on the 'u' (contrasted with the canted serifs of Century Oldstyle).

For comparison:

Century Oldstyle

Century Expanded (sorry for the distortion on the right at the binding)

Century Schoolbook (for the sake of thoroughness)

Imperial, on the other hand, looks to me more like an attempt to keep up with Linotype's Legibility series, especially Corona. It could be argued that all the legibility newspaper faces of that period bear some passing resemblance to the Century family, as they all seem to have descended through a Clarendon/Ionic (and maybe a hint of Scotch) lineage. Century Oldstyle diverges most from this path (as its name might suggest).

As to your point about mimicry vs. improvement, I would say that Imperial bears neither relationship to Century; but I would say that Ideal was an attempt at improvement, to the extent that it was an effort to take overall design characteristics of the popular Century Expanded and improve their performance in a specific arena -- for newspaper text size and printing methods. I wouldn't be surprised if that was part of the brief from the Times (but I don't have any direct evidence of that, of course). Century Expanded, as is, simply would not have worked.

-- K.

Credits: Ideal and Imperial are taken from Anatomy of a Typeface by Alexander Lawson (David R. Godine Publishers, 1990). The Centuries are from my 1923 ATF specimen book.

Koppa's picture

>According to Mac McGrew’s ‘American Metal Typefaces

A-ha! Why didn't I just reference that book in the first place?...it's sitting right here next me (a gift from Brother Theo...Thanks, Theo!). It's a great, indispensible resource, and while it doesn't state that Imperial is a Century Old Style rip-off, I don't think anyone could deny the resemblance.

No disrespect intended towards Mr Shaar (rip-off is admittedly strong language)...those guys had jobs to do and they did them very well.

Koppa's picture

kentlew, thank you for posting the specimens and commentary. Great stuff. I mostly see the resemblance in the shortened ascenders and desenders, I thought the lowercase g and s were nearly identical in COS and Imperial, but now I see that they are not. Also noted is the canted vs. straight serifs. Haven't analyzed type this much in a while and it feels great. Nice chatting with you all.

hrant's picture

> the metal reigns.

A lot of that of course is the general absense of optical scaling in digital
type (meaning that one design is made to do for all sizes). Fortunately
more and more designers are making optical masters these days.

hhp

Uli's picture

The Berthold collection comprised a dozen digitized versions of various Century typefaces in PS Type 1 format, which vanished from the market after the bankruptcy, e.g. the digitization "Century Original" (see German typesetting specimen www.sanskritweb.net/temporary/centorig.pdf). It was claimed to be a replica of Benton's original version of 1900.

kentlew's picture

The dimension of the descenders would have been largely dictated by Standard Alignment. And relatively large x-height and shorter ascenders is pretty much de rigeur in small legibility faces like Imperial. So I don't think that this superficial resemblance is necessarily much evidence of influence.

Upon closer examination, I will grant that there appears to be a stronger resemblance between Imperial and Century Oldstyle than with the other Centuries (the "unfurling" of the terminals in 'a' and 'r', for instance). But there are other distinctive differences, and I don't know how much of a case can be made for direct influence.

Incidentally, in examining these examples even more closely, I've become convinced that the 'd' the specimen of Century Oldstyle, above, is wrong font (see lines 3 & 4: produced, versed, minds, and students). The angled stress in the bowl is decidedly anomalous and unlike the 'd' in other sizes. Looks like it slipped past the proofers. However, the 'd' in the last line (in received) looks correct.

If I had to guess, I'd say some Clearface got into the Century Oldstyle type case.

-- K.

Koppa's picture

Neat! No doubt on those d's. I love that kind of stuff...imagining the compositors setting those specimen books...sometimes the choice of words and phrases is a real crack-up, especially in that 1923 ATF book. Who made those decisions? It couldn't have been up to the compositor, could it? Surely there must've been a discussion about this in the past.

unrelated side note...I cannot believe I've been censored for the use of the word ass as in ass = donkey = fool = myself. Ass is not a naughty word in this context. Are typophiles notoriously uptight?

hrant's picture

> sometimes the choice of words and phrases is a real crack-up

A digital foundry that has picked up that wonderful tradition is FontBureau.

Also: "Alphabets to Order: The Literature of Nineteenth-
Century Typefounders' Specimens" by A Johnston, 2000.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

FontBureau
AFAIK, Tobias Frere-Jones wrote many of those, and may be doing same at H&F-J.

Jon Parker at Veer is also ace -- just got "TypeCity" specimen today -- very nice.

Typical's picture

A specimen of Georgia might help illuminate some of what's not so contemporary about century schoolbook.

Koppa's picture

> “Alphabets to Order

Thank you for the book tip.

> what’s not so contemporary about century schoolbook.

There is no debating that Georgia is the more contemporary of the two. And beautiful, too. And the Century Schoolbook remains the classic. But why? What makes something classic? Or is it just classic in my mind because the climax of my nostalgiamania lies in turn of the last century America, at the birth of the age of the machine? Or is it really classic because it was the flagship of the biggest, best, most widely distributed type manufacturer in the country during the golden age of metal type?

These are real questions. Was it ATF's flagship? Seems reasonable to think so. And how do you define classic?

hrant's picture

> Or is it just classic in my mind

Typically something being something in somebody's mind is
an indication that it's the same (or very similar) thing in
other's people minds too. But the only way to be certain
enough is to ask around a lot.

> how do you define classic?

In the prologue to "Revival of the fittest" (yes, another book)
a number of type luminaries take a shot at defining that.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

how do you define classic?

One definition might be that it's an important part of the main evolutionary line.
Clearface has been mentioned, but there's quite a radical jump in many of its lettershapes.
In comparison Century was really just a revival of the Scotch Modern, beefed up to
(1) help Theo De Vinne's aging eyesight
(2) bring some Arts and Crafts heft to workhorse text type style (William Morris' aging eyesight)
(3) pack in a little more character count to please the publisher (De Vinne again)
Century Schoolbook addressed a further issue -- education, readability and social benefit -- after all, it was made during the Progressive Era, designed by an engineer.

***

Just looking at a big ad for Ikea in my morning paper, with house style of huge Century Schoolbook type, paired with Futura, another rationalist, early 20th Century face.

***

The simplified lines and enlarged features of Century Schoolbook -- which play to its audience of children -- also have a pop art quality, in the way that attention is drawn to the basic elements of a vernacular cultural artefact, in this case text type.

It's ironic that a rationalist approach, with the intent of making the style disappear when read at text size, should have this effect when the type is blown up large and the details may be readily inspected, but the paradoxical phenomenon of scalability is at the heart of typography, and one of the major reasons it's so fascinating to us.

hrant's picture

Speaking of Clearface, it's a little-publicized fact that
it was actually design "scientifically" to improve reading.

> the paradoxical phenomenon of scalability is at the heart of typography

It is however almost entirely misunderstood,
to the point that we've come to believe that
a single font that can be scaled from 4 to 72
is actually a good thing...

hhp

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