"e" crossbar

John Boardley's picture

In the transition from Humanist to Old Style, the crossbar on the lowercase "e" falls to the horizontal position. Does anyone have any idea why?

SuperUltraFabulous's picture

Can you please show example typeface(s).

Mikey :-)

David Rault's picture

Resil:

As far as I know, in order to mark the transition between calligraphy and typesetting. The early types (Jenson et al) were exact adaptations of the Renaissance humanist calligraphy, and the oblique cross bar, which also extends out of the letter shape, looks exactly like what it is then: a pen / feather stroke, which naturally comes all the way up, following the movement of the hand. When Garamont and his fellows took over the engraving of following types, they kept the overall look of the letters but modified them in order to bring more harmony, structural strength and aesthetic improvements: they basically transformed a calligraphy into a typography. That transition was not as obvious as the one done by Grandjean, Caslon and Baskerville some years later, but it is what I think the correct answer to your question.

David R

John Boardley's picture

David
Many thanks for your detailed response. It's obliqueness made sense to me; it was the sudden transition that I couldn't fathom. However, what you say about moving away from simply mimicking the Humanist hand is most interesting; and the desire to to distance themselves from calligraphy.

The history of type from the beginning of the 16th century looks like typography getting into gear, and becoming that much more self-assured. I guess we can observe a similar phenomenon in the nascent days of any new technology; at first, the technology is used simply as a labour-saving device, doing pretty much the same task, only faster, more efficiently; then as it begins to mature it finds new and unique ways of expressing itself.

I really appreciate your help on this one, David.

johno (iLT)

Nick Shinn's picture


It's a question of fit.
When the Venetian e is followed by certain characters, it's top right beak gets quite close.
Lowering the bar is an improvement.
Fitting is both a practical issue (involving wear and tear on type knocking together, and printing evenly), and a readability issue (letters forming unwanted "ligatures" in the eye).

Having said that, the Venetian e is not a dysfunctional form per se, and since the historical revival era of the early 20th century has always been available in various types--Jenson revivals of course, but also new types, several by Goudy (most notable Californian/Berkeley), Giovanni, and of course Kabel.

(Above: Adobe Jenson; below, Monotype Bembo, two revivals of the before-and-after scenario c.1500)

David Rault's picture

Nick,

You are absolutely right. It's all about improving :-)

This being said, I was actually about to express the fact that Some sans serif typefaces have been designed with an oblique cross bar on the lowercase e and other calligraphic artifacts, though in order to state that these types were just trying to involve a sense of humanity in their designs (especially kabel, which i tend to hate because of this very feature: halfway between calligraphy and geometry, very unstable and quite ugly font - according to me, of course, please don't shoot me). Apart from the types where the venetian e is historically justified (Jenson et al), I just can't remember of any font with this feature that I would just enjoy. They look weird to me.

Am I the only one in this case?

David R

John Boardley's picture

Nick
Thank you. Very interesting indeed. After reading your comment, I experimented and you're absolutely right: when the e precedes a top-heavy character, it does look a little cramped, and at smaller point sizes there certainly does appear to be an unsightly liaison....

Would you say there's something in David's "reactionary" horizontal e-bar?

David
You're not alone.

johno
iLT

eliason's picture

When the Venetian e is followed by certain characters, it’s top right beak gets quite close.

Interesting. Does that little beak generally accompany the diagonal crossbar in these types (excepting faces like the sans examples, of course)?

Nick Shinn's picture

The beak is a question of interpretation.
The stud on the beak varies in presence in Jenson's printed image, but it seems reasonable that he was quite taken with the idea of making the fit of his letters look like they were a close-fitting puzzle that had been slightly "exploded", and the stud looks like it locks against the n in particular.
Redesigners have generally incorporated the stud, because it's a signature device, and people expect it.
So Benton's close revival (Cloister, 1913) makes it quite prominent.
Rogers' Centaur (1914) has it very subtly, as does Frere-Jones' Hightower (1994).
Slimbach makes it a feature of Adobe Jenson(1996), and I have it in Goodchild (2003) and Nicholas, but quite small.
The stud is definitely a Jenson thang -- other neo-Venetians, eg Benedictine (1915) and Slimbach's Giovanni (1989) don't have it.


Jenson
.

Kennerley
.

Cloister

TomN-CA's picture

The older ea pair looks a bit like a confused couple kissing, or perhaps preparing for something more exciting in the bed.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

Hey, folks. Going back to something John said earlier in this thread,

I guess we can observe a similar phenomenon in the nascent days of any new technology; at first, the technology is used simply as a labour-saving device, doing pretty much the same task, only faster, more efficiently; then as it begins to mature it finds new and unique ways of expressing itself.

Not only is a new technology used simply as a labor-saving device. Also, a new technology often follows the forms of the technology that preceded it -- hence we have early printed books following the style of the books created by scribes, early cars looking like horseless carriages, etc.

James Arboghast's picture

...kabel, which i tend to hate because of this very feature: halfway between calligraphy and geometry, very unstable and quite ugly font - according to me, of course, please don’t shoot me.

I won't shoot you but I will say that's a narrow view of Kabel and of e topology. Kabel is one of the great underappreciated linear type designs. Unconventional yes, but that is precisely why Kabel is a good thing. Typography needs great designs to challenge what we might call the "tyranny of mainstream values".

Forget about the calligraphic origin of e's with oblique crossbars for a moment. Type designers can include the structure for other reasons having nothing to do with calligraphy. The angle of such a bar harmonizes nicely with the branching angle of strokes attached to the stems of h, n, m and u, and harmonizes with angled stem ends (if present).

j a m e s

David Rault's picture

James:

I - of course - agree with you on the fact that typography can only enrich itself from the unconventional types being designed here and there, if the designer has some basic typographic skills, and Rudolf Koch undoubtedly had some.

This being said, it is up to each and every one's taste, at the end, to determine whether you like a font or not. Though I recognize and respect Kabel as an important font in type history, I have to say that I cringe every time I see it, I just don't like it, as I don't like Avant-garde or Souvenir.

At last, you tell me that my explanation of the Kabel's venetian e is a 'narrow view'. well, take a closer look at Kabel: large ascenders to x-height ratio, traditional roman shape for the lower case a, tail to the t, this venetian e, oblique endings to many of the strokes... i can't find right now any quotes from koch himself, but there is no serious questionıng about the fact that he deliberately tried to put calligraphic features in Kabel. let me take a copy of 'anatomy of a typeface' by lawson: ''as koch was in every sense a traditional designer - who had cut many of the punches of his earlier types by hand - he evidently found it more difficult than did Renner to depart from the normal roman forms''.

david r

James Arboghast's picture

...to determine whether you like a font or not.

I try to leave my personal likes and dislikes out of the analysis and appreciation of type. Apreciation of a particular design is best left unbiased by personal taste.

...I have to say that I cringe every time I see it [Kabel], I just don’t like it, as I don’t like Avant-garde or Souvenir

Sad (regarding Kabel). Souvenir isn't exactly my slice of cake either, but I stenuously avoid letting that affect my view of Souvenir for clients when that face is appropriate and useful to material employing it. I take the same attitude towards Avant Garde.

...there is no serious questionıng about the fact that he deliberately tried to put calligraphic features in Kabel.

I don't claim that calligraphic features were not what Koch had in mind when designing Kabel. I only asked, in a separate paragraph making no reference to Koch or Kabel, that you and other typophiles forget the calligraphic origin of e's with oblique crossbars for a moment. My view of this is not fixated with the origin of this glyph design, but focussed on what it can be, its potential.

j a m e s

David Rault's picture

James:

I just wanted to say that every time I am trying to find a typeface for a logo, for a customer, I also try to get the perfect one, and in my list of challengers are some fonts that I would never put on my business card...

... but here I just, simply, say that I don't like this font or this one. And I always put my personal likes and dislikes in my appreciation of a type. I tend to judge types on several criterias, and how I feel when i see or use them is a very important one to me. I tend to consider types as living entities, some of them are nice to me, some are mean; some bring nice memories, some not really. Garamond will always be this old man I like to listen. Futura is an efficient - though cold - advertiser. Bello is the funny guy, sure to make me smile. Bodoni impresses me. Avant-garde is this weird tall guy from the seventies. Helvetica is a nice guy, always ready to help you, but isn't very talkative.

It's hard for me to think of a real typophile with a total lack of feelings for a typeface. If you love them for real, you can't be that much analytic and distant. can you?

dr

John Boardley's picture

Thanks everyone for your input. Love that Blown-up Jenson sample.

...seems reasonable that he was quite taken with the idea of making the fit of his letters look like they were a close-fitting puzzle...

I like this idea, Nick; and those e's do look pretty comfortable.

Appreciation of a particular design is best left unbiased by personal taste.

Isn't appreciation subjective? Or do you mean that we should always strive to be more objective?

It’s hard for me to think of a real typophile with a total lack of feelings for a typeface.

I guess James (and it is not my intention to put words in his mouth) is just trying to maker a clearer distinction between appreciation and opinion. No doubt James goes weak at the knees when looking at his favourite faces; but perhaps he's just trying to say that for our opinions to be of any real value outside of ourselves, they need to be tempered with some cold-hearted objectivity.

johno
iLT

David Rault's picture

I guess James (and it is not my intention to put words in his mouth) is just trying to maker a clearer distinction between appreciation and opinion. No doubt James goes weak at the knees when looking at his favourite faces; but perhaps he’s just trying to say that for our opinions to be of any real value outside of ourselves, they need to be tempered with some cold-hearted objectivity.

Well, if then, we all agree.

dr

James Arboghast's picture

David,
It’s hard for me to think of a real typophile with a total lack of feelings for a typeface. If you love them for real, you can’t be that much analytic and distant. can you?

I love typography and typeface design as unconditionally as I can, balancing my gut emotional response with a sense of objectivity. I have feelings like every typophile, but I also feel strongly about the matter of tolerance. When I see typophiles cringing at great designs it smacks of intolerance. Tolerance of things that grate on you leads gradually, by degress, to appreciation of that thing---if you allow it to happen. Cringing every time you see it is like painting it black, precluding the opportuinity to see it in its true colors.

John,
Isn’t appreciation subjective? Or do you mean that we should always strive to be more objective?

Yes. Appreciation is always subjective and we can never be truly objective, but striving for a balanced view helps develop an open mind.

I guess James (and it is not my intention to put words in his mouth) is just trying to maker a clearer distinction between appreciation and opinion.

Yes, there is a difference.

No doubt James goes weak at the knees when looking at his favourite faces; but perhaps he’s just trying to say that for our opinions to be of any real value outside of ourselves, they need to be tempered with some cold-hearted objectivity.

For our opinions to be of value to others we need to maintain an objective view for balance so that we know just where our subjective view is taking us.

j a m e s

Glen's picture

... and of e topology.

Is that terminology really used in typography? I mean, looking at 'e' as a surface in the plane, it is topologically equivalent to an annulus which completely avoids the fine points of this discussion!

Nick Shinn's picture

Many disciplines use the word in a not-strictly-mathematical sense.
It might be assumed that because type shapes can be described in mathematical terms, that we are using the word "topology" in a more mathematical sense, but that's not the case.

William Berkson's picture

I also try to get a bit of objectivity when I assess a design.

One good way is to ask what the purpose of the design is. Then you can ask well it fulfills that purpose. That purpose might be practical, like a readable road sign, or emotional, like conveying a happy mood or conveying authority.

Another way is to try to separate style from how well a design is realized. For example, some people's taste is for simple designs and some more ornate. But even if you don't prefer a style you can see better and worse executions of it. It is also helpful to compare with designs of the same style or stylistic idea--such as humanist slab serifs or something like that.

Admittedly, even after this there is a big element of what moves you aesthetically. And this is very hard to get any objective measure of, though you can talk about qualities like unity diversity and balance, interest, etc.

Even conceding a big subjective element, it is surprising how far you can go with the more objective assessment.

John Boardley's picture

For topology, my dictionary has,

the way in which constituent parts are interrelated or arranged

A noun rather apropos of type, methinks.

johno
iLT

John Hudson's picture

I think Nick's point about the relationship of the 'beak' to a following serif and how this is improved by lowering the beak and, in the process, making the bar horizontal, has a lot of merit. That sounds to me like the way a type designer thinks about these things. The notion that the bar was made horizontal to 'mark the transition between calligraphy and typesetting' doesn't make sense to me. One can say that the horizontal bar became a mark of the typographic letter, which is a straight observation, but I don't think Griffo was sitting there thinking 'How can I make my type more typographic?' What would that question even mean at that stage in the development of typography? I find it much more likely that, through looking closely at letters, particularly at the sizes at which he was beginning to cut type, he noted how certain relationships could be made less cluttered.

Si_Daniels's picture

Glen. you didn't close your cite tag

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