Looking for a font consistent with old Bible typefaces

Dan B.'s picture

I'm designing a church logo (or trying, at least) and am thinking it would be a nice touch to set it in a font similar to what was used in old Bibles. Does anyone know of any digitalizations relevant to my search? Thank you.

billtroop's picture

I am very interested in old Bibles but I have no idea what you mean. How old? 50 years? 100? 200? 300? 400? Bibles have been printed in thousands of different fonts. It would be helpful if you could scan a quarter page in reasonably high resolution and attach it to your next message so we could get a better idea of what you want.

Dan B.'s picture

Thanks for your reply, Bill. You're right, should have been more specific, but my knowledge in the field does not lend me much help. I wasn't necessarily referring to a specific Bible - I am just looking for a font that would have similar characteristics to a typeface used to set a Bible in, say 400 years ago. A couple of your suggestions could get me started in the right direction. For example, would a Jenson be consistent? Is it the right period, the right feel, etc?

Florian Hardwig's picture

North of the Alps, you’d have had Blackletter, like this lovely Schwabacher.

Dan B.'s picture

Wow, that is lovely - were other areas using anything else, apart from blackletter?

billtroop's picture

Florian, that is a stupendous example.

Dan, Jenson is a very good idea, but the only Bibles I know of printed in a related typeface are the famous Oxford Lectern Bible of 1935, which is printed in a special 22 pt cut of Centaur called I think Bible Centaur, and the famous Doves Bible.

Regarding the Doves Bible, it was said

'"The noblest book to look at that was ever printed. The openings of the Books are admirably contrived with a woodcut initial in red; but the want of chapters and verses limits the use of the edition and the lines are really too long"

Comments on The Doves Bible taken from: P.J.W, Kilpatrick, ed. Catalogue of the Edward Clark Library, Edinburgh, Napier College of Commerce and Technology, 1976., p.233'

There is a most interesting digital reconstruction of the first page here:


I can't imagine why the lettering at the top is so uneven -- it was not so in the original printing.

The Doves Type reconstruction from Ohlsson seems to be difficult to get ahold of -- I have an unreleased version of my own.

Of easily available types, you could try Monotype Centaur, which is easy to find as it comes bundled with Microsoft Office. A similar type with considerably more flexibility but with some annoying showy quirks is Adobe Jenson MM, which is no longer sold but which should be findable. Somewhat less flexible but still worth a good look is the current Adobe opentype version.

To give an impression of age, you may want to look at a somewhat distressed type. A fabulous example of subtle distressing is Matthew Carter's revival of Monticello. That is very typical of American 18 and 19th century printing -- somewhere along the line a Bible must have been set in it.

Another fabulous type showing deliberate distress quirks is Monotype Bell, which is also included with Microsoft Office. I believe that Bell has been used historically to set both Bibles and Books of Common Prayer.

That's just a start!

Oh - - lest I forget - - there is yet another modern Jenson interpretation included with Microsoft Office that is well worth looking at -- the rather heavy Font Bureau font High Tower. This leans more closely to Doves than to Centaur and is just superb.

The nice thing about so many of these types is that you most likely already have them.

If you are interested in blackletter, the Scangraphic font by Volker Küster 'Lutherisches Fraktur' is well worth a look, and the famous type historian James Mosley has a version that is astonishingly readable. There are many other fabulous blackletter designs, including some 20th century designs that are relatively easy to read.

Have a look at some of these suggestions and let us know if they seem at all what you are looking for. There are many, many other possibilities. There have been so many countless settings of the Bible . . . . .

Dan B.'s picture

Thank you for taking the time to reply in such detail. You've given a great deal of suggestions! I will examine them and see what I have available and maybe post the result.

Dan B.'s picture

I do have Bell MT, but I'm not too keen on the "b" (i need to spell "abib"). Centaur is beautiful, but I only have the regular weight and I need at least a bold. I have the same problem with High Tower. Monticello is wonderful, but I don't own it. I do have Adobe Jenson, so I will give it a try.

eliason's picture

Jenson and relatives seem a bit wrong to me, inasmuch as it was originally designed for (and inspired by handwritten) secular texts. As I understand it, those humanist letterforms were closely associated with Classical literature, while bibles and the like retained the blackletter form for quite a long while.

Of course, as noted above, that eventually changed, so if you're looking for something besides blackletter, you may simply need to alter the date of your historical inspiration to suit your aesthetics! ;-)

Dan B.'s picture

I went with Adobe Jenson and this is what it looks like right now. Any suggestions would be much appreciated (that's probably the most common phrase on this forum!). A tag line to go with the logo is "Building on the Word" (a reference to the Bible, of course).

Dan B.'s picture

Good point Eliason. Date change - check ;)

billtroop's picture

That's nice - - it gets the message across. I wonder if you really need the dot on the i?

Dan B.'s picture

I was thinking about removing it, but the Jenson "i" without the dot looks a bit like a 1... But am I guilty of a typographic crime if I lower the dot, like this?

billtroop's picture

I don't think so. Jenson's own type has the dot quite alarmingly, by modern standards, placed to the right. Slimbach has acceded to modern taste by placing the dot where we expect to find it. However, moving the dot to the right wouldn't help you, in this layout. I would be tempted to give a trifle more space between i and b though, and I might even shorten the right serif of i. I really like this bold.

billtroop's picture

The bold is fabulous. As Jonathan Hoefler said when Jenson came out, 'Robert has really let his hair down.'

Dan B.'s picture

I am really fond of the bold too. Kerning is still difficult for me to apply consistently - I will give your suggestions a try and repost. Thank you for your help.

William Berkson's picture

There are two kinds of Bible faces, at least, one kind is for personal bibles, which tend to be high x-height, wide, low contrast for getting legibility while stuffing a lot of words on a page.

The famous gorgeous bibles tend to be large, lectern things, which have very different demands, and can have small x-height.

Since you are going here for 'flavor', probably that is more important than whether the face has actually been used for a bible.

gohebrew's picture

Are you referring to Ancient or Biblical Greek, Biblical Hebrew, or an old Latin or English?

It might be very creative and novel to combine a look and feel with old English characters, with a background image of a single Ancient or Biblical Greek, and Biblical Hebrew character with diacritic marks. Then, the overall impact is clearly Biblical.

Dan B.'s picture

You're right, I am looking for the flavor. I want to make it believable at least.

Your ideas are very interesting, but would be difficult to implement considering my limited knowledge in Greek and the lack thereof in Hebrew... Moreover, I want to keep things simple. But thank you for sharing.

I am hijacking my own post, but does anyone have any suggestions on improving the mark?

Dan B.'s picture

Here it is with the changes you suggested. I make the right serif of the "i" smaller and moved the last b away from it (just a tad). It looks better to me. But maybe I've been staring at it for too long.

eliason's picture

The page graphic is nice - evokes, suitably, both a big book (bible) and a bird (dove) and it's worked in well to the letter design (taking over for the middle stroke of the a, tangenting into the bowl of the first b. But I think there's a danger that the word will look like it's struck-through (even more so at smaller sizes or from farther away).

If you moved the graphic below the wordmark, you would avoid this reading. And that might fit well with the "building on the word" tagline you mentioned. But, as I said, there's things I like about where it is, too, so I'm not sure...

Dan B.'s picture

I see what you mean. And believe me, I've experimented with that. The open book graphic does support the tagline better if I move it under the type, but I lose the interesting interactions with the letter, which you mentioned. I did a quick print test at a small size, like on a letterhead, and it seemed fine. I don't imagine it will be used at a much smaller size than that.

mondoB's picture

If you want more choices, with a proper distressed look, the digitized original Fell Bible types are available for free download (just Google them) as are JSL Ancient roman and italic, taken from 18th century books, available for free from dFont. I have many others which I harvested by googling "free 18th century typefonts."

Dan B.'s picture

I did try the Fell Types - that was actually my first choice - but for some reason, when I installed them (i use Win) in the font folder, my system went crazy. I restarted a couple of times and things were still not right. As soon as I deleted the Fell Type fonts, things were back to normal... Thank you for your suggestions though.

Randy's picture

A great resource for a quick look at several "first bible in Suchandsuch country" specimens is Updike's Printing Types. An interesting first that is neither venetian, nor black letter: first bible in France, pp 83.

I like your logo and lockup.

Dan B.'s picture

Looks like an interesting book, Randy.

kentlew's picture

Forgive me for being too literal, but your "book" looks more like a magazine -- no bulk; certainly not a big book.

Yaronimus-Maximus's picture

Kentlew - exacly what i was thinking.
if it's a kind of a representation of the "book of books", it needs to be far more thick, and also the "binding".

eliason's picture

Maybe a horizontal line below could serve as both a "binding" for the implied book and an underscore for the word?

Dan B.'s picture

@Kent & Yaronimus
I understand what you mean. In my thinking, it does not look like the entire book, but only the top of it. In this sense, you're not seeing the cover (and the binding), but only the outline of the pages where the book is opened. The cut letters beneath that outline are the "body" of the book.

Will work on your suggestion, but I'm not sure I understand the final part of your comment. Would you please explain?

eliason's picture

I just mean something like this.

Dan B.'s picture

A picture is worth more than a thousand words, I guess :-) But I don't think this improves it.

quadibloc's picture

As William Berkson noted, there are two kinds of Bible typefaces. Recently, I've been looking for information on the type used to achieve legibility for the small printing required to allow so large a Book to be published in an affordable single volume.

I have now found one deserving of a new post, and not wishing to double-post, I've gone to this old thread...

It turns out that the face Cushing Old Style, here shown from the ATF specimen for 1900,

also has the descending J which led me to link the Mediaeval-Egyptienne of the Bauer type foundry with the Petit Mediaeval Clarendon used in the Cambridge Cameo Bible and other Bibles from them.

That face was also 25J from Lanston Monotype

and it originated at the Central Type Foundry shortly before it joined ATF.

donshottype's picture

Cushing Old Style looks legible to me. Presumably this is the digital version? http://www.myfonts.com/fonts/itc/cushing/

quadibloc's picture

Thank you. Actually, I was aware of this, although I hadn't gone out to take a look at the digital version yet, because my searches led me to this thread:


among other results.

donshottype's picture

I find it difficult to decide what is what for the old Cushings and the digital ITC Cushing. Here is what Adobe has to say about ITC Cushing:
---start quote---
In 1897, J. Stearns Cushing designed a typeface called Cushing No. 2 for American Type Founders. Frederic W. Goudy added the italic in 1904, and ATF released a variety of other loosely related faces bearing the Cushing name. International Typeface Corporation licensed the typefaces from ATF, and designer Vincent Pacella redrew the typefaces into a consistent family. ITC Cushing, released in 1982, has a fairly large x-height and linear serifs that are a revision of the original sloping serifs. It has four weights plus matching italics.
---end quote---
ITC Cushing is low contrast. I wonder if the old Cushing Monotone was even lower contrast?

quadibloc's picture

ITC Cushing is low contrast. I wonder if the old Cushing Monotone was even lower contrast?

Well, that question is not difficult to answer, given that the relevant specimen books are available on the Web:

It is also low contrast, but not no contrast. Unlike Lining Cushing No. 2:

What struck me as odd is that ITC Cushing is more condensed than Cushing Old Style, as shown above. However, the version shown in the 1912 ATF specimen book is about the same - but that may not mean the face was changed, just that I'm looking at larger point sizes, which are easier to use as masters:

This is Cushing Oldstyle No. 2, in the 42 point size.

donshottype's picture

Thanks for the further info. I can definitely see the difference.
As for point sizes, I do know that the ATF of that era was a pioneer in adjusting font contours so that at small point sizes the letters had less contrast and perhaps were wider. ATF did not merely scale the font, unlike much of the first generation of digital fonts, which as a result of optical scaling, are very poor for book size use. I recall reading some articles on this, but I can't recall where.

quadibloc's picture


I remember reading in various general references on the history of type that ATF did make faces wider and bolder in smaller sizes.

I have personally deduced, from looking at the ATF specimen book, and from information in the classic book Typographic Printing-Surfaces (Legros) that ATF would have had to make tiny adjustment to the width of letters in each point size in any case, as they made all their types in integral multiples of 1/4 point in width in order to facilitate justification.

However, this did not lead me to conclude that ATF was a pioneer in making these adjustments. Linn Boyd Benton pioneered in using the pantograph, and made those adjustments from the beginning in his use of the pantograph. But, as another Typophile thread noted in a quotation from a French-language reference, smaller=wider (and, thus, I presume also bolder) was true during the pre-pantograph era of actually cutting punches as well.

hrant's picture

Indeed, saying "the ATF of that era was a pioneer in adjusting font contours" is misleading because before the ATF's pantograph all sizes were cut individually anyway! ATF did implement something called "cutting slips" that "algorithmically" optimized the pantographic cutting from the large masters in order to optimize for size, but eventually largely stopped bothering with size-specific optimization, to cut costs.


donshottype's picture

Thanks hrant for the "cutting slips" reference. This jogs my memory on how ATF did size-specific optimization.

quadibloc's picture

There is an excellent article on this face on Luc Devroye's site here.

Although the article doesn't mention that the face came from the Central Type Foundry before ATF, it did note that in addition to Lanston Monotype 25J, there was a copy by the Keystone Type Foundry called Richelieu,

and Linotype's version was called Title No. 1 - while some old Bibles were done on Lanston Monotype machines, as I was able to tell by the typefaces used for the footnotes, Linotype is, of course, the most popular choice for long stretches of text.

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