Mercator by Dick Dooijes

marcosdopico's picture

I’m looking for information about Mercator, a sanserif typeface by Dick Dooijes and G. W. Ovink designed in 1959 at the Amsterdam Type Foundry .Its considered a version of Helvetica/Univers, a rational holland response to the model of german/swiss modernity. I just found a reference in"Dutch Type"by Jan Middendorp, but I suspect that no exists a digital version.

Does anyone have information about this typeface? images? typespecimen?

thanks ¡¡

Hubert's picture

Dear latierrasemueve

I am studying at the Type]Media course in Den Haag, where I am currently doing a revival of the Mercator.
Because the archives of Typefoundry Amsterdam (Lettergieterij 'Amsterdam' voorheen N. Tetterode, 1851-1988) are now kept at the Library of the University in Amsterdam (, I was lucky to have access to the original material let by Dick Dooijes. I attach some pictures of two of the first type specimens and the final sketch of the "a"

Hubert's picture

It is true that the font is known as a sort of "Dutch Helvetica".
Supervised by S.H. De Roos, Dooijes had to make in 1929 the working drawings of Nobel, a revision of Berthold Grotesk to bring it more in line with Futura.

Dick Dooijes, wrote his autobiography titled " Mijn leven met letters" ("My life with letters", Amsterdam 1991) which is not yet translated in english.

Hubert's picture

One of the last type specimen of the Mercator was made in 1966 by Total Design, ran at that time by Wim Crouwel.

I attach two picts of a type specimen from Typefoundry Amsterdam that display 7 cuts of the Mercator
(I am not sure when that one was released, in the sixties i guess)

cheers !

marcosdopico's picture

Thank you Hubert. What a big surprise¡¡
My name is Marcos, I am a professor of graphic
design in the University of Vigo in Spain, and I am working on my
doctoral thesis. I am researching the revival of neo-grotesque
typefaces in the last decade. I found several typefaces in the last
decade like Akkurat by Laurenz Brunner, FF Bau and Graphik by
Christian Swchartz inspired by revivals of German typefaces in the
19th century. In other cases the alternatives to Helvetica and Univers
like Recta by Aldo Novarese and Mercator by Dooijes created in the
Mid-Century, inspired several revivals as well as your Mercator.
Unfortunatelly there is not much information available on the original
Mercator, and it surprised me a lot to find a digital version. So I was wondering if you can
send me information (images, texts, sketches, typespecimen…) on the
process that has followed in the revival of Mercator. If you
help me I'll always be gratefull to her. Of course I promise to
mention your work in my research. Can you send me your email?

I just found other revival of Mercator. The designer Daniella Spinat creates Mercator Roman.

Finally, I would like to know your opinion about the revivals in
typography. Why do you think a lot of typographers are re-designing
old sanserif typefaces?

Thank you¡¡¡

Nick Shinn's picture

Why do you think a lot of typographers [sic] are re-designing old sanserif typefaces?

For the same reasons that we (type designers) are always re-hashing every cliché in the book.
Specifically, typographers continue to use them.
That provides the economic incentive.
Also, there is technological change, a constant in the graphics industry.
Adapting older forms to new media presents creative challenges and opportunities.
That provides the aesthetic imperatives.

While it's true that there have been many typefaces in the grotesque genre designed recently (a sans-centric era), I don't think this is historically significant. The grotesque genre has been constantly available since the 1830s, with old staples being refitted, and new additions. Recently the genres of geometric and humanist sans have also been well populated--more so, I would say, than the grotesque, where the old staples seem most entrenched.

Have the type designers responsible for recent grotesques also reworked old serif types? I would think so, I know I have.

If you want to prove this is a significant phenomenon, you will need statistics to convince me, because otherwise, the field is so large that's it's very easy to pick and choose examples to corroborate one's subjective preconceptions about what's fashionable--which are always subject to recency. In other words, if you are interested in modernist design and the grotesque, you will see it everywhere.

My preconception is that genre specialists (like Ale Paul) are the minority in the type design business.
In the digital era, now that so many independent foundries are established, most type designers have "their" old-style serif face, their didone, their geometric sans, their grotesque, their script. Every foundry a department store, not a boutique!

Of course, this varies by market, but in as much as the commissioned market in newspaper and magazine types requires all genres (but few scripts), so does the retail font market (but heavy on the scripts).

1985's picture

Here is some more Mercator.

This is a good thread, this typeface seems quite rare so I am pleased to see high quality images/work here.

I think Nick is correct in saying that there has been a steady development of the grotesque, almost by the decade.
I also agree with his idea that if you are interested in a specific genre, you become very attuned to it's presence which might alter your perception of it's popularity. I probably 'sense' the same trend you are talking about, though I am wary that I am simply looking for evidence of it because that is what interests me - finding this thread for example. Maybe it is very hard to assert any kind of trend in a pluralistic environment.

That said, I am always pleased to see work in this genre, revivals and interpretations - I think it is important to distinguish. There probably is some room in this genre more so than humanist sans-serifs for example which most people (I assume) would agree have seen a lot of recent interest - maybe this does explain a small trend.

I'm not sure that economics offers a complete explanation of said trend. A lot of revival work is motivated by academics!

Hubert's picture

@ Marcos
Swiss type designer and teacher François Rappo made a revival of Theinhardt's grotesque, but I am not sure the font is available yet.
(Pictures of the original typeface in an older post :

here is an interesting overview made by Stephen Coles :
another one : ARS Region
you are totally right 1985, once you start looking for a specific thing, you see it everywhere

Hubert's picture

And about reviving fonts, I will quote Wolfgang Weingart :
(in Philip B. Meggs & Roy McKelvey, Revival of the Fittest, Digital Versions of Classic Typefaces)

"Four typefaces are enough to address every typographic problem.
Every digitalization of an old typeface is, for me, a fake."

marcosdopico's picture

FF Schulbuch by Just Van Rosum (1996) is a revival of AG Schoolbook y Günter Gerhard Lange.
Effra by Jonas Shudel (Dalton Maag) is a revival of Caslon, the first sanserif (1816), included lowercases.
Another one: ARS Maquette by Agnus Shammal, National Grotesk by Kris Sowersby, Number two by Martha Stutteregger.

1985's picture

Also, as I'm sure you know, Executive (Optimo) and Galaxie Polaris (Village).

As I said, I am really interested to see work in this field. I think I might have missed the point of your study.

aeshoukas's picture

Ken Meier has also made a digitization of the bold cut.
I had the pleasure of working with the metal version in developing the identity for the Gerrit Rietveld Academie. The final version wasn't printed in letterpress, unfortunately - instead a digitization was made from the aforementioned specimen book from LA. Having scanned the entire thing, I uploaded it here. It is made up entirely of two-fold spreads, and I've yet to piece it all together - sorry!

kaibernau's picture

Laurenz Brunner (whose previous Akkurat is like a modern reimagining of Mercator anyway) has recently made a very nice proper Mercator revival, too; in the book it was used it was credited as Mercator, Dick Dooijes, Lettergieterij Amsterdam, 1959 / Laurenz Brunner,, 2008 or somesuch. It is not available from the website, though, potentially because Linotype has once acquired the rights of the Lettergieterij Amsterdam from the Tetterode company.

With colleagues I also took a stab at it once. We made a modern Grotesk that shares some of the nice characteristics of Mercator.During that process I've come to see that Mercator isn't actually that good a typeface, and its many flaws get in the way of the text. All "real" revivals look a bit amateurish in my opinion, and that's because Mercator itself is a bit amateurish. And thoroughly adorable.


1985's picture

Which book is that Kai? Thanks in advance.

kaibernau's picture

Sorry, I can't remember exactly what book it was. Some sort of report of activities of an Amsterdam-based association, or possibly something from the municipal government or city hall? Quite heavy, couple hundered pages, red cover, tabs on two or all three sides.

Hope that helps

Studio Laurenz Brunner's picture

Yes, it's correct – I have a digital version of Mercator. I discovered the typeface when I first moved to Amsterdam in 2004, in the letter-press workshop of the Gerrit Rietveld Academy. The designer Dick Dooijes, in fact was a former director of the Rietveld Academy and is responsible for the Lettering on the facade of the iconic building.

The typeface Akkurat was already completed when I first encountered Mercator but I must admit it I was surprised myself to see that it shares some attributes. I've digitised Mercator during my time at the Rietveld and have used it since for the publication "Adviezen 2009 – 2012" by the Amsterdamse Kunstraad and occasionally for Rietveld related communication. (See for example Alex Shoukas, a former student of mine, has done a great job with his design for the Rietveld school identity and has used the typeface in a sensible way (along with an clever colour-scheme, sampling Gerrit Rietveld's interior colour palette). Big up's again Alex!

I've always believed that the typeface should somehow remain close to the academy and it's source, which is why I've hesitated to publish the font, but we're currently considering different options for

Drop me a line if anymore questions,
Laurenz Brunner

Bleisetzer's picture

I just wrote an article about Mercator and placed some 16 p size Mercator normal in my online magazine:

„Ich bin ein Preuße, kennt Ihr meine Farben...“

hrant's picture

Marcos, I assume you've looked at Unica as well?
To me it's the best of the bunch.


Bleisetzer's picture

I found a 24 page specimen refering the Mercator:

It shows Mercator:
normal, fett, kursiv, kursiv fett, kursiv schmalfett, mager, schmalmager

Regular, bold, italic, bold italic, condensed bold italic, light, condensed regular.

Mercator was Netherland's answer to the new and modern Grotesk in West Europe between 1957 and 1965, do you think, its correct?

Before 1957 there was Akzidenz-Grotesk - okay, and Futura, but this was was an old-fashioned Grotesk. 1957 Bauersche started with Folio-Grotesk. 1958 Mercator came up. But after Helvetica was established in the market after 1961-1963, the figt was over.

Do you agree?

„Ich bin ein Preuße, kennt Ihr meine Farben...“

Michael Hernan's picture

Unica is nice, of which I have so far reworked a lowercase. I have always liked Mercator and Forma (1968) which is a very rare beast indeed.

My desire to work on a variant of an original font is that I am unsatisfied with the original. If I like a font, I would expect the original design to be close to what I would consider correct, but can never quite be there 100 percent. There is always something that bugs me or that doesn't sit quite right. And once you start working on a design and it comes under more scrutiny, the process itself will throw up more things to try and problems to be solved.

It seems to me that many of the classic grotesks talked about here have a broad usage capability so having a specific purpose like the identity for the Gerrit Rietveld Academy seems a very valid reason to re-look at some of these masters and hone them.

Michael Hernan

Quincunx's picture

I thought I would revive this thread to add another type specimen of Mercator. Just as the version Charles Mazé posted earlier, its also designed by Wim Crouwel at Total Design, somewhere between 1964 and 1968. It's quit extensive, with all weights and cuts shown on different sizes on fold-out pages and on a variety of paper types.

I have made some photos of the specimen, and put them in a set on my flickr page.

Nick Shinn's picture

That's a marvellous specimen.
Mmmm, Strathmore Artlaid!

thijs's picture

This morning at my son’s school I came across a nice example of Mercator in use; a 1965 children’s book by Dick Bruna.

1985's picture

Amazing illustrations. Strange that they used Mercator (top) and Akzidenz (bottom) on the cover.

Hubert's picture

Very nice indeed

Darkgreenblue's picture

Of all the classic grotesques and neo-grotesques shown in Jaspert/Berry/Johnson's Encyclopaedia and Rookledge's Typefinder, I think Mercator is my favorite. The forms of the C, R and S are much more attractive than in either Helvetica or Univers, in my opinion, as are the numerals, and I like the proportions and spacing. As the icing on the cake, Mercator has a wonderful Q design unlike that of any other typeface I have seen. I find it very simple and beautiful, and am surprised nobody has copied this Q idea in any newer sans (though Puyfoulhoux's Q in Alinea Sans is similar). The Univers Q always looks like a mistake to me, and most sans Q's are boring, but Mercator's is lovely.

Is a revived offering, as mentioned by folks above, likely to make commercial headway anytime soon? People keep trying to create alternatives to Helvetica, to solve its quirky problems and to coax users away from its domination; it seems to me that a great choice might be right there in the books, that other late-50's design, Mercator.

Stephen Coles's picture

I can get with you on the 'Q' and 'R', but I don't see how that 'S' is more attractive than Helvetica’s. Maybe you're looking at one of Helv’s more compromised digital weights. Have a look at Neue Haas Grotesk.

Counterform's picture

Atlas Grotesk, a Mercator revival by Kai Bernau, Susana Carvalho and Christian Schwartz. The capital S is narrower than the original one, but the Q and R are really similar.

Darkgreenblue's picture

Thank you -- Atlas is interesting, and key letters such as the C and Q are close, but not quite the same. I still find the original Mercator more attractive. I just love love love that Mercator Q -- it's like driving a track around and around, and then at some point you make a smooth, elegant exit.

To Stephen's comment above, I must say I do like NHG better in bold (and the bolder Helvetica weights also), but lighter weights are more disappointing. The regular S is beaten by Mercator's in my opinion, and so is the regular C, which I always thought ugly in Helvetica (barely less so in NHG).

oldnick's picture

This is a very interesting discussion, with some very fine insights—mostly based on some very fine distinctions between and among some very thoughtful type designs. But, who is right and who is wrong about those fine distinctions boils down to which oenophile is right about which fruit precisely describes the top note in a fine wine. It all boils down to a matter of opinion. So what: pay attention and you'll learn something.

However, one aspect of the discussion does not make sense. If you're looking for something truly unique—which is kinda OTT, since “unique” is like “pregnant" in its all-or-nothingness—it will be so for only so long. Which is to say, it will be unique up the time that until other folks looking for something unique learn from your discovery. In which case, more and more people who are convinced that “unique” means buying all the same stuff the cool people buy—in other words, Apple’s whoel marketing strategy—the net result is, what was once unique is no longer so, and you have to start out on your Grail quest all over again. Still: it's the journey, not the destination, right? Unless you actually have to be somewhere at a specific time on a specific date. THEN, it's the destination.

If, perchance, you have a hard time making sense out of what I just said, join the club.

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