Type Choice: 1930s

g.j.hilton's picture

I'm working on a project at the moment that strongly references the late 1930s (in the UK)... but was surprised to discover that most of the typefaces I had in mind (Gill, Futura, Kabel etc) as characteristic of the 30s were actually designed in the 20s... clearly I needed to return to the textbooks! - but further research still didn't really turn up anything suitable from the period.

So I'd be very grateful for suggestions of (sans?) typefaces from the second half of the 30s that aren't too eccentric or deco (the project has plenty of deco ornament already), and which don't look 'historical' - ie which still look contemporary enough to pass.

Many thanks, in advance, Team Typophile :-)

Justin_Ch's picture

I think Gill probably is your best choice. Although designed in the '20s it would be during the '30s that it became really common. I have British signpainting and lettering books from the '30s and late '40s in which hand drawn versions of Gill are the only example of a sans alphabet.

I guess it also depends what sort of publication you are referencing. It might only be an art or design publication from the late '30s that would be employing any very recent type designs.

ultrasparky's picture

I think you would be better off looking at what was used during the 30s, and worry slightly less about when the typefaces were designed. Type was a slower-moving industry in that era. A typeface was a pretty big investment for both the foundry and the printers who bought it, so faces released in the 20s would still have enjoyed quite a lot of exposure in the 30s.

Justin_Ch's picture

(I can't find an edit button to add to my previous post)

Also Gill is ubiquitous in wartime ephemera such as ration books, aircraft recognition pamplets etc.

paragraph's picture

I agree, the time of acceptance and usage of a typeface are more important than the date of its creation to define an era in design.

How about IBMs use of Bodoni harking back to 1800? Or Microsofts use of Franklin Gothic back to early 1900?


poms's picture

If you have a geometric typeface in your mind – some alternatives to the one you mentioned.

This list might not be "historically correct" …

Futura with Small Caps and OSF for a "new impression" (there are some versions, URW etc.)
Neutra 2 (or if you need more "deco", Neutra 1)
Erbar (only available in cn-weights)
Nobel (DTL or Fontbureau)

and 2 slabs; Memphis, City

g.j.hilton's picture

Justin (edit: and Ultrasparky and Paragraph :-)

Many thanks for your replies. Your point about acceptance / application / ubiquity is judicious, and very well taken, of course there isn't a more English face on the planet, and I certainly don't need much encouragement to reach for Gill at the best of times... but I was disappointed that a period I'd always rather uncritically accepted as the dawn of modern sans-serifyness actually turns out rather light on faces. For this project, I'm very comfortable with an artier, more up to date slant on the period if you have any suggestions in that direction...

Consulting my faithful Opie scrapbook, there are lots of anonymous sans faces to be seen in common use - though i certainly grant you Gill's circular 'O' seems to have been (ahem) highly influential... or at least to have captured a zeitgeist.

Metro is, at a pinch, in period, but - sorry to display my lack of discrimination here - honestly I've always found its quirky f rather distracting... so yes, I may well end up opting for Gill, for all the reasons you recommend - but I admit I was rather hoping to have overlooked something obvious - or failing one always live in hopes of unearthing hidden treasure.

Nick Shinn's picture

Not sure if you are thinking text or display.
Gill Sans was most used, but has always been popular, so not exclusively representative of that era.
IMO, the condensed geometric sans style, as seen in the word DAKS here in a 1938 ad in Punch, was a feature of the immediate pre-war era, but not used much subsequently. Tourist Gothic Alternates.

g.j.hilton's picture


Thanks for your (implicit, but very useful) counsel that *looking the part* is a very good substitute for authenticity! I fixate easily on historical specifics, and it's well worth pausing to reflect perhaps that only a tiny minority of the audience will appreciate them, whereas broader strokes arguably communicate more widely.

I'm a huge fan of TF-J and Nobel is a gorgeous face, but perhaps a little too adrift of the period, however (despite everything i was just saying about quirky 'f's!) Verlag is a compelling argument for period spirit over strict authenticity. (Ditto, Neuta).

Many thanks for your thought-provoking suggestions

g.j.hilton's picture


I'm always floored by the generosity and expertise of the community here, and your reply absolutely exemplifies the best of that community spirit. You've put your finger on absolutely the sort of "period-specific but not period-confined" detail that I was struggling to describe - bravo! Many thanks indeed.

As an aside, I've also been looking at contemporary film titling from the period, and perhaps followers of this thread might appreciate the attached (from http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-9193023742763462354 )

eliason's picture

FWIW, here's an excerpt from "Keeping a Tab on the Types," an article from the January 1935 issue of Printing, counting faces used in ads in exemplary magazines, this time in “Everywoman’s, that bright young flapper among feminine magazines." It affirms the ubiquity of Gill Sans by the mid-thirties.

211 Advertisements
Type Faces Employed
Cheltenham 11
Bodoni 16
Gill Sans 63
Garamond 6
Erbar 3
Nicholas Cochin 3
Beton 3
Memphis 3
Koloss 2
Trafton 2
Metropolis 1
Futura 2
Luxor 1
Sans Grotesque 8
Cooper 3
Caslon 4
Goudy 14
Bernard Cursive 3
Holla 1
Kabel 5
Broadway 5
Plantin 2
Neuland 4
Dominus 1
Kennerley 2

geraintf's picture

perhaps granby (1930)

or monotype grotesque (1926)http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Monotype_Grotesque

g.j.hilton's picture

Eliason, I'm bowled over - picture me clapping my hands with a level of delight wholly unbecoming to someone of my age - I really can't begin to thank you for taking the time to key in that list. Great stuff!

In case this thread is of use to anybody else, I've taken the liberty of reordering the list by popularity, and annotated each face with a rough date (please don't hang me for the specifics - I've been wildly inconsistent between design / publication dates, and I've trusted the internet, which always ends well) - all of this evidence very much endorses the position that Justin, Ultrasparky and Paragraph were recommending...

1928 Gill Sans (63)

1925 Bodoni (16)

1916 Goudy (14)

1897 Cheltenham (11)

???? Sans Grotesque (8)

c15. Garamond (6)

1925 Broadway (5)
1927 Kabel (5)

c18. Caslon (4)
1923 Neuland (4)

1926 Bernard Cursive (3)
1921 Cooper (3)
1922 Erbar (3)
1912 Nicholas Cochin (3)
1936 Beton (3) <- rather confusing given list date! source
1929 Memphis (3)

1924 Koloss (2)
1934 Trafton (2)
c16. Plantin (2)
1911 Kennerley (2)
1924 Futura (2)

1928 Metropolis (1)
???? Luxor (1)
1934 Holla (1)
???? Dominus (1)

Geraint - excellent suggestions - must admit that Granby was new to me, and I was glad to make its acquaintance - thank you!

eliason's picture

I had it in my notes, so it was more of a cut-and-paste job today, but anyway I'm glad you find it helpful.

kentlew's picture

An interpretation of the Granby style = Wayfarer, by the UK's own Jeremy Tankard:


poms's picture

According to the excellent resource of (not only) lead typefaces – www.globaltype.org – the first Beton release was in 1929 by Bauersche Gießerei. Followed by additional weights in 1931 and 1937.
Paul Sinkwitz

globaltype.org – check it out

Thomas Phinney's picture

Does anybody know whether the typeface used in the "Shape of Things to Come" titling above was originally a metal face, or was it done custom for the film (or film titling in general)? Name?



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