Suggesions for Gravestone Type

cabbage's picture

I read this forum all the time, though I rarely contribute, but this seemed like a perfect place to start my questions - The historical knowledge in this forum is usually unbelievable.

My father passed away last week after a 2 year struggle with lung cancer. Months ago, as it became clear that we were nearing the end, my mother asked me about possibly designing a custom headstone for the burial plot. She has always been one for bucking tradition - or at least avoiding the default options that one is presented with - and the idea of designing a grave marker is not only a wonderfully special way to celebrate my father's life (and ultimately my mother's as she will share the same plot) but will be a memorial that my (as of yet unborn :D) children, their children, etc... will be able to view.

I went on a "research" trip to our local cemetery to see the different colors of stone, the design elements that people generally choose and the sort of type commonly used. I found that the vast majority of the recent graves (within the last 50 to 80 years) tend to have very similar serifed type. Going to older sections of the cemetery however I found that blocky sans or slab serifs were much more common. Unfortunately I am down at my parent's house right now and I don't have the photographic samples with me. Regardless, I've always been a fan of gothic lettering (Trade, Gotham, Ziggeurat, etc...) and the idea of doing something that was beautiful and also different from the majority of modern headstones was very appealing.

So my question is, does anyone have any interesting historical tidbits on letterforms that have been traditional used for gravestones? Typefaces based those designs? Suggestions for sans serif type that might be appropriate? My father had an Irish heritage if that throws any other layer of interest in there.

Thanks in advance for any suggestions,

typerror's picture

You may wish to consult


Stephen Coles's picture

Your story sounds very much like mine, Connal. For my father's marker I wanted something unique as well. I looked at many typefaces that were different from the norm, but would look good sandblasted in stone (Alisal, Prensa/Amira, Alinea, Mendoza). In the end I went with an unconventional layout and stone shape and a slightly conventional face, Garamond Premier (though maybe not so common on gravestones).

Of course, the best way to go is to hire a professional stone carver to do the inscription by hand, thus making your father's marker completely unique. But that costs monies.

My mother will share my dad's plot as well, and we thought about going with two natural, organic shaped stones in vertical orientation, placed side by side. But we don't have the horizontal space to do it. They will be placed above and below each other.

will powers's picture

Since you are in Oakland, you will want to consult closer to home.

Up in Berkeley lives Christopher Stinehour. Chris is one of the great stonecutters of our time. His work surrounds you there in the Bay Area, including the new Cathedral of Christ the Light.


Stephen Coles's picture

Just visited that cathedral, Will. It's incredible.

Stephen Coles's picture

The finished artwork for my dad's marker. The stone will be completed next week.

will powers's picture

I only got to drive by it slowly last November, when we paid a quick visit to Oakland. I need to stroll by and look more closely on the next trip. Thanks for the reminder, Stephen.


Stephen Coles's picture

And stroll by FontShop and say hello too!

Richard Hards's picture

It's rather far from you, but this site may make for some interesting reading

Best wishes for your project.

cabbage's picture

Thank you for some fantastic ideas. The John Steven's site is gorgeous. Does anyone have any idea what a rough cost of a project with an actual stone cutter might be? Looking at the work, it's clear that any cost would be absolutely justified.. it's amazing. I just have no idea of the ballpark.

Stephen, that is gorgeous and should be an amazing memorial.

I have not visited the Cathedral of Christ the Light, though I have driven by it a number of times as it has been going through various stages of construction. I will have to go by there soon.

Also, if I get a chance, I will upload some of the sample photos I took around the cemetery. As my wife (also a graphic designer) and I drove around she said that she had never realized the "trends" that are actually quite easy to see as you drive around a cemetery. Different eras definitely have different styles. Our CA cemeteries tend to only go back to the mid 1800s... it would be interesting to go back East to be able to trace the evolution of styles even further back.

Thanks for the responses so far, any other suggestions would be very welcome. I have a lot to look through here.

Yehan's picture

Wow..Stephen, it's really nice what you did. I've attached a picture of my own grandmother's grave in Belgium. It was "designed" by my aunty(not a graphic designer). Sadly, I'm not sure how it was done..but it's beautifully simple.

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