Cyrillic swash descenders/tails

Nick Shinn's picture

There is an old style of Cyrillic, e.g. in the typeface Academy, in which the characters tse and shcha don't have the usual short descending mark (below left), but have swash tails (below right). I considered this for Scotch Modern (the face shown in the examples here), but abandoned the idea as inappropriate.

However, I am presently designing a more swashy typeface, and will include swash tails on tse and shcha. Would such tails also be appropriate for other Cyrillic characters which have descenders? Specifically, the tailed versions of zhe, ka, en, ha, and che:

And finally, if there is a swash descender on tse and shcha, why not on De?

Jongseong's picture

Interesting question. I doubt these non-Slavic Cyrillic letters ever used swash descenders, but I don't know much about them at all. I'd appreciate any information as well.

As for the De, even though the descending strokes end up looking similar to those of Tse or Shcha, I think of the underlying strokes as being fundamentally different. Taking away the descending strokes on De altogether would be extreme, but it will still be read as a De. But the strokes in Tse and Shcha are essential, and in the latter case it is the only element that distinguishes it from a Sha. It's like the tail of Q, which may be the only flamboyantly swashy detail in an otherwise sober Latin text design.

In swashy calligraphy, the De may acquire spectacular tails: Of course, the handwritten form of lowercase de has a large tail, being superficially similar to a handwritten "g". But they feel out of place in designs for text.

Nick Shinn's picture

Thanks Brian.

Vlad's picture

1. Letters zhe, ka, en, ha, and che don't have descenders. So you definitely can't add tails to them. It looks very unnatural, if not terrible. Here is example of nice Cyrillic swashes.

2. Descender of De can look similar to Tse in decorative font. Here, for example, is Cyrillic version of ITC Anna, De and Tse has identical descenders. In text font, of course, it's better to go traditional way.

Nick Shinn's picture

Letters zhe, ka, en, ha, and che don't have descenders.

No, but there are characters derived from them which do, used in Kazakhstan:

Thanks for the links--awesome swashes!

Vlad's picture

Yes, my mistake, I spoke only about Russian Cyrillic.

paul d hunt's picture

Check this sample out (the first letter of the last line):


paul d hunt's picture

Also, you should have a look at Oleg Macujev's Epiphany for some clues:
I particularly like the version with the swash making a closed loop (the first letter of the 2nd to last line)
Also, in the right-hand column the 2nd glyph on the 4th line and the first letter on the 2nd to last line are interesting examples.

paul d hunt's picture

Last comment. If you want some really fun, swashy stuff for Cyrillic, you might try looking at the skoropis' (скоропись) model. Skoropis' literally means 'quick writing' and is usually quite lively as you can see in Oleg's typeface linked to above. To get you started, here are some Google results: web / image.

In particular, these looked promising:

Nick Shinn's picture

Thanks Paul.
I think I'll try swashing the Kazak tails, and see how it sets.
Not that I have any expectation of selling any fonts there.

andrijtype's picture

swashed right descender in -Д- not so usual now, but it's ok.
i will search some historic references, if you need.
i know nothing about asian cyrillic,
but why not to try ogonek-like descenders?

look at very swashed Belladonna by Aleksandra Korolkova

thank for referencing me, Paul ))

crossgrove's picture

If you haven't yet seen Jovica Veljovic's latest, that might be informative.

Nick Shinn's picture

Thanks for your input everyone, but I've decided not to do anything special with the Kazak characters, there's no return on investment.
As for De, I tried a swash right tail, but with a short descender space the left tail gets in the way, so I'm sticking with the normal letter shape.

cuttlefish's picture

I've seen a De that had descenders that curled inward; not a full swash as the others but halfway, not quite meeting in the middle; like a downward facing brace. I'm sorry I don't have a ready reference, but I recall it looked as if it were from a medieval manuscript.

Maxim Zhukov's picture

Dear Nick, those wavy, tilde-like terminals of the ц and the щ are typical features of the post-Petrine Russian type of 18th century. In his Cyrillics shown in Manuale Tipografico Bodoni followed the same pattern. I am afraid they would look a bit archaic in a Scotch Roman.

Nick Shinn's picture

As I noted in my original post, I abandoned that idea long ago.

My question concerns a typeface I am working on at the moment which is notably "scripty" in its design, and, while not being an actual script, nonetheless adopts scripty forms wherever possible.

For such a face, the archaic swash-form descenders of ц and щ are appropriate.
But then I started to think about similar characters, and wondered if I could make other descenders swashy as well.

Thanks to the examples people have shown of De with swash descenders, I see that it is certainly possible to swashify the normally stubby Cyrillic descenders/terminals -- but I don't think it's worth the effort for the Kazakh characters.

However, here is a sketch of what I might do with De:

Maxim Zhukov's picture

This shape is hardly recognisable as a д. From the samples you mentioned you might have noticed that the swashy bottom terminals of the д, the distinctive feature of the pre-Petrine cursive hands, are always used with the triangular tops. The trapezoid construction of the д had developed only by the end of the 19th century; it never was, nor is it now, used in writing, only in printing type. Now a question: do you really want that 17th-century touch in your Cyrillic? What do the rest of the glyphs look like?

Nick Shinn's picture

Isn't "hardly recognizably" somewhat of an exaggeration?
There's only one trapezoidal Cyrillic character with a couple of dangly bits!
For anhistoric (if not Postmodern) precedent, I offer a couple of Latin mash-ups of the letter g, Hobo and Souvenir:

As those are both early 20th century types, a little bit art nouveau, perhaps there is something similarly mutant in Cyrillic from the same era?

andrijtype's picture

i think, Maxim call your sketch 'hardly recognisable' because leg in -Д- is very distinctive element (especially right). naturally, there is some examples -Д- without legs, especially in bold soviet lettering, but their looks is not so close to handwriting and swashes (something like this font from Jovanny Lemonad).

and few links to one-legged -Д-:
* page about -д- in Yuri Gordon's Book about letters from Aa to YAya

* Vasyl Chebanyk's typeface

* Jurij Antonov's Ustav typeface

* Vitalij Mitchenko's typeface and Vitalij Mitchenko's calligraphy, very close to your sketch for me

* Oleg Macujev's Fry typeface (and Epifany & Slovolitnja typefaces too)

* Viktor Kharyk's Bogdan typeface

Maxim Zhukov's picture

To Andrij’s nice collection of one-legged Дs I’d like to add one from Mistral; Tobias Frere-Jones drew the Cyrillic it ages ago (in 1992?), at the request of Microsoft. There is certainly no period flavour to this shape.

Nick Shinn's picture you really want that 17th-century touch in your Cyrillic?

Oleg Macujev's Mamontov combines trapezoidal De with wavy tails on tse and shcha.

A nice mash-up of letter-forms ostensibly from different eras.

Maxim Zhukov's picture

Sure, Nick. Every rule leaves room for exceptions.

And yet, there is a lot more authenticity to the default shapes of the д and the л in Kis (upper line) than to their dumbed-down alternates. Of course, Oleg’s Mamontov is a totally different animal.

om's picture

Nick, as for Mamontov, it is based on poster typefaces and has a touch of the beginning of 20th century. In this period Cyrillic typefaces usually combine wavy tails on -tsp- and -shcha- with almost trapezoidal -de-. You can see it in Academy and Elizabeth.

Maxim, mammoth is an animal, but Mamontov is something totally different.

Jongseong's picture

Maxim didn't mean that Mamontov literally is an animal. "A totally different animal" is just an idiomatic expression in English used to mean something totally different altogether.

I really like Mamontov by the way. Thanks for letting us know about the inspiration behind it.

Maxim Zhukov's picture

Thank you Brian. The typefaces mentioned by Oleg were indeed produced in the 20th century: Academy (2nd line) in 1910, and Elizabeth (3rd line) in 1904–7.

However, their letter forms have been inspired by the Russian typographic legacy of early 18th century, and more precisely, by the types of the Imperial Academy of Sciences, circa 1748:

Hence the triangular, lateen-like and isosceles, construction of the д and the л, and the distinctive curls. Kindly refer to the most informative type design blurbs written by Vladimir Yefimov, posted at Incidentally, Academy (Akademicheskii) was issued by H.Berthold to mark the bicentenary of Peter the Great’s Civil Type. There were two flavours offered, ‘regular’ and ‘historical’ (the latter with long descenders, old-style figures, and the tall yat’, hard and soft signs).

Nick Shinn's picture

...a touch of the beginning of 20th century.

Indeed. That is what I suspected -- the same era as Hobo and Souvenir (see "g"s above).
A period of historicism with history mining that saw both discretionary inspiration as well as authentic revivals.

How authentic was the "historical" version of Academy?

Maxim Zhukov's picture
  • How authentic was the “historical” version of Academy?

Academy was as ‘authentic’ as its original model, ATF Cheltenham Old Style. It was rather superficially styled after Civil Type; think Monotype Italian Old Style vs. Jenson, Monotype Plantin vs. Granjon, etc.. Elizabeth (Elizavetinskii) was a much more careful and sensitive revival, designed from scratch—unlike Academy. In its initial version Elizabeth also had those tall yer’, yer, and yat’.

Cyrios's picture

Good day everybody.
This is what I've shot in a bookstore. It's fragment of a cover, issued in Constantinopolis in 1920.

Maxim Zhukov's picture

Thank you, Kyrill. Great find. This freaky design looks like a variation on the theme of ‘Modern Elsevier’ Cyrillic (M.O.Wolf foundry, St.Petersburg, 1874). Of course, Modern Elsevier’s letter-forms were a lot more radical (it was heavily Latinised). Could you provide more details on the book? Or post a higher-resolution picture? Or both?

Cyrios's picture

Unfortunately, I made just two shots passing by, just to remember the letterform. Anyway, I post original images here.

This cover I shot in YMCA-Press bookstore in Paris. There are a numerous books of Russian emigration of the 1-st and second "Waves", and even if they are not so beautiful as Zvorykin, Benois and Bilibin's works, at least they are very interesting by typography, fonts and book design in general. Especially in hard situation of Russian emigration during the first half of XX-th century.
11 rue de la Montagne Sainte-Geneieve - 75005 Paris
Tel 01 43 54 74 46
They speak French and Russian, i'm not sure about English.

here are images:

Maxim Zhukov's picture

After a lot of digging, I have found (at a trove of PDFs of Mavriky Wolf’s print. It looks like his compositors kept using those ‘new, improved’ types he had developed for the books he published, for 25 years after he died (in 1883). I have found quite a few samples of those Дs with curled-up legs, both lateen-shaped and trapezoid. That Д in Kyrill’s post above is definitely Wolf’s. You live and you learn… Those ‘improved’ shapes, and many others invented by Wolf, still look pretty artificial.

Cyrios's picture


I've found a couple more examples of what we discuss about:

Both pictures are from same book, and this is it's title page. Interesting forms of Д are at the very bottom.

Maxim Zhukov's picture

Yes, those are Wolf’s… As is this one, of 1882… A sabre dance. It looks like that poor little У is in bad trouble with its mean neighbours. Yikes.

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