Sabon Sans

ncaleffi's picture


This is from Christopher Burke's excellent "Active Literature" - one of the best book on typography I own. In the final pages Burke shows some very interesting sketches by Tschichold of a sanserif version of Sabon, done around 1960. Burke wrote:

"Despite the dismissive things he wrote about sanserif in his later years, Tschichold seems never to have lost interest in this category of letterform: the first designs he made for his classic typeface Sabon also included a sanserif version, which was never produced. Here he tried to incorporate elements od old-face roman type into sanserif, in a different way than Eric Gill had done, and his sketches show that he anticipated some of the features that surfaced in sanserif types of the 1990s (and later)".

Burke's book is the only place where I have found references to a Sabon sans. A couple of more sketches show some different treatmens of the sans - the shape of the lowercase "a", for example.

After reading Burke's passage, a question comes to mind: what are the contemporary sans that Tschichold anticipated? On another level, looking at the serif sketch, it is easy to see - for me at least - how the early drawnings of Sabon were much more related to the Garamond model than the official version released in late Sixties.

joeclark's picture

I’ve been thinking about this since the thread started. Is it not true that these high-contrast sansserifs with calligraphic overtones are a difficult act to balance? Too much contrast and you get pinched corners. Too much calligraphy and you turn into a signpainter and end up with a 1950s casual typeface like Klang.

I think Formata is not too far away from the original theme of this thread. I think Formata is due for a revival, actually.

Carl will be aware that I have a pretty strong suspicion that Beorcana would work really well on TV.

hrant's picture

Good points. Which is why I like moderate
contrast and no calligraphy (in a text face).

hhp

dezcom's picture

I own Formata on floppy disk from the '80s

Nick Shinn's picture

GG Lange's Imago is Univers with more contrast.

Martin Majoor's picture

> Why would you look only at printing types?

We are now in the Sabon Sans thread, so I think we are talking about printing types (and especially about serif/sans combinations). A discussion about the first sans is something else.

I did not say that you cannot design a sans serif without starting with a serifed typeface as a basis. There are plenty of examples of good stand-alone sans serifs, I myself made Telefont (a sans) without first having designed a serifed typeface.

What I ám talking about is that when you design a serif/sans family it is quite illogical to start with the sans. If you have made a sans and later realize you want to add a serifed design (e.g. Meta, Syntax) this is something else, but in the end the two versions are probably further drifted apart from each other than when you start with a serif.

There are not only historical reasons to start with the serif, but of course everybody is free to determine the starting point. Starting with a sans is illogical but not impossible (Meta, Syntax), starting with both serif and sans makes more sense (Stone Serif and Stone Sans), starting with a serif is the most logical way (see Romulus, Sabon, maybe Syntax, Lucida, Legacy, Scala, Quadraat, Eureka etc.).

By the way I am still curious to know if anybody can tell me what the examples were that the punchcutters used to cut the first sanses around 1850?

blank's picture

By the way I am still curious to know if anybody can tell me what the examples were that the punchcutters used to cut the first sanses around 1850?

I don’t think that anyone knows for sure. The two notions that come up most often are that the British punchcutters were cutting serifs off of their Antiques and that the Germans modeled their designs on Walbaum’s types. Both notions sound plausible, but nobody seems to have turned up notes or drawings from an old foundry to confirm either one.

William Berkson's picture

>the examples were that the punchcutters used to cut the first sanses around 1850?

James Mosley has documented that sans were stone carved and painted for thirty years before the first printers' sans, which was in 1816. Here is his update to his essay on the subject.

hrant's picture

IIRC they took Egyptians and removed the serifs.
However, even if one believes* that type can be
considering without considering the much older
craft of lettering, there's no reason to think that
we must mimic those first efforts.

* I don't.

hhp

J Weltin's picture

Joe Clark: I think Formata is not too far away from the original theme of this thread. I think Formata is due for a revival, actually.

Signata is a follow-up of Formata.

dezcom's picture

Perhaps you meant to say Imago is like Univers, not Formata?

Nick Shinn's picture

I don't believe the first sans types were "chop off the serifs" jobs.
The designers' premise was to find the best shape for letters that conformed to the concept of a simple, monolinear typeface.
Of course, they didn't stray too far from the norm of serif letterforms at the time, so the centre crossbar of E was short, and G looked too much like C.

But their working process was probably a lot like ours -- to experiment with individual glyph shapes and find a way to make all the letters work together.

That experimentation is apparent if one compares two different sizes of the Figgins face shown in their 1837 specimen (detail below).
The designer is investigating both geometric forms and what would subsequently become the grotesque. So R in different sizes has
a straight leg or a curved leg. O is geometric and lacks contrast, which is not the case for N. And so on.

eliason's picture

I'm seeing here in this Miller & Richard specimen book of 1902 a high-contrast sans called "old style grotesque," which by name would appear to be, in concept, a sans patterned after serif faces. But the effect of it is more geometric than Sabon sample above; it looks a bit like a forerunner of the Deco approaches like Broadway/Peignot.

Stephenson, Blake also in the 19th c. offered an "old style grotesque," but that was a much more stylized display face.

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