the oldest Sans serif font?

Adrian Wilson's picture

I have a mystery that I need help solving.

I collect old trademarks and labels that were used as adverts on cloth by fabric merchants. I recently acquired an old label which is of a 1700's design style but it contains some sand serif lettering, which according to the history books was not used until the 1800's.
The thing is, a lot of the typefaces used by the merchants were unique to that trade (I was a speaker at last year's Typecon on the subject) and so it is not unfeasible they they used a sans serif font before they became popular. These merchants were also dealing with far off lands in Asia etc where sans serif may have been used before the West.

The story of the label, a picture of it and when it might date from is here
but I have attached the name part which is in that sans serif font. Obviously it looks hand drawn to me but maybe someone out there in typeland might help with this mystery of why a sans serif type would appear on what looks like a typical 1700's style label.
I don't mind what the date of the label is because it is interesting anyway but if it does date from pre 1686 then I suppose it is an example of very early sans serif type and should be added to the history of type.
Of course, it could be a 19th century label trying to look old for some reason, although all the merchants wanted their labels to be modern, not old fashioned in style.

Thanks for your input.

Adrian Wilson

gabriel bernon.jpg81.77 KB
Synthview's picture

are you asking for the oldest sans-serif in absolute?
If I’m not wrong you can find first latin sans serifs by the ancient Romans :)
After that you can find "real" first sans serifs in 15th century in Florence (Italy). Optima is taken from these models.
You can look at some artworks here the images size is forced down, but if you look at them out of the html page, you'll appreciate the design.

William Berkson's picture

The man to contact about this is James Mosley. See his take on sans serifs here.

dezcom's picture

Mosley's "The Nymph and the Grot" is a good source.

Also, the Phoenicians and Greeks had sans before the Romans and there were perhaps others even older.

BTW, Mosley, on his page 48, shows a reproduction dated 1688 and numerous other early 19th century examples.

dezcom's picture

Here is another from the same book. This one is dated 1793:

Adrian Wilson's picture

Thanks for the tips guys. I have emailed John Mosley to see what he thinks.
Will let you know his verdict on this being a 17th, 18th or 19th century label!

Best regards


Adrian Wilson's picture

John deduced the label as 1850 from the fonts on it
I posted his assessment here

Thanks for your help everyone


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