Barbou: the font that Monotype forgot's picture

It's hard to believe that Monotype, a successful company and a great font house with a history of brilliant design behind it, could cut two slightly different versions of a distinctive eighteenth-century font, and choose the wrong one to preserve; but such happened in the 1920s to 'Fournier' -- attractive enough, if a little plain -- and its more beautiful sister 'Barbou'.

From: – Stanley Morison, ‘A Tally of Types’, pages 79-80. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

To these biographical notes a few paragraphs may be added about the book-faces originated by Fournier, which were recut by the Monotype Corporation and immediately acquired for use at Cambridge. Although it was decided in 1922 to proceed with the recutting of one of the roman and italics characteristic of Fournier’s early period, work was not begun until the autumn of 1924. When the Corporation made its decision, there remained some doubt as to the best model, and two designs were cut, which are here compared for the first time. They are numbered 185 and 178 respectively.

Owing to some confusion (due to the typographical adviser’s absence abroad), series 185 was approved. This, therefore, is the face that, after a highly successful career of over twenty-five years, appears here and in the Corporation’s specimen. It is a reproduction of Nos. xlvi (roman) and xlvii (italic) named in the Manuel Typographique as ‘St Augustin Ordinaire’. The great seven-volume Shakespeare printed at Cambridge for Francis Meynell between 1929 and 1933 is, according to the considered judgement of its designer, the ‘chef d’oeuvre of the Nonesuch Press’. As a use of series 185, it is no less a monument to Fournier le jeune, although the capitals were specially reduced in height. The first size of the Monotype recutting was completed in 1925.

The second and, surely, preferable design (shown in this paragraph) is numbered series 178, only one size of which, in one set of matrices, was struck. They were acquired by Cambridge, where they are known as ‘Barbou’, and were first used for the composition of ‘The Fleuron’, vol. V, printed at Cambridge in 1926. The Barbou type was used for the composition in 1926 on a type-facsimile of ‘Traité historique et critique sur l’origine et les progrès des caractères de font, pour l’impression de la musique’ which Fournier wrote and Barbou published in 1765. The facsimile was duly proofed, but pressure of work of a different kind having first delayed the writing of the necessary introduction and finally postponed it to the Greek Kalends, Lewis after fifteen years dissed the type (‘It had whiskers on it’), and the project was abandoned. The Barbou type has had occasional use since ‘The Fleuron’ came to its appointed end with volume VII (Cambridge, 1930). This paragraph enables comparison to be made with the standard Fournier shown in those preceding it. Both designs were cut by Fournier le jeune before 1742. They are both un­mistakably eighteenth-century in cut; neither is conspicuously French, or even markedly continental. Both series provide for a persistent need in the trade: a bookish type which is narrow in the body without looking starved, an effect better reached by series 178 than by 185.*

The headpiece at the beginning of this section is composed from reproductions of ornaments designed and engraved by the artist. Fournier’s ornaments as a whole and the use he made of them alone place him at the head of his craft during a cen­tury that included Bodoni and Baskerville among his great contemporaries.

Attached is a scan of page 80 of Morison's book, which gives examples of Fournier at the head and tail of the page, and Barbou in the centre.

I like my digital version of Fournier, but I agree with most commentators that at sizes less than 16 point, it gives a spindly and anaemic effect. How I long to hear that Barbou has been revived as a digital face...

John Tranter, Balmain


ncaleffi's picture

Thanks for bringing this to our attention: I've also read the story of Monotype Barbou in Morison's book.

As a sidenote, I would like to remember that another, heavier, digital version of Fournier does exist: Corundrum Text, by Joshua Darden (; although I find Monotype Fournier beautiful and useful when appropriately set.

Barbou, on the other hand, has been quoted by Jeremy Tankard as one of the historical typefaces he has researched upon while designing his Kingfisher (check the pdf here:'s picture

Many thanks for those two links, Nicola. Corundum is a little heavy for my liking, and Kingfisher a long way from Barbou, but they are both very good fonts.


John Tranter's picture

On second thoughts, I take that back. Corundum is not a heavy font: it just looks that way if you go to the website, because almost all the examples given as "Corundum Text" are in fact Corundum Bold Text -- an extraordinary oversight. It's nearly impossible to work out that the Regular weight exists: when you finally uncover them, the three weight variations are unlabelled, where they should be labelled Regular, Bold and Extra Bold (or if you prefer Regular, Semi-bold and Bold.)

It does look like a stylish and very useful digital font -- a modernised version of Fournier-Barbou with harmonious italics, good small caps and a good range of ligatures-- and I shall explore it further.

dtw's picture

FWIW, in the PDF sample, the three weights of Corundum are called 'book', 'semibold' and 'bold'.'s picture

Thanks, DTW. I've bought a version and I am trying it out on a few pages of poetry with footnotes. It's very quirky: the lower-case i and the numeral 7 in italic is too strange to use for long, and it's not easy to insert their alternates; and as a text font it does seem to be cut just a tiny bit too thick, but at least that remedies Monotype Fournier's problem of being a little too wide and open and faint, especially the lower case g.

At least someone has brought out a good, usable digital version of Barbou. I can remember when a strip of two fonts (on photo film) for the $100,000 Compugraphic 7700 machine cost US$600, a quarter of a century ago, and that didn't include kerning, alternates or ligatures (which were impossible on that equipment in any case)! That's a couple of thousand bucks for two fonts in today's sadly shrunken dollar, more than ten times what my digital version of twelve Corundum fonts cost.

And what would we do with all that spare time if we found the perfect font?


John Tranter

ncaleffi's picture

John, can I ask you what software you use for setting texts? In Indesign it's pretty easy to insert alternates via the glyphs table, and you can even do a search/substitute glyphs function for changing every occurrences of a single glyph in a document (or in a text block). Anyway, it's interesting to see a poet setting texts. By chance, in these days I'm reading a nice sixties edition of Blake's poems - translated by Giuseppe Ungaretti - wonderfully set in Monotype Dante (metal), I would like to post some pics soon to show it here.'s picture

Hi, Nicola. I use InDesign for typesetting, and unfortunantely Corundum has problems with that software. Choosing to replace the italic 1 or 7 with their alternates does not call up the real alternates; you have to set the text with the weird glyphs Corundum gives you, then, when you're finished (really finished!) go through and substitute one glyph for another, a real pain. And if you decide to make some revisions (as we all do), you have to do this all over again.

Also, importing RTF files into InDesign fails to catch the italic version of Corundum, and for some inexplicable reason, the font designer refused to call the italic version "italic", and instead calls it "BookItalic". Sometimes it is impossible to force InDesign to accept the changes you need to make (change Italic to BookItalic), by hand, one at a time. What a shame!

Dante Metal is a wonderful typeface. I set my 2009 Doctor of Creative Arts thesis in the digital version of Dante. Unfortunately when it was photocopied and printed and bound, the face turned out too faint: the photocopier overexposed the pages. Oh well: that's photocopying versus metal printing.

I'll try to give an example of that, and an example of Corundum as a font usable for poetry. The footnotes in the Corundum font are not meant seriously, by the way.

I should mention that the Penguin edition of Rimbaud's "Collected Poems" (trans. Oliver Bernard) is set in Monotype Fournier, and the effect is very good. The metal original helps make the font solid enough.


John Tranter's picture

And here's the Monotype Fournier setting for the Collected Poems of Arthur Rimbaud (trans. Oliver Bernard, Penguin, 1962).


quadibloc's picture

In searching for information about Barbou, I see one place where it is dated 1926, another where it is noted that Monotype made it available in 1959, and another that says it was their last hot-metal type, from 1968.

It is a beautiful typeface. But are its commercial prospects enough for them to make the effort to do it justice?

And I also like Kingfisher. I think it's very important that type designers aim at addressing the issue of why many digital typefaces seem uninteresting compared to metal ones. But I notice that it seems aimed at the area of design space occupied by Caledonia, and a number of other typefaces of recent design and high quality are aimed at this area of design space.

I think that there is both too much competition, and a lack of interest there for a typeface in that area to really take off: aside from commercial prospects, this is unfortunate as I would like the successful attempts to be influential. Only a few people, in comparison, seem to be aiming at what I suspect is the brass ring with typefaces such as Williams Caslon and Starling.

Popular taste probably would respond well to a fresh new alternative of high quality in the Bembo - Garamond - Caslon - Baskerville - Times - Century Expanded neighborhood of serif types.

ncaleffi's picture

John, you should tell Joshua Darden - Corundum's designer - about your issues with the typeface in Indesign; I'm sure there must be an easier (and faster) way to insert the alternate glyphs, as well as to convert the italic style from your rtf document to Corundum's italic. By the way, your poetry examples look very nice; Corundum seems to hace a very nice texture.'s picture

Thanks for the suggestion: I have sent the Darden Studio a courteous email to that effect.'s picture

@Quadiblock: Thanks, John: your remark about Williams Caslon spurred me to research it further. William Berkson, the fonts' designer, has a wonderfully insightful two-part article about the design of the font here:

Thanks again

John Tranter, Sydney's picture

The Wrong Fournier:

I've added some more examples to this page:

It shows the two Monotype Fourniers from the 1920s; also shown for comparison are a scan reproduction of a photo-litho offprint of some Monotype metal-set Fournier (Oliver Bernard’s translations of Rimbaud’s Collected Poems, Penguin, 1965), the same text typeset in digital Fournier, and the same text set in Corundum, a recent typeface by the Joshua Darden studio in Brooklyn USA:



ncaleffi's picture

I'm reviving this thread since I've just found that the b+p swiss typography foundry has published in 2011 a new digital revival of Fournier, designed by Francois Rappo. It is a very large family (24 fonts) which even features different x-heights. The book weight is slightly darker and bigger than the Monotype's version. In the image attached, I set a quick comparison between Monotype Fournier (above) and the b+p version (below), both set at 12 points on 14 leading:

A free trial version with a limited set of glyphs is available for download:

James Mosley's picture

Nice to see the Rappo Fournier here – an elegant type.

Mind you, some of us think the choice of the Fournier that Morison didn't want was not a mistake at all. Luckily he was safely out of reach.'s picture

Alas, the lovely Rappo Fournier has disappeared from the Swiss Typefaces site. Is this a unique event in the world of digital type? I had tried to install it on my Macbook Air, but the operating system refused to allow me to, and reported finding problems with the kerning tables. I passed this on to Swiss Typefaces, and they said a redesign that would solve that problem was planned. Alas, that didn't happen, and the font disappeared, and now my 600-page Collected Poems will have to be published in Adobe Arno Pro -- a very nice typeface to be sure, but not quite what I wanted. If M. Rappo manages to save his font from its fate, and fix the kerning tables, would someone please let me know? Thanks. JT, May 2013.

hrant's picture

Have you tried asking Rappo directly? A couple of channels:

If all else fails (and if the EULA allows modification) you can get a third-party to fix the font for you.


quadibloc's picture

Windows computers are cheaper than some fonts, so that's another solution.

Syndicate content Syndicate content