Difference between Gothic and Blackletter?

chrisburton's picture

I come across typefaces such as Trade Gothic yet it is a sans-serif. There's obviously a difference between that and blackletter so what am I misunderstanding?

Karl Stange's picture

Gothic is an older term for sans-serif that is still commonly used in East Asian typography. More information can be found on the Wikipedia pages:



Apparently, "In English, Gothic is an outmoded typographic term for sans-serif. It was so named because the type color of early sans serif typefaces was thought to be similar to that of the blackletter or “gothic” script. The term “gothic” is now rare in English, having been largely replaced by "sans-serif" except in the names of some typefaces such as "Century Gothic"."

chrisburton's picture

Thanks, Karl. That certainly makes a lot of sense.

Nick Shinn's picture

“Gothic” was the North American term for sans serif.
Hence Franklin Gothic, News Gothic, Trade Gothic, Century Gothic and more recently my Brown Gothic … and Gotham.

However, perhaps due to the international nature of the present day font market, we now mostly refer to “sans serif” types, if not those that are specifically “grotesque”.

William Berkson's picture

Gotham is a name for New York City, and the typeface is so named because it was inspired by old lettering on buildings in the city. Not related to Gothic as a name for sans, so far as I know.

Nick Shinn's picture

Well yeah, but don’t you think there was also some punnery involved in its naming?

HVB's picture

No more punnery than when in 1939 Bob Kane and Bill Finger chose Gotham as the name for Batman's city, or 130 years earlier when Washington Irving used it as a nickname for NYC.

Nick Shinn's picture

Those were metaphors, comparing one city/town to another.
A pun is a word which has two meanings, in this case the name of a city and a category of typeface.

HVB's picture

Yes - my intent was to note that H&FJ used the name specifically because it was associated with New York, and the style of the typeface was based on lettering commonly found on the city's buildings. So if there was a pun involved, it wasn't intended.

H&FJ's history of Gotham

- Herb

Nick Shinn's picture

… if there was a pun involved, it wasn't intended.

Jonathan and Tobias are quite eloquent chaps y’know.
I wouldn’t put it past them to come up with a multi-meaninged typeface name.
Jonathan has written some quite erudite essays, for instance “On Classifying Type” for Emigre magazine, and Tobias wrote many of the very witty specimen texts for the Font Bureau when he was there, if I’m not mistaken.

allinebetts's picture

Good post.

phrostbyte64's picture

Where does the term grotesque enter into the description for a san-serif? I don't find san-serif fonts to be outlandish, bizarre, or distorted.

quadibloc's picture

You don't. But back when the very first sans-serif faces were designed, they did seem grotesque to people then.

Nick Shinn's picture

The meaning of “grotesque” is open to interpretation.
Refer to The Nymph and the Grot by James Mosley, the definitive history of the emergence of the sans serif letter form.

tmac's picture

Does intention matter?

When I consider Gotham I think of NYC, but the connotation of "Gothic" type is also packaged into my experience.

Grotesque: I thought this categorization occurred because these sans-serifs were considered grotesque in comparison to the at-the-time more conventional serif. (Citation needed)

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