H&FJ Typefaces Join the MoMA Permanent Collection

The Museum of Modern Art has announced the acquisition of four type families by Hoefler & Frere-Jones — HTF Didot, Gotham, Mercury and Retina — for its permanent collection.

In designing new typefaces, we’ve has long been consumed with the interpretation of historical artifacts, the implications of cultural expectations and mechanical requirements, and the invention of new techniques. Four type families that embody our approach to type design are HTF Didot, Gotham, Mercury and Retina, and we are honored to have these designs selected by the Museum of Modern Art for inclusion in its permanent collection.

This acquisition marks an important expansion of MoMA’s design collection, which includes historically significant objects ranging from Frank Lloyd Wright’s model for Fallingwater to the original Macintosh 128K computer, into the category of typeface design. “Type design is an essential dimension of the history of modern art and design,” writes Senior Curator Paola Antonelli. “The best typefaces belong in MoMA’s collection.”

The typefaces chosen for the MoMA collection have been selected for their social relevance, the ways in which they reflect technological progress, and their importance to cultural history. “Each is a milestone in the history of typography,” writes Antonelli. Alongside our typefaces are major works by a number of our friends and colleagues, including Matthew Carter, Erik van Blokland and Just van Rossum, and the many contributors to Emigre. H&FJ is proud to be in such distinguished company, and to be a part of MoMA’s recognition of our industry’s craft.

Heavy Metal

Photos: Left: Johan de Zoete, Stichting Museum Enschedé; Right: James Mosley

Four hundred years after Gutenberg’s death, “metal type” was still being made the way he made it. Using files and gravers, a steel rod was cajoled into the shape of a backwards letter; this steel ‘punch’ was struck into a brass blank, called a ‘matrix,’ which would serve as a mold for the casting of individual pieces of lead type. (The term ‘lead type’ is a convenience: the material of printing type is more accurately called ‘type metal,’ as it contains a special typefounders’ blend of lead, tin, and antimony.)

This elaborate pas de cinque requires five different materials, each chosen for a different metallurgical property. Steel’s tensile strength helps it hold small details and resist the blow of the hammer; the malleability of brass makes it a good candidate for receiving the steel; lead, cheap and abundant, has a low melting point; tin is more fluid than lead when molten (yet more durable than lead when it hardens); and antimony is highly crystalline, giving printing types more crisply defined edges.

The few typefaces that have departed from this process have done so for very good reason. Common were large typefaces that would have been impractical to cut in steel (and impossible to strike into brass) which were instead made as wood forms, which were pressed into sand molds from which metal type was cast. But a lingering mystery are the Chalcographia in the collection of the Enschedé foundry in Haarlem, said to have been made with ‘brass punches.’ James Mosley corrects the record on his Typefoundry blog, explaining the types’ unusual gestation through a convoluted five-part process. The photographs, like the types themselves, are marvelous. —JH

The Timeless Typography of Harper’s Bazaar

ASME has announced its winners for Best Cover of 2007, and we’re thrilled to see that of the six covers that feature typography, five are clients of H&FJ. You’ll see Chronicle on the cover of O, and our forthcoming Sentinel font on the cover of Texas Monthly. But especially gratifying is the 2007 award for Best Fashion Cover, which went to Harper’s Bazaar: it was Bazaar who commissioned our HTF Didot typeface in 1992, and fifteen years later, they’re still winning awards with it.

The flagging magazine that Liz Tilberis and Fabien Baron reinvented in 1992 has earned a place as one of the most significant redesigns in modern history. It debuted with an iconic cover that ASME ranks as one of the top ten covers in history, memorable not only for its striking portrait of Linda Evangelista, but for its arrestingly simple typography: in a font commissioned to be as crisp as possible, there appeared the single headline “Enter the Era of Elegance.” In an age when it’s not uncommon to run the entire table of contents on the cover, this was a brave and startling move. It’s telling that this same strategy is still serving Bazaar after all these years, and it speaks to the strength of the magazine’s editorial vision and the thought that went into its typography. So thanks to Stephen Gan and Glenda Bailey for including us in your continuing tradition, and to Fabien Baron and Liz Tilberis for making us a part of this extraordinary institution. —JH

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