Legacy of Letters: An Italian Tour

So enormous are the contributions of the Italian people to typography that they often pass unnoticed. The words you are reading may be written in the English language, but they are rendered in the Latin alphabet, which comes to us via Roman ancestors. We celebrate these same ancestors in the name of our upright Roman alphabet, and we remember their country of origin in our slanted Italics. If you ever use our Requiem typeface, take note: taxonomically it is a Venetian Old-Style, its letterforms modeled on the work of a renaissance Roman calligrapher, who was inspired by the inscriptional lettering on a classical Roman monument, which was dedicated to a Roman emperor. The emperor’s name was Trajan, an Italian name you may recognize from your font menu; he is immortalized there alongside dozens of his compatriots, including Aldus, Arrighi, Bodoni, and Jenson.

Since Italy has remained a cradle of letters and literacy since classical times, it makes an excellent destination for any lover of typography. This June, design historian and calligrapher Paul Shaw will be leading Legacy of Letters, an eight-day typographic tour of some of Italy’s most typographic destinations. Including both Emilia-Romagna and the Veneto, the tour includes stops in twelve typographic capitals including Parma, Mantua, Verona and Venice. Registration is now open for a limited number of spaces.

Adventures in Kerning, Part II

Typeface: Verlag Book

A kerning table, which makes special allowances for characters that don’t fit together naturally, can reveal a lot about the personality of its designer. Every font pays special attention to the pair Va, but the font that includes Vr suggests a familiarity with French (vraie) or Dutch (vrouw). Pairs like Wn or Tx hint at an even broader perspective (Wnetrzne, Poland; Txipepovava, Angola), and the designer who kerns the ¥4 has presumably spent some time thinking about finance. Including ÅÇ is the mark of someone who’s trying too hard: these letters don’t nest together naturally, but nor do they appear together in any language.

When I first learned about kerning, mystifying to me was the presence of Yq in almost every one of Adobe’s fonts. Adobe’s early faces sometimes neglected far more common pairs, or even whole ranges of the character set — many fonts didn’t kern periods, dashes, or quotation marks — but Yq was ever-present. When I met him in the early nineties, Adobe’s Fred Brady hinted at why: located in northern California, Adobe’s designers often had a thing for viniculture, and one of the world’s most famous dessert wines is produced by Château D’Yquem.

We’ve included Yq as a standard kerning pair ever since, though I’d never gotten to see it in action until yesterday. Here, in the window of Sotheby’s on Bond Street, is our Verlag typeface, Yq kern and all. There are kerns obscurer still that we’re waiting to see in public, though I don’t suppose I’ll be seeing the 9th century Old English word wihxð (wax) in the window of Sotheby’s anytime soon. —JH

Adventures in Kerning

For most, travel is about discovering new cultures, exotic foods, and beautiful landscapes. And we’re all for that, certainly. But for type designers, the secret fun of going abroad is watching a new language in action, with its own particular (or peculiar) behavior. In an oft-repeated moment of type geekery, I snapped this street sign in the Gamla Stan area of Stockholm, with its rare “Yx” pair.

Unanticipated, combinations like this can derail the rhythm of a typeface. Kerning can correct it, but only one pair at a time: it’s an exacting and lengthy procedure. To inform that process, one of our behind-the-scenes projects has been to gather spelling oddities from around the world, lest our fonts get stumped by them. (Really, I wasn’t kidding about being a type geek.) I’ve found, among many many others: Kv in Kvivlax, Finland; Qw in Qwilk and Yb in Ybbsbachamt (both in Austria); and Qq in Qquecalane, Chile. And who knows? They might be nice places to visit too. If you’re visiting any of them and encounter any good signs, send us a photo. We’ve already heard from a designer in Vestfjorden, Norway. —TFJ

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