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Typeface: Verlag Condensed Black

We’re resisting the temptation to go against last year’s declaration that April Fools’ Day website goofs are inherently unfunny, so it pleases me to instead have an genuine update regarding someone else’s typographic silliness.

Eighteen months ago, we reported on a mysterious typographic gift that materialized outside the H&FJ offices. Today, I am delighted to report that the culprit (artist) has come forward! Rob Keller — who may well be a typeface designer graduated from the University of Reading, but will always be known to me as The Grecian Bandit — apparently included us on his rounds when distributing ceramic letter sculptures throughout the city, as part of a project called Left Out Letters. Check out the collection of photos on his blog: in addition to Plaintiff's Exhibit A documenting his Acropolis Italic h and fj, there’s a fantastic tableau showing a French Clarendon lowercase m being worshipped by a field of dairy cows. Which is exactly how type designers like to imagine our planet looks like from outer space, at least metaphorically. —JH

Ode on a Grecian Kern

Greek Week Continues!

Like all good New Yorkers, we know how to respond to unattended packages: with deep dread and unbridled panic. Yet despite our daily diet of Orwellian public service announcements, a devil-may-care attitude moved someone at H&FJ to immediately open the unmarked brown paper parcel that was left outside our door (candy!), inside which were these: a pair of fired clay sculptures in the shape of — what else? — the h and fj from our very own Grecian italic typeface, and this week’s cause célèbre, Acropolis Italic. Bookends? Graven images? Anyone care to fess up? Whoever you are, you’ve earned your stripes for ginning up an ‘fj’ ligature where there was none; that takes both thoughtfulness and pluck. So thank you for the gift, secret admirer! Do get in touch so we can send you a proper thank-you note, or a restraining order. — JH

Mrs. Gray and the Mystery of the Grecian Italic

“Grecians” are slab serif typefaces in which curves are replaced by bevelled corners. The fashion for octagonal letters took off in the 1840s (the style may have begun with an American wood type, produced by Johnson & Smith in 1841), and by the end of the decade there were all manner of Grecians on the market: narrow ones, squat ones, light ones, ones with contrasting thicks and thins, and ones without. It’s unusual that the rather obvious “square-proportioned” Grecian didn't arrive until 1857, and that no one thought to add a lowercase until 1870. It’s this very center of the Grecian universe that our Acropolis typeface occupies, which includes an additional feature of our own invention: a Grecian italic, something that no Victorian typefounder ever thought to create.

Or so we thought. This is the Six-Line Reversed Egyptian Italic of William Thorowgood, which sure enough qualifies as a Grecian italic. It has many peculiar features, but the most unearthly is its date: 1828, thirteen years before the first Grecian roman appeared. What’s the story?

Continues…

The Voynich Manuscript

Only if Umberto Eco, Jorge Luis Borges, J. R. R. Tolkien and Will Shortz clubbed together in a moment of wickedness could humanity produce a more vexing object: behold the Voynich Manuscript, a puzzling artifact from the late fifteenth century written by an unknown author, in an unidentified script, in an unknown language. Since 1912, cryptographers, palaeographers, and others with time on their hands have failed to decipher this mysterious document; naturally one theory is that it’s a monstrous hoax, though its text seems to bear the hallmarks of a genuine language (note the cross-references on Zipf’s Law, information entropy, and the Cardan grille). Any theories? —JH

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