Playing favourites, part one.

“What’s your favourite font?” is an impossible question. I like too many to answer with brevity. So here are some I like, accompanied by specimens and short explanations.

1,069 words by Kris Sowersby
15 January 2013

It’s important to distinguish between what I consider my “favourite fonts” and typefaces that I think are good. There is a lot of overlap, but this is a small list of my personal favourites.

Here is part two and part three.

Six Line Pica, Antique from ‘The Specimen Book of Types Cast at the Austin Letter Foundry’, 1838.

I like most Antiques from the 18-1900’s from various type foundries. They’re so big and meaty, with such a forceful presence on the page. Some seem slightly insane, perhaps even a little intoxicated. The one above is a fairly straight-forward representative of the genre.

Arnhem in use in ‘What is a designer’ by Norman Potter, published by Hyphen Press, 2003.

I first fell in love with Arnhem whilst reading What is a designer by Norman Potter, published by Hyphen Press. It’s a wonderfully serious text typeface, but one that doesn't become overbearing or tedious. I imagine that many typographers employ it as their go-to workhorse serif.

Akzidenz Grotesk from the ‘Linotype-Schriften’ specimen, 1967.

Akzidenz Grotesk has an interesting story and heritage. In short, it was initially a collection of related — but separate — sans serifs collected, re-named and re-released by Berthold. There are many versions in both digital and metal, including re-drawings and re-cutttings. (For more information follow the links at the bottom of this Typowiki entry). My favourite versions are the text-size Linotype “Akzidenz Grotesk” and  Berthold’s “Halbfett” — a cut with particular power and materiality.

FF Balance Bold & Light.

FF Balance is stylistically paradoxical: slight inverted stress, overly large inktraps, duplexed weights and flared stems. Despite this, it works so well for text, it’s robust, sturdy and warm. It feels thoroughly analogue despite being digital. For a longer discussion, read my review of it on I Love Typography.

Bello from the Underware website.

I adore the curves of Bello. Like House, the Underware chaps have done a fine job of hiding the complex underlying OpenType programming in a script typeface: it generally looks great no matter how skilled the operator is. I am pretty certain Bello’s particular curve construction and style has directly influenced many typefaces since its release.

Bembo from ‘Asymmetric Typography’ by Jan Tschichold, 1967.

A classic metal re-cutting of the Griffo Romans. It’s elegant and a bit rough — a good combination for me. I only like the metal versions, all of the digital incarnations are unconvincing. Admittedly I have a soft-spot for Bembo, it switched me on to looking closely at letterforms and subsequently to typeface design.

Bifur from the ‘Spécimen Général’, Deberny & Peignot, Paris, 1926.

Such a delightfully dynamic display typeface. My opinion is coloured by the old Hummingbird restaurant sign in Wellington. It was set in Bifur caps and slowly cycled through various colours. It was fantastic. Bifur is clever and often imitated, but never successfully. Only when I acquired a 1926 Deberny & Peignot specimen I realised there were two versions. Superb!

Top: 60pt Caslon Old Face from the dedicated specimen by H.W. Caslson & Co., 1923. Bottom: Big Caslon from Carter & Cone.

I feel mildly heretic admitting this, but I am not really into Caslon’s types. I understand why they are important and well-liked but they still leave me non-plussed. I have not seen any metal or digital version — whether they be original or interpretations — that resonate with me except one: Carter’s digital Big Caslon. It’s dark, elegant and sharp. He’s kept the spirit of the original and culled out the awkwardness. It looks utterly fantastic for headlines.

Henric Lettersnider’s 15th C. “Blackletter” from Enschedé’s ‘Specimen of Dutch Blackletters…’, 1925.

Growing up in New Zealand my only exposure to blackletter was via beer labels, metal album covers and gang tattoos. For as long as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by these aggressive, exotic, incomprehensible forms. From the fat British versions to the elegant German cuts I basically like the entire lot. It’s a bit of a cheat, I know, but that’s the way it is.

Block from Berthold’s ‘Schriftproben Nr. 405’.

I’ve always been attracted to these letterforms, but I have rarely seen it used well in a contemporary context. That doesn’t really matter though, they are wonderfully warm letterforms in their own right. I am happy that they exist. The R is simply adorable.

Civilité by Henri de la Tour from Enschedé’s 1931 ‘A Selection of Types’ Specimen.

I can’t easily read Civilité, but I think it’s utterly beautiful regardless. I know they are “Roman” letterforms but it manages to look foreign and exotic. I particularly like the flick of the d pushing against the left-to-right flow.

Eames Stencil from the House Industries website.

I love that the cuts aren’t simply horizontal or vertical, but are integral to the letterforms. Eames Stencil has a charm and vitality that most other stencils lack. It doesn’t feel overly contemporary even though it’s a fairly new release. I reckon this will prevent it from dating, which is always a good thing with typefaces.

Eudald News from the PDF type specimen issued by Village.

One of those beguiling typefaces that seem so very useful and practical. Eudald News is interesting and personable whilst retaining seriousness at text sizes. It’s exactly the sort of typeface that I wish I saw more often, and something that makes me want to typeset documents.

Farao from ‘Jewellery out of Context’, 2007.

Like many of Štorm’s other typefaces, Farao is delightfully odd at larger sizes, and satisfyingly “normal” at text sizes. He consistently strikes a delicate balance between the strange and the necessary in his typefaces, taking risks that would be terrifying for most others.

Fleischman Romans from Enschedé’s 1931 ‘A Selection of Types’ Specimen.

For all their extroverted detailing, Fleischman’s text typefaces work extraordinarily well. Even colour and efficient forms make them interesting and readable. For typefaces made in the 1700’s they’ve held up fantastically well, a spectacular achievement of typeface design.

Playing Favourites Part Two and Part Three.

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