W CASLON JUNR
Capitals taken from Renaissance medals.
Reproduced from Frank Choutecu ßrown's
Letters and Lettering.
The history of the serifless letter is not too
complicated. These two pages should be
sufficient to clear up at least one fairly false
hypothesis and indicate the course of develop-
ment up to the present. The hypothesis is the
one which suggests that the sans-serif letter of
today was based on Greek inscriptional letters
of about the fifth Century B.C. It is only nec-
essary to point out that the Greeks had no
minuscule aiphabet, to damage this argument
severly. The illustration of Renaissance capitals
shows sans-serif letters that were used on med
als; but this usage too is a long way from the
proper foundation on which to base a type like
Futura. To my mind, the most difficult part of
the design of such a face lies in the lower case.
The Solution to this problem could only come
about gradually, over the centuries; and in the
end it was a specific type-design project that
could only be worked out in strict reference to
the techniques and usage of the present day.
There were, of course, earlier sans-serif
types. Such a type appeared for the first time
in a specimen sheet put out by William Caslon
IV in 1816. This was a font of capital letters,
not a successful type as far as can be judged.
There was no follow-up until about 1832, when
The sans-serif letter designed by Edward Johnston
for the London Underground, 1919. It is still
used on cars, posters and signs.
Vincent Figgins and William Thorowgood cut
sans-serif faces, which had a lower case and
were more populär. Figgins called his type a
"sans surryphs"; Thorowgood used the name
grotesque Both of these terms are in use
today: grotesque is used on the continent for
letters without serifs in general; England in-
clines toward a double usage; we have not
used the word grotesque until quite recently,
when the current mode for expanded display
types was started.
At this point it is best to define exactly what
is rneant by sans serif as a Classification. To
me, the normal face Futura book, the type
used m this article is representative. It is a
design in which the capitals have classic pro-
portions, and in which the lower case is based
mostly on traditional minuscule patterns. The
capitals are not even widths; and the lower
case is far from a picket-fence proposition in
respect to spacing and arrangement. Super-
ficially viewed, the strokes are all the same