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What about ``Colonial'' Typefaces?

Why does colonial printing have that ``Colonial'' feel?

Colonial type was either very roughly treated by moist salt air on the crossing and in colonial port cities, or was copied locally by tacky techniques (such as driving used foundry type into soft lead to make very soft deformable matrices), and the paper was very rough, which abrades both the serifs and the hairlines. So except for the best work done with new, european types, the serifs were much smaller, even broken off, than the original founder/punchcutter intended. Thins could be abraded by rough paper to nothingness, esp after humid salt air had leached the hardener out of the alloy.

Peter Honig contributes the following alternative explanation of the roughness of colonial types:

The roughness of early fonts was caused by several factors: Type was quite expensive and was used for many years (even if somewhat damaged). Also, printing presses would only be set up to print one side of one folio at a time, so you would not need to set more than a couple of pages at once. This meant that the printer did not need as many copies of each character, however, each character got used very frequently. The early casting techniques did not produce as perfect or consistant examples as we have today. That is, the face of a character might not be quite planar with the page, or its sides might not be quite parallel. Lastly, the inks of the past were not as advanced those of today.

What fonts are good for mock-colonial uses?

For example, what fonts have the following features: old-style figures (non-lining numbers), the long s character, slightly irregular shapes (a la type produced by colonial printers), and a decent complement of ligatures. And what about free or cheap faces like this?

I don't know if any exist with all of 1-5. As I believe you get what you pay for, especially in fonts, I haven't looked at free and cheap-copy fonts.

Microsoft's expansion set for their Win3.1 optional fonts has Garamond Expert & Expert Extensions, which has a good complement of ligatures and I think I remember it having the long ess too. I forget about OSFigs; it should tho'. Monotype's metal faces ``16th Century Roman'' and ``Poliphilus'' may be available in digital; if so, they imitate early presswork with early and are very close to what one wants.

``A commercial supplier [not yet sampled] is Image Club Graphics in Calgary (1-800-661-9410). It is called Caslon Antique. It is supplied as both roman and italic, together, for $25. They advertise in MacWorld/MacUser/MacBlah. I am unable to tell from abcDEF123 if the numerals are old-style, but I think not. Ligatures? long-S? Not yet known. Guillemots, though, are there. ... Letraset, circa 1977, showing a Caslon Antique with modern numerals, no ligatures, and only UKPounds and German ss extensions.'' [Ike Stoddard]

NB: Caslon Antique is not a Caslon per se: ``The last Caslon to mention is that ubiquitous but unrelated Caslon Antique, which possesses no similarity whatsoever to the original. This old reprobate was introduced by Barnhart Brothers of Chicago under the name Fifteenth Century. Its negative reception lasted until about 1918, when, with a simple name change to Caslon Antique, it became the most commonly selected type for reproductions of colonial American printing. It is now seen in everything from liquor advertisments to furniture commercials'' [Lawson, 1990,Anatomy]

Miles Agfa (Compugraphic) has always had a Caslon Antique; I don't know if it is available for TrueType or Type 1, but Agfa has been doing TrueType bundles at reasonable prices. [wdr]

Peter Honig contributes the following suggestions:

Blado, Poliphilus, and Van Dijck are available from Monotype. Adobe Caslon is available from Adobe. Old Claude is available from Letter Perfect. In my opinion, Old Claude is font that is worthy of close attention. Although it lacks the long S, it is VERY accurately reproduced. Although Adobe Caslon is not irregular, it has a great set of authentic ornaments from the Renaissance and Baroque. It is also the only set that I am aware of, that has the long S and its ligatures.

[Bill Troop notes: I do not believe that Monotype ever had a font called 16th Century Roman. You are thinking of a private face created by Paul Hayden-Duensing for his private press based on old Italian punches. It is very rough indeed, but I can assure you no Colonial printer had a typeface as stylish.

Poliphilus does indeed exist in digital form, and is fairly faithful, but again is far too stylish to give the proper feel of US Colonial printing. Nor is Antique Caslon, so called, anything to do with the Caslon types used by American printers--except those who used this bogus type at the end of the 19th century.

Monotype Bell is a faithful copy of a font that was actually used in the US, but it is far more modern than the Caslon types. Nobody has yet done a really authentic Caslon, and it is a curious fact, but none of the Caslon revivals, in any of metal, photo, or digital formats, has ever been based on the best Caslon sizes. I have been toying with such a revival.

Monotype Van Dijk can hardly be called a faithful copy of a metal font; the outlines are far more regular, for instance, than what Monotype did for Bell. In addition, the less interesting forms of the lower case f and f-ligatures were chosen for the digital version, and the alternate f was not supplied. That makes it a very uninteresting font to use in digital form. In addition, the italic has been unbelievably badly spaced in the digital version. (Harry Carter complained about the spacing in the 13pt Roman in the metal version.)

For anyone wishing to recreate the feel of early-to-mid 18th century printing, a battered, sensitive revival of Caslon would be desirable. The Giampa version is interesting, but is based on a poor model. ]

What fonts could a colonial printer have had?

According to D.B.Updike in the classic reference ``Printing Types: Their History, Forms & Use'', he indicates that most colonial work was with types of the Caslon Old Style fonts and cheap copies of same in the 18th C. Before that, it would have been the older Dutch & English faces, almost always lagging English tastes. If you can find the Oxford Fell types, they are classic Dutch-as-used-by-englishmen. Anything with a Dutch moniker and the Oldstyle adjective is probably ok; Van Dijck if you find it, say (died 1673).

Ben Franklin recommended Caslon faces. But these were not available in England before 1720, first full broadside in 1734. Lawson declares that the first printing of the Declaration of Independance was in Caslon.

Wilson's Scotch Modern was the ``modern'' font that surfaced in quantity in america. If the Scotch Roman your vendor has is sort-of like-Bodoni but nicer than his Bodoni, that's it. It wasn't available until late 1700s, though.

Excerpted from The comp.fonts FAQ, Copyright © 1992-96 by Norman Walsh