Berthe in use in the 2013 Four Corners Books edition of Madame Bovary, designed by John Morgan
BALZAC, DEBERNY, TULEU
In his preface to the 1828 ‘Balzac Specimen’ reissue, René Ponot reveals that the history of the Deberny type foundry – and, consequently, the history of their typeface Série no. 16 – is closely linked to French writer Honoré de Balzac. Before becoming famous as a novelist, Balzac works as a publisher, printer, and briefly as a typefounder:
Indeed, would there ever have been a Laurent & de Berny foundry without Balzac’s incongruous idea to issue his own typefaces?
Seeking to remediate to the financial difficulties he was in while working as a publisher – an activity he had started in 1825 – Balzac partners with the prote André Barbier. After gathering funds from his father and Mrs Laure de Berny, he acquires in 1826 printing facilities located at 17, rue Visconti, in Paris. The following year, in July 1827, he partners with the typefounder Jean-François Laurent in order to start a type foundry. Their corporate name becomes Laurent, Balzac & Barbier.
Deberny & Peignot’s family tree from the Spécimen général des fonderies Deberny et Peignot (1935)
The Laurent, Balzac & Barbier catalogue, initially composed of typefaces cut by Jean-François Laurent, is completed in September 1827 with the acquisition of a part of the catalogue of the printer Gillé, from the Gillé Fils foundry. Balzac probably did not commission the cutting of new typefaces, the short period of his involvement preventing him to undertake such an endeavor. Indeed, increasing debts soon force Balzac to cease his activities of printer and founder. Mrs de Berny places her nineteen-year-old son, Alexandre, in Balzac’s now vacant position. This new partnership leads in April 1828 to the creation of the Laurent & de Berny foundry. The ‘Balzac Specimen’, printed after the novelist’s departure, introduces their catalogue, composed of the typefaces they acquired from several sources.
In 1848, Alexandre Deberny – who abandoned his aristocratic particle in 1830 – purchases the shares of his associate Laurent, becoming the only owner of the foundry until 1877. His management and commercial strategies come together with a social concern toward his employees. The same year, he creates the Caisse de l’Atelier, which ‘from its very onset served a definite, threefold role for its joint owners, as a credit, emergency, and pension fund.’ In 1877 Deberny partners with Charles Tuleu – his foster son and apprentice – and changes the name of the company to Deberny & Cie. After Deberny’s death on June 15, 1881, Tuleu remains the sole director of the foundry, which will keep working under the same name until 1914.
During his thirty-five years as director, Tuleu pursues the work of Deberny, completing some of his creations such as the lowercase letters of the latin series. He also contributes to enrich the foundry’s catalogue with new designs such as the Séries no. 16 and no. 18, the entire modern and latins noirs series, the Ancien Romain du Giraldon, as well as several non-Latin typefaces. On the technical side, Tuleu develops ‘notched characters, a simple idea allowing the production of remarkable, perfectly executed designs, such as the taille-douce and calligraphiques series.’
In 1914, Tuleu partners with the Fonderie Girard under the name Fonderie Tuleu & Girard. After Tuleu’s retirement in 1921, the foundry briefly changes its name into Girard & Cie, until a merger is negotiated with Charles Peignot on July 1, 1923, leading to the creation of the Fonderies Deberny & Peignot. The reappearance of Deberny’s name highlights their ‘strong family ties’ and the legacy of an ‘older house that boasts a unique collection of classical typefaces’, in association with the younger Peignot foundry, ‘specialised in modern creations.’
Série no. 16’s first cut (12 pt) from Deberny & Cie’s Livret typographique (c. 1887)
LA SÉRIE NO. 16
DES CARACTÈRES ORDINAIRES
The Série no. 16 roman and italic types are first introduced in 12 pt in a type specimen published around 1887. Série no. 16 then joins four more complete text face series: no. 10, no. 11, no. 12 and no. 15. As opposed to the more current practice, nineteenth-century foundries often used a numeral system to identify their products. In this system, the new design is straightforwardly labelled no. 16. Other typefaces in the 1889 Deberny & Cie catalogue are described by their formal attributes – weight, width, or construction (Caractères Simples-Italiques, Compactes-Italiques, Caractères Gras-Serrés, Compactes-Étroits, Compactes-Maigres, Compactes-Ordinaires, Écritures and Rondes-Autographiques), refer to a national style, a geographical zone or a historical period (Françaises, Caractères Italiens, Latines, Renaissance, Caractères Anciens) or evoke a design or production technique (Taille-Douce).
In the introduction to the specimen published by the foundry for the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, the new series of roman and italic types is referred to as caractères ordinaires no. 16. Available in five sizes (6, 8, 10, 12 and 14 pt), the series is intended for common, everyday use, equally suited to publishing and advertising works.
The didone style – originating with the work of typefounders John Baskerville, Giambattista Bodoni and Firmin Didot – is adopted in France as soon as the second-half of the eighteenth century, and by the nineteenth century its use in print was so widespread that they were referred to as ordinaire. Didones are based on pointed pen calligraphy, forming letters via expansion. When using a pointed pen, the thick parts of the letters result from a vertical movement, pulling the pen from top to bottom while applying pressure, while thin parts result from a horizontal movement. The typographic application of this process accentuates this principle through an clear orthogonal construction, a sharp contrast between thicks and thins, and teardrop terminals.
The 1828 ‘Balzac Specimen’ features several more or less contrasted didones, including large poster types. The Spécimen de caractères et ornements typographiques, published by the Maison Laurent et Deberny in 1878, also includes a dozen of didones. When released in 1887, Série no. 16 is integrated to this category, completing four other typographic series, all quite narrow and lacking any formal particularities. The structure of Série no. 16 follows the usual didone construction, thus presenting a rather sharp contrast, as well as a generous width and relatively long ascenders and descenders.
The lack of a specific name highlights the seemingly ordinary appearance of Série no. 16, depriving it of personality while associating it to a group with which it only shares a handful of formal attributes. Its author remains anonymous, hidden behind the Deberny & Cie foundry – the author of all its creations. Ordinary, utilitarian and anonymous are precisely the qualities that German typographer Jan Tschichold points out in his Neue Typographie when recommending the use of Série no. 16 (under its German commercial name, Französiche Antiqua) if no appropriate sanserif type is available:
To my mind, looking at the modern romans, it is the unpretentious work of the anonymous type-designers that have best served the spirit of their age: Sorbonne, Nordische Antiqua, Französische Antiqua, and so on. These three typefaces and their derivatives are the best designs from the pre-war period. They are easily legible; they are also above all in a technical sense useful and free from personal idiosyncrasies – in the best sense of the word, uninteresting.
However, the 1889 specimen that displays the know-how of the foundry provides the name of the staff involved in the engraving: Constant Aubert and Auguste Aubert. The engraver Faulque also contributed to the making of the 5 pt size, as noted in the first specimen dedicated to Série no. 16, published for the 1894 Exposition Universelle in Lyon, in which are added to the existing sizes the new 5, 9, 11, and 18 pt.
Although considered ordinaire, one of the most distinct feature of Série no. 16 is undoubtedly the monocular g of the roman. While the 1887 specimen did not include the traditional double-storey g, both shapes are included in the 1894 specimen, in 12 pt, on the same page and on the same line of text. In a 1910 specimen, the monocular g is also seen at 8 and 30 pt.
Série no. 16’s alternate and default g (1894)
According to Jacques André and Christian Lacou, ‘the first time a roman g appeared in such a form’ in a didone typeface was within the Types de Charles X cut by Marcellin Legrand for the Imprimerie Royale in 1832. This particular type of g had already been included in other typefaces from the Deberny & Cie catalogue – in the gros caractères ordinaires of 1878 as well as in several latin types from 1889 (the Latins-étroits cut by Aubert frères & fils and Victor Aubert’s Latins Maigres). French ophthalmologist Émile Javal advised against its use for reasons of legibility:
For the g, we shall avoid the novel form, as it is similar to the italic g, and moreover makes it look like a q from the top.
Another specificity of Série no. 16 is the treatment, in the lowercase italic, of the opening and ending strokes and the connections of the thin parts to the stems. In the italics of Série no. 16, the usually fluid, flowery and delicate calligraphic strokes of the didones is abandoned. Instead, it presents serifs similar to its roman counterpart, although thicker and shorter, that makes it look like a slanted roman, seemingly very stable. The construction of the letters is discontinuous and the connections between the stems and the shoulders of, for instance, m and n, are quite high, accentuating the x-height.
Série no. 16 roman and italic styles (30 pt) from Deberny & Peignot’s Spécimen Géneral (1926)
DIDONES, LATINES AND ELZÉVIRS
In 1889, Série no. 16 was presented as an offspring of ‘Deberny’s Didot and Latin types.’ While its construction as a didone seems clear, a number of details suggested a slight deviation from the canonical typographic model. The serifs are slimmer, and their connection with the stem softened. Curved letters, such as the lowercase o, retain an orthogonal construction, while the lowercase e displays a smoother progression between its thick and thin strokes, a feature also found on ball terminal connections in a, c, f or y. The blending of the structure of the didone model with the more recent latin style is what makes Série no. 16 really stand out from its contemporaries.
In order to associate ‘de Berny’s name to those of his illustrious predecessors, Didot and Fournier,’ Tuleu doesn’t hesitate to present his forerunner as the inventor of the latin typographic style, which first appears in 1852. In Francis Thibaudeau’s famous 1924 type classification, latin types – among the ‘considerable innovations in type creation of the nineteenth century’ – belong to a subgroup of elzevirs. In an extended version of Thibaudeau’s table printed by the Fonderie Deberny & Peignot and published by Degaast in 1933, Séries no. 16 and 18 are included in an elzevir sub-section named Didot-Elzevir.
Caractères Latins Étroits (48 pt) from Deberny & Peignot’s Spécimen Géneral (1926)
Described by Adrian Frutiger as ‘a softer kind of Didot,’ latin types deviate from the didones through a more progressive contrast between thick and thin strokes as well as through the horizontal, triangular and pointed serifs that give them their angular aspect. These shapes supposedly come from rubbings made from Roman lapidary inscriptions (the Latium is the Italian region in which Rome is located), which could also explain the fact that only uppercase characters were developed initially. Several years before the design of Deberny’s Latines Grasses, in 1846, the Lyon-based printer Louis Perrin produced the Caractères Augustaux, an adaptation of classical Roman capitals, classified as an elzevir. Latins, like the elzevirs, could be regarded ‘as an attempt of renewing typography accompanying the neo-Renaissance movement, that in the nineteenth century sought to move away from neo-classical typefaces, considered monotonous.’ These new styles emerged from a sense of fatigue – first felt by typographers, then by readers – towards the predominant use of didones through the century, now considered ‘cold and dry.’
In a period of typographic renewal in France, the commercial release of Série no. 16 appears as an improvement on the Didot style – a ‘modified didone’ – through its blending with the more recent latin style, increasing its legibility while offering real design particularities. In the wake of Deberny’s achievements, Tuleu pursued the work of his predecessor during the second half of the nineteenth century by associating two different yet complementary typographic styles. As early as 1882, signs of Tuleu’s hybridisation projects may be seen in the foundry’s tribute to Alexandre Deberny:
Typography has multiplied their use in the many different jobbing types, in order to break with the monotony stemming from the unique use of classical letters. It is not daring to say that this substitution will someday be more complete, and that ordinary types based on the same principles will replace our current types in almost every print job.
SÉRIE NO. 17
A pioneering figure in legibility studies, Émile Javal publishes his Physiologie de la lecture et de l’écriture in 1905, a historical and practical analysis of sight. Using scientific methods, Javal went as far as proposing a model for letters optimised for reading at extremely small sizes. After tracing back the history of writing in the first chapter of the book, Javal focuses on the typefaces most in use at the time. He first criticises the didones for the poor legibility caused by their extreme contrast, as well as by the frailty of their thin parts when printed in small size. He then comments on the elzevirs, blaming their heftiness as sometimes unsuitable for book typography. For the typesetting of his own book, Javal picks a typeface he deemed more legible, Série no. 17, a slightly modified version of Série no. 16.
Despite my blindness, I chose, for the printing of this volume, characters as faithful as possible to my ideas. The present type was therefore chosen from the Deberny catalogue. When cutting it, the artist took into account a large part of the recommendations I published as early as 1878.
Émile Javal, Physiologie de la lecture et de l’écriture (1905)
© Atelier National de Recherche Typographique, Nancy
In order to put his legibility principles to the test, Javal initiates a collaboration between his ophthalmology laboratory – created within the Sorbonne in 1879, and which he would manage until 1900 – and Deberny & Cie. The alterations made on Série no. 16 focus on the adjustment of the ascenders and descenders according to the size and leading values:
This is what Mr. Tuleu, the knowledgeable director of the Deberny Foundry, had understood when he created his series seventeen, which derives, in all sizes, from his series sixteen through the stretching of the ascenders.
For the quotes, Javal uses Série no. 16 in 8 pt, unleaded. Despite acknowledging the qualities of the typeface, he writes his comments on the design:
First of all, we shall mention the unleaded 8 pt body, used for the present paragraph. The only manner to properly laud its praise was to use it for the inserts of this volume. However, we should note that, for a number of details, several letters could be altered according to the previous recommendations; the serifs, already greatly different from those created by Didot, could be made more similar to Jaugeon’s or to those in the English style, the excellence of which has been demonstrated through their use. We also have noted that for the smaller typefaces of this series, the engraver has very satisfactorily increased the width of the letters and of the thickness of strokes.
For the main text, Javal uses Série no. 17 in 9 pt and leaded by 1 pt. The typeface is obtained through the reduction of Série no. 16’s descenders and the lengthening of its ascenders.
I believe we can, without much inconvenience, shorten the descenders, more so than the ascenders. The descenders are g, j, p, q, and y. Out of these five letters, there are two, p and q, that could have their tails completely removed without causing any confusion with other letters: therefore there is no inconvenience to make p and q shorter than d or b. The j or the y will bear, without deformity, a very short tail; then remains the g, which can be shortened at the price of a slight design alteration … The proposition that we made – shortening the descenders slightly more so than the ascenders, seems to present the additional advantage that, the descenders no longer being in the middle of the body height, upside-down letters will produce such an unpleasant effect that they will no longer escape the attention of the proofreader: indeed, they will stick out from the top by the double of the difference in length established for the ascenders and descenders. The 9 pt size used to compose this book has been cut following this system, the use of which we recommend since 1879.
Séries no. 16 and 17 (10 pt) from Deberny & Peignot’s Spécimen Géneral (1926).
Série no. 17’s 10 pt corresponds to Série no. 16’s 9 pt cast on a larger body to allow for the longer ascenders
Finally, a new series identified as ‘eighteen’ is used for the introduction:
The Deberny foundry accepted to make another step in the same direction. In the same way they have made a dozen of special punches for the ascenders in order to turn the 8 pt of series sixteen into the 9 pt of a new series seventeen, they are currently cutting the five punches necessary to create the 10 pt of a new series named eighteen, which only differs from series seventen’s 9 pt by the addition of 1 point to the length of the descenders of the letters g, j, p, q, and y … This typeface will be ready in due time for setting the introduction to this book.
Even though the partnership between his laboratory and the Deberny foundry ceases after Javal’s death in 1907, his research work remains of considerable interest and ‘heralds subsequent research on typographic legibility carried out later in the twentieth century.’ Série no. 17 would later be included in the Deberny & Cie catalogue – featuring in Deberny & Peignot’s 1926 Spécimen Général. The new series ‘eighteen’ would not be developed further, and its number would later be attributed to a different design which characteristics are extremely remote from Javal’s theories.
SÉRIE NO. 18
Also produced under Tuleu’s direction, ‘the series 18 from Deberny, available from 5 to 48 pt, was cut between 1901 and 1910 by Faulque, Garnier, Séverac, Parmentier, and Durand.’ While the design of Série no. 18 borrows some details from Série no. 16, it is wider and more contrasted. The italic, more fluid, is curiously ornamented with calligraphic gestures on the upper part of the capital letters, especially on B, E, F, R and T. It stands out from Série no. 16 through its translation-based construction – as opposed to expansion-based – and a more pronounced slope (21° Série no. 18’s italic against 13° for Série no. 16’s).
Série no. 18 (c. 1905) from The Encyclopaedia of Type Faces (London: Blandford Press, 1958)
Faulque had cut the 5 pt size of Série no. 16 in 1894 with Aubert Fils. The evolution of the designs and the crossbreeding of typographic forms between the different series may be partially explained by the transmission of know-how between engravers, who contributed to the production of the series in parallel of their work on completely different typefaces.
In Deberny & Peignot’s 1926 Spécimen Général, Série no. 16 and 18 are available in thirteen sizes, ranging from 5 to 36 pt for Série no. 16 and up to 48 pt for Série no. 18, thus allowing a wide range of uses. In the chapter devoted to the labeurs modernes, Série no. 18 is available in five versions with a different pitch and weight for each (numbered up to 22) while Séries no. 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16 and 17 are still filed under the caractères ordinaires category.
Séries no. 10, 11, 12, 14, 15, 16, 17 and 18
from Deberny & Peignot’s Spécimen Géneral (1926), all shown here at 11 pt (Série no. 15 is scaled up from 10 pt)
Série no. 16 would also become quite popular in Germany, where it is sold by a number of foundries under various names. The Hamburg-based foundry Genzsch & Heyse distributes Série no. 16 early on, first as Französische Antiqua from 1891 and as Fridericus Antiqua from 1923. The Woellmer foundry releases it as Parlaments in 1897 for the roman (antiqua), and around 1900 for the italic (kursiv), before reissuing it in 1925 as Bibliophile Antiqua. A specific feature to the German versions is the addition of two new weights, medium (halbfett) and bold (fett) – which would never be available in France.
Genzsch & Heyse, Halbfette Französische Antiqua (c. 1915)
Scan by Klim Type Foundry https://flic.kr/p/ehL9rE
In the early 1930s, the Hungarian inventor Edmund Uher, in partnership with the German firm MAN, founds Uhertype in Zurich in order to develop a phototypesetting technique – a process for typesetting text using photography which would achieve a significant breakthrough in the postwar era. The first Uhertype advertising pamphlet, published in 1932, is set in a special version of Série no. 16 adapted by Deberny & Peignot to the technical requirements of this new system.
Hired by Uhertype in 1933, Jan Tschichold leaves Germany for Switzerland where he works on six typefaces for the firm. After completing Uhertype Standard Grotesque, then the egyptian Ramses, Tschichold starts an adaptation of Série no. 16 the following year. Planned as a family including roman, italic and bold styles, his version also features design changes on about twenty letters. However, the financial difficulties due to the development of the new composition system and the outbreak of the Second World War would push Uhertype to cease their activities. The Uher machines would not be commercialised and Tschichold’s Série no. 16 remains incomplete.
Jan Tschichold, drawings of Série no. 16 for Uhertype (1934)
© Deutsche Nationalbibliothek Deutsches Buch- und Schriftmuseum, Leipzig
FRENCH ROUND FACE
At the time of the French release of Série no. 16, two machines manufactured in the USA revolutionised the established printing and typesetting techniques. In 1886 Mergenthaler release their Linotype machine, while the Monotype, developed by Tolbert Lanston in 1887, is commercialised from 1897 by the eponymous firm, first in the USA, then in England. The appearance of the new devices lead to the design of new typefaces or the adaptation of existing ones, including Série no. 16, which is modified for its use on both machines in 1910. Monotype distributes it as French Round Face – highlighting its origins – in 6 to 36 pt. Linotype’s J. Horace McFarland and William Dana Orcutt adapt it as No. 16 for use between 6 and 14 pt. The constraints specific to the Linotype’s duplexed matrices (in which roman and italic must share the same width) have a dramatic influence on the design of No. 16. Ascenders and descenders are shortened or, in the case of the italic f, even truncated, while the wider letters are made narrower in order to fit with the limitations imposed by the matrices. The result is a design that is more compact and less delicate than the original.
Linotype No. 16 paired with Century Bold Expanded as a bold substitute in One-Line Specimens of Linotype Faces (New York: Mergenthaler Linotype Company, 1950)
Despite the impoverishment of the original Aubert design and engraving, this adaptation for the new typesetting machines grant Série no. 16 a relative longevity. It continues indeed to be widely used, especially in France, until the end of the practice of printing with metal type. Notable examples are the books published by Jean-Jacques Pauvert, the Internationale Situationniste journal, Gallimard’s Blanche series, the Club français du livre’s Portiques collection or the Club du meilleur livre’s Astrée collection. This ubiquity contributes to its design being perceived as seemingly familiar, natural and even obvious. It is therefore paradoxical that Série no. 16 was discarded during the subsequent technological changes in printing, ultimately disappearing from the catalogues of contemporary type foundries.
Série no. 16 in use on the cover of André Breton’s Manifestes du Surréalisme (Paris: Jean-Jacques Pauvert, 1962)
In 2011 John Morgan was commissioned to work on a new edition of Gustave Flaubert’s Madame Bovary with artist Marc-Camille Chaimowicz, to be published by Four Corners Books in their Familiars series, which features artists’ responses to classic novels and short stories. Série no. 16 seemed to be a natural fit for the book, which chronicles Emma Bovary’s attempts to escape the banalities and emptiness of provincial life in nineteenth century France, here along with photographs and collages by Marc-Camille. I had started to work on a digital version of Série no. 16, based on the rougher printing often found in mid-twentieth century French books. John asked me if I could rework this version for the book as he found it too heavy and crude for the gloss stocked, oversized paperback he had in mind. Turning my attention to more reliable sources, I produced a new, much finer version based on the 11 pt size of the 1894 specimen, with some details borrowed from other samples. Despite Javal’s advice, the peculiar single-storey g was chosen as default, with the double-storey version available as an alternate. Marc-Camille and John christened the new typeface after Emma’s daughter and only child, Berthe, a quiet and progressively neglected character in the story, whose ultimate fate could somehow be seen as a mirror of Série no. 16’s.
Berthe would subsequently be expanded for other projects with a set of small caps (aligning with the x-height), oldstyle figures and several other additions. In 2017, John and Adrien invited me to release Berthe as one of the first typefaces made available through Abyme, making Série no. 16 available to use again at last.
Translated from the French by Jean-François Caro and Adrien Vasquez
Thanks to Didier Barrière, Martine Boussoussou, Richard Embray, Nelly Gable, Thomas Huot-Marchand, Elinor Jansz, Pierre-Antoine Lebel, Ole Lund, Sébastien Morlighem, Gabriele Netsch, Florence Rodriguez, Robert Tranchida and Samuel Vermeil
Berthe in use on the cover of the 2013 Four Corners Books edition of Madame Bovary, designed by John Morgan