The addition of graphic effects to typefaces was one of the most popular fashions of the nineteenth century, with the most common being the shaded form. Examples can be found of shaded moderns, shaded fat faces, shaded Egyptians, shaded Italians, shaded Clarendons, shaded Tuscans and, of course, shaded sans. Fashionable throughout this period, they largely disappeared from the typographic landscape, but their simple graphic qualities offer much potential today.
Where shaded typefaces came from is a matter of conjecture. Was it simply copying the effect one would observe when letters are three dimensional in manufacturing, perhaps like a shop front? Or were they created from the imagination of an engraver or draughtsman? And when did they first appear in type? Certainly, the forms can be found before the nineteenth century, though the proliferation during this time makes us most commonly associate them with this era. Simple in effect, they involve a simple black line around a white letter and then a black shadow, which gives the appearance of raising the letter off the page, giving it a faux three-dimensional quality.
Made in the age of letterpress, shaded forms now benefit greatly from the possibilities of contemporary production and reproduction. Making them in digital form is quicker and easier than cutting them in metal (think of making these letters in six point). Though multiple-coloured type specimens can be found in the nineteeth century, the faces made by the foundries in metal were monochrome affairs. Today, they can be easily multicoloured at any size.
The five faces shown here represent how shading could be applied to a variety of letterforms in the first half of the century; from the emphatic slab with deep and mighty shading, to a more delicate weight of shadow; from a lighter sans, to the powerful condensed serifless form.
The first shaded letters of the nineteenth century were shaded versions of the heavier weights of the modern, and fat faces both in roman and in italic (shaded versions often include the swash forms). Almost exclusively in capital-only form, they started a fashion that was followed by the majority of type foundries, from the smallest text sizes through to large display sizes (and beyond, into wood type).Nicolete Gray lists an example of the lower case shaded letter from 1809 from Bower, Bacon and Bower in the Columbia University Library collection, which can no longer be located. Slabs became fashionable, starting with Figgins in 1815, and shaded versions began to appear by the 1820s, almost exclusively by the Caslon foundry. The robust and dominant quality of the Egyptian form makes it ideal for lettering on buildings (particularly in the extruded form), and it’s easy to imagine how this would have influenced the typefounders. The form is remarkably simple: take an Egyptian and add an outline, then a shadow descending to the lower right. (Was this because this would indicate the natural order of reading to the right and always downwards?) The depth of the shadow is approximately the depth of the slab serif.
Caslon Antique Shaded is based on the smoke proofs and punches held at St Bride, particularly the Two Line Bourgeois (18 point, it is one of five set of punches that survive). This is a compromise between the designs made for large sizes (some were up to 144 points) and the smallest (down to 10 point); the outline around the letters gets lighter as the size increases. The internal letter shapes are similar to the non-shaded forms, but in parts, the internal counters (such as in the A and R) are reduced in size as though the whiteness of the inner letter is the most important part of the character. The smoke proofs show how limited the character set cut in the nineteenth century was; capitals and some basic punctuation, but lacking numerals and many characters necessary today, even missing the lowercase. Caslon later (it appears in specimens in the 1830s, and disappears by the 1860s) made one size of Antique Shaded with a lowercase, but the only letters that are shown are Gin. The large number of examples of non-shaded slabs by Caslon make it easy to imagine how the rest of the lowercase and other characters would look. With such a deep and wide shadow, the spacing of the letters must be loose to avoid the clashing of characters.
In the 1840s, Caslon added a second variant, one where a second level of shading, a lined filigree effect, would appear beneath the main level of shading. Cut in several sizes, they remained in the specimens until the 1870s (like the original form), but disappeared from the specimens by the 1880s.
One of Commercial Classics’ releases is Thorowgood Grotesque, a bold condensed sans that first appears in specimens in 1834. In the following year, Thorowgood showed his first shaded Grotesques.
Thorowgood Grotesque Outline (which is the shaded variant of Two Lines Small Pica Grotesque) is a condensed form with a relatively shallow shadow; the depth of shadow is about three and a half times the depth of the outline (to compare, Caslon Antique Shaded is nearly eight times the depth). The shadow is to the lower right, but does not have the bevelled angle that Caslon Antique Shaded has, creating a different effect in that it is less pronounced in its three dimensions, a more gentle raise from the surface of the page. The form of the letters, like most of Thorowgood’s early Grotesques, are condensed, characterful, and full of charm; the G lacking the cross bar, or the tail of the R angling with a taper in the stroke and a flat-pointed end. The numerals are unusual: for example, in the six and nine where one would expect a tail that would curve down to create a closed form, they instead taper to a flat horizontal end from a round oval-like form. This is a form that has not reached its fully mature style. The square flat-sided form allows tighter setting, but it is not excessively condensed, so the counters are relatively large and open.
Thorowgood and his successor, Robert Besley, continued to show this face and several other shaded sans in the following years, but by the 1860s the Two Lines Small Pica Grotesque disappears from specimens.
Type foundries have always imitated the fashionable styles of hand lettering and writing, whether it be Gutenberg’s blackletter or the Copperplate-style forms that appear in specimens from the eighteenth century onwards. During the nineteenth century one of the most popular lettering forms was the style used by engravers found at the bottom of a print or on a name card.Blake and Stephenson’s specimen sets several titles of grand houses, ruins, and picturesque views which one could imagine an engraving being made: Haileybury College, Hertfordshire; Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire; Roslin Castle, Scotland; Lanercost Priory, Cumberland. The foundries soon copied these styles, two examples being Blake and Stephenson Shaded and Caslon Doric Outline. They are simple sans forms, with a shallow outline which increases slightly to the bottom right. In the case of Caslon Doric Outline, it is almost a whisper. It lifts the letter gently off the page, but with less definition than other shaded typefaces. Their being cut at smaller sizes suggests that they would be used to replace the hand engravers work.
The form first appeared in the 1830s; Figgins, as well as Blake and Stephenson, show the style in specimens dated 1832. The effect would be popular for the next 20 or so years, appearing in specimens of the 1850s, but gradually decreasing in number in the second half of the century, and virtually unknown in the following century. Gill Shadow Titling, which is perhaps most like this form, has a deeper and proper shadow at an angle. The form that Blake and Stephenson entitled Sans Surryphs (shown only in Two Line Nonpareil in the 1832 specimen) is a simple sans all-caps form. It has similar form and weight in the inner shapes to Caslon’s IV original style (which would appear in the same 1832 specimen), with an analogous geometric O and C with flat terminals. The R has a curved tail, with the S having the open angled terminal. The stroke is light, and the shadow is less than double the weight. By 1839 the foundry had four sizes of the shaded, as well as the corresponding filled form.
Caslon’s Doric Outline come from a later period, showing up in Henry Caslon’s specimens from the early 1840s. A wider than normal sans, they are one of the first extended sans, a form that the foundry would increasingly show in the following two decades. The weight of the letter is bold and well-considered with an obvious variation in stroke. The G is without a crossbar; the S has tails that lighten noticeably to a flat horizontal terminal that almost enclose on themselves. The Q has a straight tail, which would have been easier to cut than the rounded form that Blake and Stephenson used. The outline is almost monolinear, with just a slight hint of weight variation which makes the effect very discreet.
Though both foundries would expand their ranges of sans serifs in the latter part of the nineteenth century, neither of these designs would seem to have been classified as part of a larger family, whether they be Sans Surryphs or Doric. Neither form seems to have survived into specimens of the last decades of the nineteenth century.
The condensed sans form popularised in the 1830s was an ideal model for a shaded form. The robust and compact letters combine easily and make distinct shapes. Thorowgood’s first shaded sans was followed by another distinctive version before 1840, where the letters are more typical of the contemporary sans style and have a deeper and more obvious shadow. This version was later copied by Figgins, and would continue to be cast into the twentieth century by Stephenson Blake. Caslon and Catherwood during the same period released a similar form (made before 1839), Four-Line Condensed Shaded (Caslon used the description Condensed at this time to describe the condensed sans form alone) which is heavier in weight and bolder in style, with a strong and definite outline, and a heavy shadow that is deeper rather than wider. The white inner letter is flat-sided, which is virtually identical in form to the same size Four-Line Condensed, No. 1. What is curious is that only one size (of what looks to our eyes a successful design) was made compared to the multiple sizes of shaded slabs Caslon produced. By the 1880s the style seems to have fallen out of favour (as did the shaded slab) and no longer appears in Caslon specimens.
In the middle of the century, Figgins introduced an additional form of the style, where the inner letter appears to have been embossed into the top of the raised form; a second shadow is now cast to the left of the letter, which gives the impression of a letter pushed into the surface. It reflects how complex a style of letter could be made based upon a series of relatively simple design choices; a sans serif letter, condensed, with two levels of shading. Was it the time and effort that it took to make the reason only one size (Two Line Long Primer, 20 point) was cast? It seems strange that such a relatively small size was chosen—Caslon’s variant seems to work well at its size, but Figgins design surely would have benefitted from a larger size? It would be easier to print and the cleverness of its double shadow would be most apparent. Figgins did continue to show several shaded sans into the latter part of the nineteenth century, but this style seems to have disappeared as quickly as it appeared.
The shaded letter was a one of the dominant styles shown in the specimens of the nineteenth century British typefounder. This simple effect was an easy way of increasing the usefulness of a style, and was applied to all of the innovations of the time. By the end of the century, the shadow was one of several effects the engraver had at his disposal and they were increasingly mixed as letterforms took on greater and greater novelty. For example, we find the notorious ‘wood’ letter, literally letters formed of log like shapes, and then a filled or outline shadow is formed below to raise the letter off the page. Yet by the following century, the shaded form would be one of the main casualties of changing taste. The British foundries would cleanse their specimens of the style; the idea of a fake shadow would be one of many innovations that would now seem to be a rather outmoded trick.