Of all the forms most suited to being condensed, the sans is the easiest and most obvious. In the early part of the 1830s, all of the British foundries introduced the form. Thorowgood made one size with a delightfully expressive lowercase in 1834. Expanded from the original with additional weights and a matching italic, it is both impactful with a slightly unexpected, appealing character.
Simple in style and confident in form, the condensed sans serif was immediately popular with printers. The need to make letters as big as possible within the minimum amount of space resulted in the development of the condensed style, and the sans serif offered scope for hugely successful bold variants. The lack of serifs and smaller inner counters allowed letters to be closely spaced, creating a great mass of black that stood out in print. The first examples appeared over 180 years ago, yet remain a typographic constant. The popularity of faces, such as Druk, show their continuing appeal, as they are often both anonymous yet beloved for their graphic utility and qualities.
Thorowgood’s Seven-line Grotesque, cut c. 1834 (its first appearance in a specimen is that year, and it does not appear in the specimen dated 1830), was one of the first condensed sans serif typefaces, and one of the first known with a lowercase.Sara Soskolne’s research into sans serif typefaces has led to many new discoveries: for example, the appearance of lowercase sans typefaces in the United States at the same time as Thorowgood. Watch ‘Grotesque The Birth of The Modern Sans Serif in The Types of The Nineteenth Century’ As she states the history of sans has been mainly written from an Anglo centric point of view, and new discoveries challenge many of these assumptions. This is also the first recorded use of the term Grotesque, which would become a popular name for sans typefaces in the UK and in Germany. The type was copied and Thorowgood’s Grotesque and Egyptians appeared in specimens by 1835 in Prague, in what is now the Czech Republic.
As a pioneer of the style, it has an noticeable individuality, the result one presumes of the engravers trying to resolve certain problems of how best to shape the letter. Cut in only one size, Seven Lines (84 point), the specimen shows only the words BRIDGENORTH and Communicate: 12 capital letters and 9 lowercase letters. Many of these letters seem typical of later condensed forms; for example, the flat-sided capital O and the typically flat-sided vertical tail of the R. The capital G with its lack of crossbar is also typical of the time. The lowercase has a large x-height; the external shapes are gently rounded, but the internal counters are completely flat. The c and e have greater variation in weight than normal, and the a with its large bowl, unusual counter, and a tail with a simple straight form (like the lowercase t) is not at all what we expect. The figures that are shown in a subsequent specimen are curious and seem to fit poorly with the other letters. They are wider, rounder, and much lighter in places than the rest of the face. The spacing is tight, narrower than the internal counter widths. Later specimens show additional characters, and further sizes of a similar style of letter in uppercase, offering clues as to how the complete alphabet would have looked. Thorowgood’s condensed Egyptians offer similar clues: the unusual a in the sans, for example, can also be found in the slab forms, which suggests the same engraver was responsible for many of these designs. One of these, Thorowgood’s Twelve-line Condensed Egyptian, has survived as type at St Bride, offering further clues to the possible appearance of the rest of the Grotesque lowercase.
The pioneering nature of the lowercase sans form seems to have had little influence on the other British foundries. While all-capital versions of the condensed and regular sans styles are common, the lowercase is absent until the next wave of innovations from Germany and from across the Atlantic in the 1850s. Reed and Fox, successors to Thorowgood at the Fann Street Foundry, show a range of regular-width sans with lowercase in 1874, the same year as Austin Wood & Co introduce a new range of condensed sans with lowercase.Several sans appear in specimens of an earlier date, but in naming and style they appear to be imports.
Though the roman form was widely adopted, italic condensed sans (or any kind of italic for sans) were a rarity. The first appears in a Caslon specimen (all capitals) in two sizes in 1834, but disappears by the 1850s. The dramatic angle is steeper than one would expect and creates a powerful impression. In 1870, Caslon introduced a light condensed form with a lowercase, but it appears as a single style, for there is no roman with a lowercase, let alone a condensed light variant. This must have had some influence, as Reed and Fox produced a similar typeface in 1872, two years before they released a roman (regular width) version. So the matched italic that has been designed has little precedent in history.
The condensed Egyptian form that Thorowgood introduced in 1832 brought a new development to the style: a curvature of the join between stroke and serif. It is not a Clarendon-like form, as the contrast has not been increased, but the rounding gives a softer appearance than that of a regular Egyptian or Grotesque. The external form is rounded in both upper- and lowercase, whereas the inner forms are flat-sided. In proportion and spacing, the Egyptian is similar to the Grotesque. These early condensed forms would disappear from the specimens by the 1860s; the large sizes (the largest is Twenty-Five-Lines, approximately 300 point) indicate that expense and convenience would prompt their replacement in a printer’s arsenal with wood letters. No example in Britain seems to exist of a condensed italic variant of the Egyptian form during the nineteenth century. The contemporary versions draw on a mixture of sources: the few contemporary Egyptian italics, the modern Thorowgood Grotesque’s italic (they share the same angle), but also to the designers experiences in making many of the Commercial Classics typefaces.
The idea of condensing forms, such as the Sans or the Egyptian, show a response from typefounders to the problems of printers trying to make words as big as possible within limited space. After making letters as bold as could be during the first three decades of the nineteenth century, making letters as big as they could be was the next innovation that resonates with us even today.
Two more themes of typefounding in the nineteenth century that still ring true today are economy in manufacture and inventiveness of form. Foundries always sought the cheapest way to increase the popularity and longevity of their faces. In the nineteenth century, one method was adding simple effects to preexisting designs to create new forms. For example, this can be seen in the engraving of an inline into Caslon Rounded to create Caslon Rounded Inline, offering a new face and increasing the popularity and life span of the style.
The basic inline effect was added to lettersBoth serif roman and italic, but also the blackletter form popular for newspaper title pieces before the nineteenth centuryYou can find examples in the specimens of Fry and Caslon in the eighteenth century and across Continental Europe earlier., but it appears with the most regularity during the early nineteenth century. The effect lightens the form and adds a degree of dimensionality. As faces grow heavier and heavier toward the fat face, it offers relief from the sheer density of form. The inline is normally a single line added to the left vertical of the form, but inlines on the lower horizontal strokes and on the right can also be found, as well as the use of multiple lines. As new forms appeared, like slab serifs, they also were given this modification.
In the 1830s, the inline appeared in condensed sans faces from both Thorowgood and Blake & Stephenson. By this time, the clean and elementary inline was increasingly being usurped by more intricate effects such as drop shadows, hatching, and ornamentation. Often, these would be combined together and frequently obscured the most fundamental qualities of the letterforms. The inline in the sans letter is a quieter affair, offering a lighter alternative to the solid, heavy form.
Thorowgood’s Seven Line Grotesque Open, which appears in the specimens post-1837, seems to be the addition of an inline to the solid Seven Line Grotesque. The inline is cut to the left of the vertical stroke, but also appears at the bottom of the horizontal bars of the E and T. How the inline was applied is a matter of conjecture. Seven Line is 84 point in size, which the British foundries could have made by the traditional method of punch and matrix, but also from the sanspareil matrix where no punch would have existed. To cut such a fine line in the original punch of the Seven Line Grotesque (if this was how it was produced) would be possible, but this would lose the original inline-free punch. Such a delicate line made in a sanspareil matrix would have been a fiddly operation and unlikely, which suggests that this was made by making an almost exact copy of the original in a steel punch, then adding the inline effect. This style is the model for Thorowgood Grotesque Open, an adaptation of Thorowgood Grotesque. In addition to the roman, an italic was added, which has no precursor in the British specimen books.
The pleasure of reinventing forms can be seen in Thorowgood Grotesque Dimensional. The effect here is to give the simple all-capital sans an appearance of real dimensionality by having a triangularly-raised bevel at the centre of the form and giving it an effect of being lit from the upper-left. This optical effect is created by a highlight at the centre, caused by increasingly thick negative lines being cut into the form. A solid line shows where the bevel would be be. The lower-right of the stroke is filled, with the only negative space being a small line to indicate the opposite bevel. This gives the impression of letters that were made by a manufacturer for letters above a storefront, a common sight at this time.
This effect did not originate with Thorowgood, but with Blake & Stephenson in Sheffield as Ten Lines Sans Surryphs Ornamented, and appears in their specimens in the late 1830s. Cut in one size only, it shines out from the specimens, and is best known from its appearance in Nicolete Gray’s Nineteenth Century Ornamented Type. Although named as Ornamented, the use of Dimensional seems a more appropriate title, as the effect is hardly what we would consider ornamentation today.
Despite extensive research, it is difficult to understand exactly how this type was made. A punch of 120 point is of course possible, but driving it into copper would have be a difficult task and one typefounders would have wanted to avoid. Such detail in a sanspareil matrix would be highly impractical and thus unfeasible. It's most likely that they were made by producing a wooden pattern that was then ‘dabbed’, a process where it was carefully pressed into near-solid metal to form a matrix, from which type was cast. This was the method that Pouchée had employed for his famed ornamented letters and was in use by other foundries, such as Wood and Sharwoods, at this time.
With all the time and effort that went into the face, its success was limited if judged by its appearance in print. It can be found in few examples of playbills in the British Library and in Birmingham Public Library, and used by only single printers in Birmingham and Nottingham. It appears only in specimens from this time, then disappears from sight for the rest of the century. Other less elaborate faces that emulate the idea of dimensionality appear both in metal and wood, but they do not capture the sheer exuberance and joy of this example.
During the latter half of the twentieth century, a version appears in the specimen of the Conway Phototypesetting company, as well as various other setting companies on both sides of the Atlantic. On closer inspection, it copies the effect from the Ten Lines Sans Surryphs Ornamented like Thorowgood Grotesque Dimensional, but not the letters themselves. The quality and overall impression is not of the same standard as the original. It is tempting to think that the model for it was the sample shown in the first edition of Gray’s Nineteenth Century Ornamented Type. In this edition, the illustrations of type in the book were not photographically reproduced, but traced by hand from the original specimens from which the blocks were made. This would make the variant from the latter-twentieth century a copy of a copy of the original.
Compared to the radical development of new forms such as the slab or Italian, the addition of inlines or even the complexity of dimensionality to preexisting styles seems less adventurous and challenging. However, they show the continual pattern of typefounders reinventing form through both simple and complicated modifications, often copying from the lettering that surrounded them. Thorowgood Grotesque Open and Dimensional follows these models, offering new variants of existing designs to modern designers.