It’s interesting to note that the earliest appearance of Grecian, in the 1840s, was in a condensed form. The full face version that inspired Hoefler & Frere-Jones’ steroidal Knox didn’t show up until nearly twenty years later.
A side by side comparison of two F’s – both came in a single case of type purchased last year from an eBay seller – illustrates how slight changes to a letterform can dramatically alter its presence. The character on the right has an elongated upper arm and a thinner central arm (or crossbar) with the addition of unbracketed serifs. These seemingly minor design changes make this F appear narrower and more refined.
Last night I installed a small show at Alchemy. Lauren helped me hang twelve new prints, plus two completed last year. The main attraction of the show, entitled Hyperbole For Sale, is the immense “Super, Extra, Ultra, Mega!” At 19.75 x 27.5 inches, it’s easily the largest print I’ve made, and it was only possible because of the fabulous Vandercook SP20 at the Book Arts Studio.
Super, Extra, Ultra, Mega! on press
The first line is 30 line Grecian Condensed; second is 20 line French Clarendon; Ultra is set in 24 line Gothic X Condensed (the only type used for this piece not from my collection); and last but not least is 15 line Antique Tuscan.
Printing on the SP20, photo courtesy Lauren Huber
30 line Grecian Condensed
This capital X was carved – mostly by hand, though some of the markings seem to indicate the assistance of a drill bit – into the bottom of the capital K shown in yesterdays post. It makes sense that a knowledgeable printer/typographer would use the K to cut an additional X. The letters share similar strokes and character widths, and both are among the most infrequently used letters in the english language. The unfinished end grain produces a very rough, but not unappealing, print.
30 line (5 inches) Grecian Condensed
Without any chamfered corners, and removed from the context of the rest of the font, this Grecian Condensed K is nearly indistinguishable from its ancestral Antique design. Before this post I hadn’t really noticed the sharp contrast in weight between the arm and leg of this character – for some reason it’s more noticeable in the picture than in the proof. This end grain block is from the same font shown on January 25 (capital P).
20 line Grecian Condensed
I’m fascinated with the slight descent of the center arm of this 3, and with the half-diamond removed from the main stem to create a juncture leading the eye into the middle of the character, reinforcing the figure-ground relationship. The chamfered terminal of the central arm echos the angles of the juncture, creating a perfect call and response to the exterior perimeter of the number. This twenty line font is more complete than the thirty line Grecian Condensed shown on January 25, but unfortunately no manufacturer’s imprint.
30 line (5 inches!) Grecian Condensed
“Grecian was one of the significant poster faces of the [nineteenth] century,” wrote Rob Roy Kelly. Not bad for a design that Nicolete Gray described as “founded on the simple idea of taking the corner off the letter.”¹ Derived from the Antiques, Grecian shares the same heavy unbracketed serifs, but is differentiated by chamfered sides and square/rectangular counters. The earliest wood versions of Grecian (it first appeared in specimens of the English type foundries in the 1840s) were shown in the 1846 wood type catalog of Wells and Webb. Early versions, including Condensed, Extra Condensed, and X Condensed Open were designed without lowercase. My font is capitals only – plus two exclamation points. Unfortunately, no manufacturer’s stamp is present.
¹ Nicolete Gray, Nineteenth Century Ornamented Typefaces, 1976