History of Lettering

Signore Giambattista Bodoni, Justus Erich Walbaum and Dr Giovanni Mardersteig

The relationship between the first and last named is that of an enthusiast who gained prominence through fine printing using the original matrices of the Italian type founder – known as ‘The King of typographers and the Typographer of Kings’ (for good reason: he was printer to Carlos III of Spain and received pensions from, among others, Napoleon. [Updike has a beautiful footnote in Printing Types (2nd ed), p168 that’s too long to quote here but for those with a copy near to hand deserves a read and a chuckle.] As for the grumpy German (my emotive), well he was active the same time as Bodoni and introduced a similar ‘Modern’ face with the thin serifs etc.

Mardersteig (born a Swiss) came across the Walbaum types in Leipzig and said; ‘My discovery that Walbaum originally stemmed from Bodoni…strengthened my conviction that it would be best to reach back to Bodoni and choose his type for my future press. A good recutting at that time did not exist’ (The Officina Bodoni, 1978, British Library, p16).

Life has moved on since then, with faces cut and recut like a hairdresser remodelling a style that needs to be tinkered with to fit in with modern taste. Stan Morison had a go back in the 1930s with Bodoni, producing what Updike called a ‘composite’ (p235).

The illustration of the face shown here is from the Bauer type foundry, which, according to Jan Tschichold (Treasury of Alphabets and Lettering, English language edition, 1985, p232) ‘…is the best and most faithful interpretation of Bodoni available’. These are contrasted with those from Monotype, of both ‘Bodoni’ and ‘Walbaum’.

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