The Gift of Typography

jensong-giftWe lately herald our digital culture with much pride; well deserved, it is a  significant achievement. I recently saw The Imitation Game, a film which will give you a great appreciation for the dawn of our data-driven age. But there is another powerful and under-appreciated media, and it’s right under your nose every day.

That marvel of human ingenuity would be roman typography: a standardized letterform for written European language. A mere 550 years ago, all of your books and papers were hand-scribed in precise blackletter calligraphy by highly skilled scribes. The first printed books including Gutenburg’s bible were printed with blackletter fonts that mimicked the blackletter style.

Biblia latina, with handwritten Lombardic capitals in red & blue. Rome: Sweynheym & Pannartz, 1471. Image courtesy of Austrian National Library

The first known Bible printed in roman type is at left, from 1471. Not until early in the 16th century when the Reformation took hold were roman-print Bibles produced in any quantity.

‘Roman’ type is the first font family designed specifically for printing technology. It was derived from the inscriptions on Roman architecture, and, with the development of lowercase letterforms and refinements for readability, became the alphabet we consume today, and take for granted as written language.

So this holiday season, if you read the Holy Bible (or anything for that matter!) take a moment to appreciate the futurists of the 1400s who brought us the printed book. They laid the groundwork for your Kindle and this very blog.

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