Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Whose History of Helvetica?

I'm cheating here, by revising a test post: Following up on David's comment about finding alternative trajectories through Helvetica's history, I checked in Meggs' book (see reading list..it was once the "official" graphic design history book) to see how Helvetica was attributed; the story is a little different from Hustwit's film. Meggs states that Edouard Hoffman collaborated with Max Miedinger to upgrade Akzidenz Grotesk, resulting in a sans serif with a larger x-height than Univers, which was named Neue Haas Grotesk. "When this design was produced in Germany by D Stempel AG in 1961," writes Meggs, "the Germans shocked Hoffman by naming the face Helvetica, which is the traditional Latin name for Switzerland that appears on its postage stamps." Didn't Hoffman's son say that it was named Helvetica by the Swiss, meaning "the Swiss typeface"?
To come back to David's point, the typeface has an even deeper history, going back to William Caslon's mysterious inclusion of what we'd now call a sans serif, in a specimen book in 1816. Maybe this is the next Hustwit movie? Warring type families in gritty London amid the Industrial Revolution duke it out to outwit each other?

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