Christopher Wakeling, Sabon: Tschichold & Hochuli

During a conference in June 2022 concerning the type specimens held at the Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin, multiple speakers noted that letterpress typefaces were never printed so well as in the specimens their typefoundries made to advertise them. However, by the time German Linotype, German Monotype, and the D Stempel AG published Sabon – Jan Tschichold’s Garamond/Granjon-style typeface – letterpress printing’s commercial era in Europe was coming to a close. Linotype was already transitioning to manufacturing phototypesetting machinery, and the H Berthold AG in Berlin, Stempel’s chief West German competitor for handset type, was doing the same. Whereas Linotype and Stempel were still producing visually exciting brochures for typefaces like Optima and Helvetica a few years earlier, the promotional materials for Sabon were shorter in length and much more subdued in design. They were still well-composed and printed, but they are not the best examples of the types brought onto the page.

Christopher Wakeling’s large-format publication on Sabon, printed and bound at his Corvus Works in 2021, is a much better introduction to the typeface. With a height of almost 39 cm, the hard-cover volume barely fits onto my shelves. Nevertheless, the large page-size provides him with sufficient space to generously display what Sabon looks like, including texts set at the large size of 36D, and a small amount at 48D. In the book, Stempel’s fonts are joined by several sizes of Monotype’s hot-metal Sabon. Wakeling could only have conceivably expanded the project by including texts set on a Linotype machine. The 1950–60s artistic direction at Stempel or Monotype could not have prepared layouts presenting multiple sizes of the Sabon design in a better light. Let us also remember that assembling physical fonts is more costly than licensing their computerised descendants today; Stempel’s Hausdruckerei, effectively a publicity department, never had to buy its own type. Collecting all the sizes of Stempel’s Sabon-Antiqua and most sizes of Sabon-Kursiv was an undertaking that must have taken a great deal of time and expense.

It is not just the quality composition and presswork that makes me think of type specimens when I turn the pages of Wakeling’s book. Nor is it the different tones of paper used or the broad range of sizes and versions employed. Instead, the most specimen-like attributes of the volume are the texts included about Sabon’s design. Indeed, it has more testimonials for Sabon than any Sabon or Sabon Next specimen has yet provided; and the Linotype Library’s 2002 brochure for Jean François Porchez’s Sabon Next typeface was a thorough piece of work. For instance, Wakeling’s book includes Jan Tschichold’s 1967 essay ‘The Life and Importance of the Typefounder Jacob Sabon’ translated into English for the first time, as well as Jost Hochuli’s 1969 essay, ‘Sabon-Antiqua: A New Typeface by Jan Tschichold’, also debuting in an English translation. Reprinted endorsements of Sabon by British typographers appear as well, including a paragraph from a 1982 exhibition catalogue, written by the German typographer Kurt Weidemann and translated by Ruari McLean. There is also a translation of a 1967 letter from Stempel chairman Walter Cunz to Hans Schmoller, and a portion of Porchez’s essay for Sabon Next, ‘On the Shoulders of The Giants’, is quoted in three languages.

As a term, ‘Sabon’ was used in German printing for centuries to describe a range of large-sized type; approximately 60–84 point (D). Similarly, Dutch, French, and German printers often referred to types around 10 point (D) size as ‘Garamond’ in honour of the 16th-century French punch-cutter Claude Garamond. Jacob (Jacques) Sabon was another 16th-century French punchcutter. He came to work at the Egenolff family’s printing house in Frankfurt am Main. After Sabon married Christian Egenolff’s grand-daughter Judith, the family printing house was divided between several heirs. The printing house’s foundry became an independent business run by Sabon. Tschichold credited Sabon with acquiring the foundry’s matrices of types cut by Garamond and Granjon. After Sabon died in 1580, Judith married Conrad Berner, and the Egenolff-Sabon typefoundry remained in business (it would not close until 1810). Berner’s famous specimen sheet of 1592, displaying types from Garamond, Granjon, Sabon, and Pierre Haultin, later served as a model for several 20th-century ‘Garamond’ revivals, including Stempel Garamond, Sabon, and Adobe Garamond. During the first half of the 20th century, Gustav Mori, an employee at Stempel, produced a series of works on the Egenolff-Sabon foundry’s history. That Frankfurt typefoundry might better be called Egenolff-Sabon-Berner-Luther-Berner, based on all the families it passed through. Mori also prepared facsimiles of its specimen sheets for publication.

In the early 1960s, when it was decided that a new Garamond should be produced for Linotype and Monotype composition – and in foundry-type fonts for handsetting – Stempel commissioned Jan Tschichold to provide the design. Sabon, the name for the typeface, was suggested by Monotype’s Stanley Morison. What were the perceived benefits of a cross-platform typeface? Two of the most widely-used 20th-century Garamond revivals were ATF Garamond and Monotype Garamond, but neither was based on Claude Garamond’s work. Instead, they reinterpreted types from a 17th-century punchcutter named Jean Jannon, misattributed to Garamond during the 19th century. ATF Garamond for handsetting and Monotype Garamond for hot-metal composition could yield similar but not exactly the same results. Monotype Garamond was not available on line-casting machines. And while Stempel Garamond had been used for both Linotype composition and handsetting since the 1920s, it had no Monotype counterpart.

Foundry fonts made for handsetting could include kerns, and the Monotype machine also enabled kerned texts. Letterforms cast by a Linotype machine did not allow kerning of any kind, which had direct consequences for type designers. They usually made letters like the lowercase ‘f’ narrow, even in italic types. Monotype-casting required type designs to take a width system into account. Each width could only be used a limited number of times across a font, so some letters inevitably had to be made one unit wider or narrower than their designers would have preferred. These conflicting requirements kept many text-composition typefaces from being made available in every medium, but German typefoundries before the 1960s had also been very reluctant to collaborate with Monotype, as printers could use Monotype technology to cast complete fonts of type to replenish their type cases – a worrisome practice for the typefounding business. Despite design, technological, and licensing issues, Sabon was not the only typeface simultaneously released by multiple companies during the 1960s. For instance, the artistic director at the H Berthold AG, Günter Gerhard Lange, designed a typeface called Concorde that was initially made available for handsetting and phototypesetting on Berthold’s machines. Harris Intertype also produced Lino-type-compatible line-casting matrices for Concorde. Concorde fonts could be procured for their phototypesetting machines as well.

Wakeling’s book does not deconstruct the mythology that Jan Tschichold created for himself, which has persisted in varying degrees since he died in 1974. However, Wakeling does quote from a 1972 letter Tschichold sent to Rudolf Hostettler, in which Tschichold ‘doubts as to whether [Wolfgang Weingart was] in his right mind’, which is a delicious historical titbit as well as an insight into Tschichold’s personality. If Parenthesis readers want more, I would direct the curious to two publications Jost Hochuli has prepared in the last decade: Tschicholds Faszikel and Tschichold in St. Gallen. Each offers a more nuanced view of Tschichold as a designer and a personality. I also enjoyed Žiga Testen’s ‘Jan Tschichold, A Portrait: The Master Approving of His Own Work’, published in the 23rd issue of Revue Faire. Neither Stempel in the 1960s nor Wakeling’s book compares Sabon, or Tschichold’s use of it, to the radical New Typography that Tschichold propagated during the 1920s–30s. One could be forgiven for assuming there were two divergent typographers awkwardly sharing the name ‘Jan Tschichold’ in the 20th century.

Wakeling uses tipped-in photographs to good effect. They show fonts of the type, matrices from which the letters were cast, a sort in a casting machine, set-width cards that would have been consulted during the casting process, and a well-annotated Sabon specimen cover. Wakeling’s Sabon: Tschichold & Hochuli is recommended to anyone who admires Jan Tschichold’s late-period works, and to all who appreciate letterpress type and fine printing. The book reminds us of how letterpress typefaces were made and promoted in Western Europe even during the late 1960s. The internationalism of the Sabon project was unusual, even for that time, and Wakeling’s book provides good evidence of that.