Wednesday, March 30, 2011

From the Archives no. 17—More on Helvetica in the United States

This evening at the Type Directors Club I came across a type specimen entitled helvetica (all lowercase) issued by Empire Typographers, Inc., a type house in New York City, in February 1963. It was designed by Martin Friedman, a name that is unfamiliar to me. More importantly, it stated on the inside of the front cover, “Helvetica is now being cut in display sizes. The following will be available at Empire Typographers in the Spring, 1963.” The dating of this specimen is significant since Stempel did not publicly announce Helvetica’s availability in the United States until the November/December issue of Print magazine. Was Empire the first type house in New York (and maybe the United States) to import Helvetica?

The Empire list consists of: Helvetica (Roman) 14 pt.–48 pt, Helvetica Cursive 12 pt.–24 pt, Helvetica Demi-bold (Roman) 14 pt.–72 pt and Helvetica Bold-Face (Roman) 12 pt.–72 pt. The sizes listed suggest that foundry type is being discussed, but the note on the opposite page only mentions composition type. “First imported to the United States thru [sic] Mergenthaler Linotype Company by Bernard Blatt, a well-known typographer and President of Empire Typographers of New York, Helvetica has enjoyed widespread attention. It has become an immediate favorite on the continent [sic] since its introduction by Linotype Gmbh [sic] of Germany,” it says. This seems to support the information in my book Helvetica and the New York City Subway System that Helvetica was first made available in the United States as matrices from German Linotype, two years before Mergenthaler Linotype made matrices itself and Continental Amsterdam imported foundry Helvetica from Stempel. The large sizes of the type must have been APL or All-Purpose Linotype mats designed for headline usage and available in sizes up to 144 pt.

The names of the Helvetica family members mentioned are a bit odd. The translations from the German are literal: Kursiv has become Cursive (instead of Italic) and halbfett has become Demi-bold (instead of Medium).

Dear Paul, the literal translation of »halbfett« would be medium or semi-bold, but in terms of weight and design it rather equates a bold style (comp. NHG/Helvetica).

I am looking forward to further research at the TDC library to see if there are any other dated type specimens of Helvetica, Akzidenz Grotesk or Standard.

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