I think it is generally agreed that picture writing was the beginning of our lettering.  You might wish to communicate something to someone at a distance.  If you have no letters or none common both to you & your correspondent, what else can you do but draw a picture? — The language of pictures is common to all.  After a time your pictures are used to signify words and not simply things, and as the system develops and communications become more precise, the pictures become simpler and simpler, more & more conventional, and they come to signify single sounds rather than whole words. And the pictures, by now, have ceased to be pictures.  They are, by now, hardly recognizable as representations of things: they are conventional signs, & their pictorial origin is forgotten.  (Eric Gill, 1931)

The old typography both in feeling and in form was adapted to the needs of its readers, who had plenty of time to read line by line in a leisurely manner. For them, function could not yet play any significant role. For this reason the old typography concerned itself less with function than with what was called “beauty” or “art”.

The essence of the New typography is clarity. This puts it into deliberate opposition to the old typography (whose aim was “beauty” and) whose clarity did not attain the high level we require today. This utmost clarity is necessary today because of the manifold claims for our attention made by the extraordinary amount of print, which demands the greatest economy of expression.

(Jan Tschichold, 1928)

A tension between tradition and modernity was integral to two twentieth-century debates in German design. (Christopher Burke, 1998)


Gustav Vasa's Bible, 1541

LETRA GÓTICA DE FRACTURA Modalidade de letra gótica estreita e pontiaguda com quebras nas linhas. É uma síntese dos tipos usados no século XV e foi utilizada na Alemanha até aos finais da Segunda Guerra Mundial, época em que foi posta de parte. (Maria Faria e Maria Pericão, 2008)

A typographer of today faced with the task of setting a grammar in roman would have only three kinds of type at his disposal, namely roman, italic and small caps. (…) Had the grammar book been set in roman, the Latin words would not stand out as they do. Setting a grammar book is a difficult task indeed. As long as we continue to deny ourselves the use of Fraktur, we simply cannot do as good a job as a typesetter of the eighteenth century.

The sanserif only seems to be the simpler script. It is a form that was violently reduced for little children. For adults it is more difficult to read than serifed roman type, whose serifs were never meant to be ornamental.

It is a pity that Fraktur, then and now, is being fought tooth and nail on the one side and praised on the other, with both sides using arguments that are irrelevant; nobody speaks of the very special aptness of Fraktur and Schwabacher for the long words so frequent in German orthography, of the space-saving compactness, of the unique shape, which has its roots in specifically German and transalpine line art.

This once again demonstrates that we lost a treasure when we lost Fraktur

(Jan Tschichold, 1975)

Gill, Eric. 1931. An Essay on Typography. London: Sheed and Ward

Tschichold, Jan. (1995). The New Typography: a Handbook for Modern Designers. Berkeley, University of California Press Original edition, 1928.

Burke, Christopher.  1998. Paul Renner The Art of Typography.

Faria, Maria Isabel; Maria da Graça Pericão. 2008. Dicionário do Livro: da escrita ao livro electrónico. Coimbra: Almedina.

Tschichold, Jan. 1991. The Form of the Book: Essays on the Morality of Good Design. Vancouver: Hartley & Marks. Original edition, 1975.



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