typography & typefaces of the early 19th century in europe

hello everyone,

i’m currently working on an art catalog and i’m thinking about a historically inspired look of the typography. the art performance deals with an incident that took place in the early 19th century (1816 to be precise).
although there is really no need for absolute historical correctness in the final design, i’d like to have a base for the choice of a possible typeface and the kind of layout and typesetting. at the end, i’ll have to decide, whether it’s possible to combine the rather wild and kind of “trash chic” performance with a historical typesetting.

the country involved in the incident was basically france. on the other hand, one could also imagine to have another country’s press reporting about it. unfortunately, i’m quite unsure about what actually typography looked like in countries like france, england, netherlands and germany at the mentioned point in time. it meets the almost late period of classicism in typography/typedesign. in germany, i guess, broken letters were ruling most of the printed work (what about books/novels?). but before posting more inadequately simplified consderations about the typogaphic state of affairs in the other countries – like france=didot, italy=bodoni etc), i’d like to hear some opinions from the experts here.
once again, my basic question is: which typefaces where used commonly in a) books and b) newspapers or reports around 1816?

kind regards,


‹ typhographic Q americana + sans. what to choose? ›

great! thanks a lot for your efforts. nice use of the brackets in the second example, which in fact is from 1816.
by the way, i’ve read your punchcuts article on typeculture.com. very interesting, too. it shows the early appearance of (not only upper case) sans serif letters. i even thought about bringing in a sans serif typeface. it works as a bridge and probably i could need it for simultaneous setting english translations of some articles. on the other hand: i don’t really want to slip into this kind of typical 19th century retro design (like this: http://cache.eb.com/eb/image?id=73204&rendTypeId=4). although, i like it, this has been done by so many designers before and i’d like to do something more idiosyncratic.

maybe, i can find some more online resources with example material.
this is, what i’ve come across so far:







of course, it would be better to have more english and french examples, so if someone had some recommendable adresses...

// alex

Another thing to consider is illustrated lettering, especially lettering that looks like it’s made out of something organic. That would provide more opportunity to get wild and trashy.
Lithography was the hot new media then, especially in France. Woodcuts more common in the UK.
These from the 1830s.

yes, indeed. in my case, toothpaste and shaving foam would be the organic materials of choice and i’ve already considered doing it in the image section of the catalog with the real materials. but maybe bringing it in the editorial part in BW with inklike edges... illustrated toothpaste typo, he, he. well, well, let’s see.

// alex

Toothpaste would be a difficult medium, but shaving foam sounds promising. Maybe if you worked on glass — that way you could shoot it without a cast shadow, for close cropping, or against a background. You could place typesetting behind the glass to “trace” over, to create the lettering in the first place.

maybe this could help you ...

at the library I’m working at, there are two small letter specimen books of two small printing shops at Augsburg (southern Germans) from 1806 / 1811. If you think those could be interesting, I could mail you those.

In Germany, at this time, almost all newspapers were printed with broken types - same applies to 90 percent or more of the novels. On the other hand scientific texts (in German) could be printed either in blackletter or in antiqua (about 60 / 40 percent). And of course all latin and french texts were printed in antiqua.


Right. Grimm specified that Deutsche Grammatik (1822) be printed in Roman type.

nick, i’ve checked out toothpaste and foam likewise photographed (diffuse daylight lighting) and scanned from glasplate – it works both. the photographs are more plastic, of course.

wolfgang, this sounds interesting indeed. but aren’t these antique specimen books of high value? do you really think about sending them (physically) to berlin by mail? well, i’ll come back to your offer, if i feel the urgent need for it. btw, i’ve found another source for historic print samples.


one can use the advanced search function to get results for a certain date of publication, etc.

regarding Deutsche Grammatik from 1822, i’ve only found the title, no scans/photos from the inner pages.

// alex

Not quite type by toothpaste

A beta version of digitised books from the Bodleian Library


but mine will have those fancy red stripes. ;) the problem with toothpaste (and all other materials, of course) is, that you’re running out of “ammo” rather quick. but, hey, if it is worth it. at the moment, i’ve to turn my focus back to some essential structuring and layouting tasks.
thanks a lot for the oxford link. seems to be great from what i’ve seen so far.


the quality of the scans is superb. look at this weird illustration. ;)

i guess, i can find some useful material there.

// alex

Have you checked that toothpaste doesn’t run, it would be unfortunate if, by the time you’d reached the end, the first part had deformed?
The scan quality is good and the zoom facility works well, I believe that the Bodleian are in the process of combining with Google to make digital copies available of a million books.
If you want to see some more of Gillray’s cartoons (though he died in 1815) try here


Well, I can chime in here that Friedrich Neugebauer was in an English prison camp in Egypt for a good part of WWII and used toothpaste — I’ve seen and held the original. Of course, the formulation of the toothpaste in 1943 may not have any resemblance to the formulation of today’s.

Friedrich was conscripted into the Austrian army after Hitler’s Anschluss in 1938 and as he put it, after four years of serving in the army against his wishes, he had the great fortune of being captured and was able to spend the rest of war (1944-1947) not shooting at anyone. They lived in tents in a camp somewhere near the Mediterranean, where the Brits were generally humane to the prisoners. (Although 55 years later it still brought tears to his eyes as he recalled that some of the camp personnel simplistically lumped all prisoners together: “Give a table knife to a Kraut and he’ll turn it into a machine gun!”)

The authorities allowed him to make artwork using letter paper donated by a sympathetic officer, colors made from pigments that he ground himself from foraged minerals and other raw materials, and brushes made from his tentmates’ hair. The cover of a small book of traditional songs has the title lettered in toothpaste, and if I remember this accurately, the binding cloth is a flour sack scrounged from the camp kitchen. I just looked in both of my books, Schrift als Kunst and The Mystic Art of Written Forms, to see if I could upload a picture, but a there isn’t a photo of this cover. However, I’ve made a shot of an interior page. (Sorry that the lighting is not good, I just did a quickie handheld.) This book is 30 x 22 cm, and I’m still stunned by the grace and beauty of it, when you consider the circumstances under which it was made.

I can tell you from memory that the toothpaste is quite mounded up — higher in profile than the typical raised gesso with gold leaf on top, if that helps you imagine it — and he must have made it even higher to begin with, since the toothpaste must have some loss of volume as the moisture departs the ribbon.

I wonder if loading toothpaste into a cake decorator’s piping bag would be a help to you, since you would have a choice of nozzle tips, and far more control over the material than if you simply squeeze a plastic tube.

necessity is the mother of invention. your suggestion to make use of a piping bag could be helpful, however the stripes will be lost then.
but at the moment, the toothpaste is not my primary problem. the costs have grown to expensive and now about 80 pages has been taken out. now, i have to check, if the layout concept can be kept. well, in this case, necessity is not very helpful. so, i’ll be occupied with this the next few days.

// alex

Let me also commend fromoldbooks as a great place to find hi-res scans of books from the last few hundred years. Check out Astrology by Ebenezer Sibly, Fry’s Pantographia (awesome!), the Life of Anthony à Wood, and have fun browsing!

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