Akzidenz-Grotesk is a sans-serif typeface family originally released by the Berthold Type Foundry of Berlin. Akzidenz indicates its intended use as a typeface for commercial print runs such as publicity, tickets and forms, as opposed to fine printing, and "grotesque" was a standard name for sans-serif typefaces at the time.
Originating during the late nineteenth century, Akzidenz-Grotesk belongs to a tradition of general-purpose, unadorned sans-serif types that had become dominant in German printing during the nineteenth century. Relatively little-known for a half-century after its introduction, it achieved iconic status in the post-war period as the preferred typeface of many Swiss graphic designers in what became called the 'International' or 'Swiss' design style which became popular across the Western world in the 1950s and 1960s. Its simple, neutral design has also influenced many later typefaces. It has sometimes been sold as Standard or Basic Commercial in English-speaking countries, and a variety of digital versions have been released by Berthold and other companies.
Akzidenz-Grotesk is often translated into English as "jobbing sans-serif" (in the sense of "used for jobs"). Both words were everyday, descriptive terms for typefaces of the time in the German language: Akzidenz meaning trade printing or printing for some occasion or event;[a] a modern German-language dictionary describes it as work such as advertisements and forms, from Latin accidentia (occurrence, chance happening).Akzidenzschrift was by the 1870s a generic term meaning typefaces intended for these uses.
Grotesque (German: Grotesk) was a standard term that had become popular in the first half of the nineteenth century for sans-serifs, initiated by the London type-founder William Thorowgood. If it had an intended meaning, it may have reflected the "primitive" feel of sans-serifs, or their roots in archaic Greek and Roman inscriptions, and was commonly used to mean "sans-serif" without negative implication.
Like most sans-serifs, Akzidenz-Grotesk is 'monoline' in structure, with all strokes of the letter of similar width. This gives a sense of simplicity and an absence of the adornment and flourishes seen in the more decorative sans-serifs of the late nineteenth century influenced by the Art Nouveau style. Modern type designer Martin Majoor has described the general design of Akzidenz-Grotesk and its ancestors as similar in letterforms to the Didone serif fonts that were standard printing types in the nineteenth century, such as Didot, Walbaum and their followers. This is most visible in the quite folded-up apertures of letters such as 'a' and 'c'. The capitals of Akzidenz-Grotesk are wide and relatively uniform in width.
The 'g' of Akzidenz-Grotesk is a 'single-storey' design, like in many other German sans-serifs, but unlike the double-storey 'g' found in most serif faces and in many of the earliest sans-serifs that had a lower-case; sans-serif types first appeared in London, but became popular in Germany from the mid-nineteenth century onwards.Walter Tracy describes this style of 'g' as a common feature in German sans-serifs of the period and apparently influenced by the tradition of blackletter, still very popular for printing extended texts in Germany in the late nineteenth century, which uses a single-storey 'g' in upright composition.
The metal type of Akzidenz-Grotesk shows variation between sizes, with adaptation of letter-spacing and proportions such as looser spacing at smaller text sizes, something that was normal practice in the design and engraving of metal type. In addition, there is variation between weights: Karl Gerstner notes that even comparing one size (20pt), the medium and bold weights have different x-height, cap height and descender length to the light and regular weights. This is common with nineteenth-century sans-serifs, which were not designed with the intention of forming an extended family that would match together. (Berthold literature from the 1900s marketed the light and regular weights as being compatible, light at the time called 'Royal-Grotesk'.) The differences in proportions between different sizes and weights of Akzidenz-Grotesk has led to a range of contemporary adaptations, reviving or modifying different aspects of the original design, discussed below.
Akzidenz-Grotesk's design descends from a school of general-purpose sans-serifs cut in the nineteenth century. Sans-serifs had become very popular in Germany by the late nineteenth century, which had a large number of small local type foundries offering different versions.
H. Berthold was founded in Berlin in 1858 initially to make machined brass printer's rule, moving into casting metal type particularly after 1893. Berthold publications from the 1920s onwards dated the design to 1898, when the firm registered two design patents on the family.
Recent research by historians Eckehart Schumacher-Gebler, Indra Kupferschmid and Dan Reynolds has clarified many aspects of Akzidenz-Grotesk's history. The source of Akzidenz-Grotesk appears to be Berthold's 1897 purchase of the Bauer u. Cie Type Foundry of Stuttgart (not to be confused with the much better-known Bauer Type Foundry of Frankfurt); Kupferschmid concludes that the design appears to be related to a shadowed sans-serif (German: Schattierte Grotesk) sold by the Bauer Foundry and reviewed in a printing journal in 1896. Two design patents on Akzidenz-Grotesk were filed in April 1898, first on the 14th in Stuttgart by Bauer and then on the 28th in Berlin by Berthold, leading Reynolds to conclude that the design was executed in Stuttgart. Some early adverts that present Akzidenz-Grotesk are co-signed by both brands. Early references to Akzidenz-Grotesk at Berthold often use the alternative spelling 'Accidenz-Grotesk'; Reynolds suggests that the name may have been intended as a brand extension following on from an "Accidenz-Gothisch" blackletter face sold by the Bauer & Co. foundry. In general, Reynolds comments that the style of Schattierte Grotesk and Akzidenz-Grotesk "seem to me to be more of a synthesis of then-current ideas of sans serif letterform design, rather than copies of any specific products from other firms."
The light weight of Akzidenz-Grotesk was for many years branded separately as 'Royal-Grotesk'. It apparently was cut by Berthold around 1902-3, when it was announced in a trade periodical as "a new, quite usable typeface" and advertised as having matching dimensions allowing it to be combined with the regular weight of Akzidenz-Grotesk. Reynolds and Florian Hardwig have documented the Schmalhalbfett weight (semi-bold, or medium, condensed) to be a family sold by many German type-foundries, which probably originated from a New York type foundry.
Günter Gerhard Lange, Berthold's post-war artistic director, who was considered effectively the curator of the Akzidenz-Grotesk design, said in a 2003 interview Akzidenz-Grotesk came from the Ferdinand Theinhardt type foundry, and this claim has been widely copied elsewhere. This had been established by businessman and punchcutter Ferdinand Theinhardt, who was otherwise particularly famous for his scholarly endeavours in the field of hieroglyph and Syriac typefaces; he had sold the business in 1885. Kupferschmid and Reynolds speculate that he was misled by Akzidenz-Grotesk appearing in a Theinhardt foundry specimen after Berthold had taken the company over. Reynolds additionally points out that Theinhardt sold his foundry to Oskar Mammen and Robert and Emil Mosig in 1885, a decade before Akzidenz-Grotesk was released, and there is no evidence that he cut any further fonts for them after this year. As Lange commented, it was claimed in the post-war period that Royal-Grotesk's name referred to it being commissioned by the Prussian Academy of Sciences, but Kupferschmid was not able to find it used in its publications.
Many other grotesques in a similar style to Akzidenz-Grotesk were sold in Germany during this period. Around the beginning of the twentieth century, these increasingly began to be branded as larger families of multiple matched styles. Its competitors included the very popular Venus-Grotesk of the Bauer foundry of Frankfurt, very similar to Akzidenz-Grotesk but with high-waisted capitals, and Koralle by Schelter & Giesecke, which has a single-storey 'a'.[c] (Monotype Grotesque 215 also is based on German typefaces of this period.) Seeman's 1926 Handbook of Typefaces (German: Handbuch der Schriftarten), a handbook of all the metal typefaces available in Germany, illustrates the wide range of sans-serif typefaces on sale in Germany by the time of its publication. By around 1911, Berthold had begun to market Akzidenz-Grotesk as a complete family.
While apparently not unpopular, Akzidenz-Grotesk was not among the most intensively-marketed typefaces of the period, and was not even particularly aggressively marketed by Berthold. A 1921 Berthold specimen and company history described it almost apologetically: "In 1898 Accidenz-Grotesk was created, which has earned a laurel wreath of fame for itself. This old typeface, which these days one would perhaps make in a more modern style, has a peculiar life in its own way which would probably be lost if it were to be altered. All the many imitations of Accidenz-Grotesk have not matched its character." An unusual user of Berthold's Akzidenz-Grotesk in the period soon after its release, however, was the poet Stefan George. He commissioned some custom uncial-style alternate characters to print his poetry.
The use of Akzidenz-Grotesk and similar "grotesque" typefaces dipped from the late 1920s due to the arrival of fashionable new "geometric" sans-serifs such as Erbar, Futura and Kabel, based on the proportions of the circle and square. Berthold released its own family in this style, Berthold-Grotesk.[d]
However, during this period there was increasing interest in using sans-serifs as capturing the spirit of the time, most famously, Jan Tschichold's influential book The New Typography (German: Die Neue Typographie), which praised the aesthetic qualities of the "anonymous" sans-serifs of the nineteenth century and was printed in a sans-serif similar to Berthold's Akzidenz-Grotesk.[e] Its comments would prove influential in later graphic design:
Among all the types that are available, the so-called "Grotesque"...is the only one in spiritual accordance with our time. To proclaim sans-serif as the typeface of our time is not a question of being fashionable, it really does express the same tendencies to be seen in our architecture...there is no doubt that the sans-serif types available today are not yet wholly satisfactory as all-purpose faces. The essential characteristics of this type have not been fully worked out: the lower-case letters especially are still too like their "humanistic" counterparts. Most of them, in particular the newest designs such as Erbar and Kabel, are inferior to the old anonymous sans-serifs, and have modifications which place them basically in line with the rest of the "art" faces. As bread-and-butter faces they are less good than the old sans faces...I find the best face in use today is the so-called ordinary jobbing sanserif, which is quiet and easy to read.
In the post-war period and particularly in Switzerland a revival in Akzidenz-Grotesk's popularity took hold, in what became known as the "Swiss International Style" of graphic design. This style often contrasted Akzidenz-Grotesk with photographic art, and did not use all caps as much as many older posters. Graphic designers of this style such as Gerstner, Josef Müller-Brockmann and Armin Hofmann all used Akzidenz-Grotesk heavily. Like Tschichold, Gerstner argued that the sans-serifs of the nineteenth century were more "matter-of-fact" (German: Selbstverständlichkeit) than the more "personal" recent sans-serifs of the previous decades. Art historian Stephen Eskilson wrote that they "conveyed the functionalist ethos without appearing too stylised...in the manner of the more geometrically pure types." Berthold suggested in the 1980s that the originator of this use of Akzidenz-Grotesk in Zürich was German-born designer Anton Stankowski
Akzidenz-Grotesk was popular in this period although other typefaces such as Monotype Grotesque were used also: a problem with use of Akzidenz-Grotesk up to the late 1950s was that it was only available in individual units of metal type for manual composition. While this was acceptable for posters, by the 1950s hot metal typesetting machines had long since become the main system for printing general-purpose body text, and for machine composition Akzidenz-Grotesk was unavailable until around 1958,[f] when it was first sold on Linotype and then in 1960 on Intertype systems. Much printing around this time of body text accordingly used Monotype Grotesque as a lookalike. In the United States, Akzidenz-Grotesk was imported by Amsterdam Continental Types under the name 'Standard', and became quite popular. According to Paul Shaw, "exactly when Amsterdam Continental began importing Standard is unclear but it appears on several record album covers as early as 1957."
In 1957, three notable competitors of Akzidenz-Grotesk appeared intended to compete with its growing popularity: Helvetica from the Haas foundry, with a very high x-height and tight letterspacing, Univers from Deberny & Peignot, with a large range of weights and widths, and Folio from Bauer. Shaw suggests that Helvetica "began to muscle out" Akzidenz-Grotesk in New York from around summer 1965, when Amsterdam Continental's marketing stopped pushing Standard strongly and began to focus on Helvetica instead.
By the 1960s, Berthold could claim in its type specimens that Akzidenz-Grotesk was:
a type series which has proved itself in practice for more than 70 years and has held its ground to the present day against all comers...wherever one sees graphics and advertising of an international standard...starting a revival in Switzerland in recent years, Akzidenz-Grotesk has progressed all over the world and impressed its image in the typography of our time.
Contemporary versions of Akzidenz-Grotesk descend from a late-1950s project, directed by Lange at Berthold, to enlarge the typeface family. This added new styles including AG Extra (1958), AG Extra Bold (1966) and AG Super (1968), AG Super Italic (2001) and Extra Bold italic (2001). Berthold ceased to cast type in 1978.
Separately, Gerstner and other designers at his company GGK Basel launched a project in the 1960s to build Akzidenz-Grotesk into a coherent series, to match the new families appearing in the same style; it was used by Berthold for its Diatype system in the late 60s under the name of "Gerstner-Programm" but according to Lange it was never fully released. A digitisation has been released by the digital type foundry Forgotten Shapes.
The current holder of the Berthold rights is Berthold Types of Chicago, following the bankruptcy of H. Berthold AG of Germany in 1993. Berthold released Akzidenz-Grotesk in OpenType format in 2006, under the name Akzidenz-Grotesk Pro, and added matching Cyrillic and Greek characters the next year.
As described above, many influential graphic designers have used Akzidenz-Grotesk. In 2013, Pentagram partner Domenic Lippa rated Akzidenz-Grotesk as "probably the best typeface ever designed...it doesn't overdominate when used, allowing the designer more freedom and versatility".Kris Sowersby has written that he found the semi-bold and bold weights most satisfying. Lange commented that the light weight "was my favourite font from the beginning. I used it on my first Berthold business card and my letterhead. It's a delicate, slender piece of engraving."
A particular criticism of Akzidenz-Grotesk however, has often been that the regular weight has capitals that look unbalanced relative to the lower-case, as shown on the cover of Designing Programmes, which is problematic in extended text. Adrian Frutiger commented that Akzidenz-Grotesk forms "patches in print"; Reynolds that in a digital version "the capital letters are slightly too dark, and slightly too close to the lowercase letters that follow them in a word" and Wolfgang Homola that in Helvetica "the weight of the stems of the capitals and the lower case is better balanced".
Characteristics of this typeface are:
lower case: A 'folded-up' structure with narrow apertures and strokes curled up towards the vertical, most obvious on letters such as c, e, s and a. Stroke endings are though less consistently horizontal or vertical than in Helvetica. A square dot over the letter i, double-storey a. Single-storey g.
upper case: G with a vertical spur. The capitals are wide and have relatively little variation in width, with letters like 'E' and 'F' quite wide. The 'M' is straight-sided with the diagonals meeting in the bottom centre of the letter. Capitals in several weights have very noticeably thicker strokes than the lower-case. On many but not all styles a straight leg on the 'R' and a 'Q' where the outstroke does not cut through the letter.
number: A top serif on the 1 and in some styles a downward-pointing serif on the top left of the 7.
It is important to note, however, that as the weights and sizes of Akzidenz-Grotesk were cut separately not all these features will appear on all styles. For instance, the 't' of the Schmalhalbfett weight only has no base, as it was designed separately and not by Berthold.
Akzidenz-Grotesk did not have italics until the post-war period. Its slanted form is an oblique rather than a true italic. This means that the letters are slanted without using handwriting forms. During the metal type period, when italics for Akzidenz-Grotesk were not available, Amsterdam Continental marketed those of an unrelated typeface, Mercator, as companions instead.
Berthold's Akzidenz-Grotesk family by the late metal type period included the following styles. English names are taken from Berthold's Type Specimen (German: Schriftprobe) No. 473 except where stated otherwise:
Reynolds prefers 'Bold Condensed' to describe the Schmalhalbfett and 'Condensed Heavy' for the Schmalfett. Other weights were added by the time of the phototypesetting and digital versions, such as the ultra-bold 'Akzidenz-Grotesk Super'.
Akzidenz-Grotesk Book (German: Buch) is a variant designed by Lange between 1969 and 1973. Designed after Helvetica had become popular, it incorporates some of its features, such as strike-through tail in 'Q', a curved tail for the 'R', horizontal and vertical cut stroke terminators. As in some Helvetica versions, the cedilla is replaced with a comma. Former Berthold font designer Erik Spiekermann has called Lange's "answer to Helvetica." Late in life Lange made no apology for it, commenting when asked about a design alleged to be a copy of one of his own original designs: "there are also people who say that the best Helvetica is my AG Book."
Akzidenz-Grotesk Schoolbook (German: Schulbuch) is a 1983 variant of Akzidenz-Grotesk Buch also designed by Lange. It uses schoolbook characters, characters intended to be more distinct and closer to handwritten forms to be easier for children to recognise.
Generally based on Akzidenz-Grotesk Book, it includes a single-storey 'a', curled 'l', lower- and upper-case 'k' that are symmetrical, and 't', 'u' and 'y' without curls on the base. The 'J' has a top bar, the 'M' centre does not descend to the baseline and the 'G' and 'R' are simplified in the manner of Futura. A particularly striking feature is a blackletter-style default upper-case 'i' with a curl at the bottom: this is rarely encountered in the English-speaking world (it would more commonly be recognized as a J), but much more common in Germany.
Akzidenz-Grotesk Old Face, designed by Lange and released in 1984, was intended to be more true to the metal type than previous phototypesetting versions and incorporate more of the original type's inconsistencies of dimensions such as x-height. It also incorporates a comma-style cedilla in the medium and bold weights, inward hook in regular-weighted ß, and a shortened horizontal serif on the regular-weighted 1.
Regular, medium, bold, outline, bold outline and shaded styles were made for the family, but no obliques. Berthold promoted the series with a brochure designed by Karl Duschek and Stankowski.
In December 2006, Berthold announced the release of Akzidenz-Grotesk Next. Designed by Bernd Möllenstädt and Dieter Hofrichter, this typeface family features readjusted x-heights and weights throughout the family, giving a more consistent design. The family consists of 14 variants with 7 weights in roman and italic, in a single width.
Several type designers modelled typefaces on this popular typeface in the 1950s; Reynolds comments that the original Akzidenz-Grotesk has limitations in extended text: "the capital letters are slightly too dark."Max Miedinger at the Haas Foundry used it as a model for the typeface Neue Haas-Grotesk, released in 1957 and renamed Helvetica in 1961. Miedinger sought to refine the typeface making it more even and unified, with a higher x-height, tighter spacing and generally horizontal terminals. Two other releases from 1957, Adrian Frutiger's Univers and Bauer's Folio, take inspiration from Akzidenz-Grotesk; Frutiger's goal was to eliminate what he saw as unnecessary details, removing the dropped spur at bottom right of the G and converting the '1' and the '7' into two straight lines.
Much more loosely, Transport, the typeface used on British road signs, was designed by Jock Kinneir and Margaret Calvert influenced by Akzidenz-Grotesk. However, many adaptations and letters influenced by other typefaces were incorporated to increase legibility and make characters more distinct.
A completely different "Akzidenz-Grotesk" was made by the Haas Type Foundry of Switzerland. Also named "Accidenz-Grotesk" and "Normal-Grotesk", it had a more condensed, "boxy" design. Kupferschmid describes it as a "reworking of "Neue Moderne Grotesk", originally ca. 1909 by Wagner & Schmidt, Leipzig" The Haas Foundry created Helvetica in response to its decline in popularity in competition with Berthold's design.
Although the digital data of Berthold releases of Akzidenz-Grotesk is copyrighted, and the name is trademarked, the design of a typeface is in many countries not copyrightable, notably in the United States, allowing alternative interpretations under different names if they do not reuse digital data.
The Swiss digital type foundry Optimo has released an alternative digitisation of Akzidenz-Grotesk named "Theinhardt", which Spiekermann has praised as "the best" Akzidenz-Grotesk digitisation.Linotype, which started to sell Akzidenz-Grotesk on its hot metal typesetting system in the 1950s, continues to sell a limited digital version under the other common alternative name, 'Basic Commercial', and Bitstream offer a two-weight version named 'Gothic 725'. The American publisher CastleType has released a digitisation originally created for San Francisco Focus magazine under the name "Standard CT". A digitisation named Söhne, in three widths with a monospaced version was released by Kris Sowersby in 2019. A proprietary digitisation named NYC Sans by Nick Sherman and Jeremy Mickel, which has many alternate characters, is the corporate font of New York City's tourist board NYC & Company.
Transport has also been digitised in several versions. Spiekermann has also released with Ralph du Carrois a very loose digitisation of Akzidenz Grotesk, FF Real, in two optical sizes, with variant features like a two-storey 'g', ligatures, and a true italic. A digitisation of Stefan George-Schrift by Colin Kahn has been published by P22.
Besides use in Swiss-style poster design and in New York City transportation, Akzidenz-Grotesk is the corporate font of Arizona State University and the American Red Cross (with Georgia). Akzidenz-Grotesk Bold Extended is used as the official font for the words "U.S. Air Force" in the display of the USAF symbol.
Drucksache von geringem Umfang, Anzeige, Formular
With its horizontal and vertical strokes of almost the same thickness and its regularized capital letters with few variations of width, Akzidenz Grotesk stood out starkly on the page - especially when that page also included the highly-decorated types that were popular in the same era.
The notion of the "type family" is so central to typography that it's easy to forget how recent an invention it is. Throughout most of its history, typography simply evolved the forms that were the most useful and the most interesting, generally with indifference toward how they related to one another. Italic faces existed for decades before they were considered as companions for romans, just as poster types shouted in a range of emphatic tones before they were reimagined as "bold" or "condensed" cousins. The notion that a type family should be planned from the outset is a Modernist concoction, and it's one that type designers have lived with for less than a century...For more than a century before Helvetica, the sans serif landscape was dominated by unrelated designs.
Die Firma H. Berthold, Akt-Ges. in Berlin zeigt in einem hübsch angeordneten handlichen Heftchen zwei Garnituren Royal- und Akzidenz-Grotesk, beide sich ergänzende Schriften von vornehmer Wirkung, die um so mehr als zeitgemäß bezeichnet werden können, weil anscheinend nun endlich auch in der Druckausstattung der Akzidenzen Wege eingeschlagen werden, die zu einer wesentlichen Vereinfachung des Satzbildes führen dürften.
Die Schriftgießerei Bauer & Co., Stuttgart und Düsseldorf, veröffentlicht unter den heutigen Schriftproben eine schattierte Grotesk und bietet unseren Lesern mit dieser Schrift ein beliebtes, sehr verwendbares Material, das sich in ähnlicher, älterer Ausführung seit jener einen Platz auf allen guten Akzidenzien erhoben hat.
Berthold und Bauer werben im Jahre 1899 mit einem aus heutiger Sicht seltsam anmutenden Jugendstillayout für die 'Accidenz-Grotesk'.
Eine neue recht verwendbare Schrift hat die Firma H. Berthold Akt.-Ges in Berlin geschaffen, eine in acht Graden geschnittene Royal-Grotesk, die sich zu allen besseren Accidenzen verwenden lassen und infolge ihres scharfen und sauberen Schnitts zur besten Wirkung gelangen wird. Auf eine kleine, vielleicht unbeabsichtigte Unschönheit möchten wir doch hinweisen. Diese betrifft das Versal-R, dessen Querstrich zu tief steht, was auffällt und störend wirkt, wenn der Buchstabe zwischen B und E steht. Vielleicht ist hier eine Verbesserung noch angängig. Chronos.
Origin of Akzidenz-Grotesk's weight now sorted. @kupfers was right. Berthold derived it from an earlier Bauer & Co. display typeface called Schattierte Grotesk. Berthold bought Bauer & Co. The new Berlin + Stuttgart company made an "unschattierte" version, which Berthold began selling in 1898 as Accidenz-Grotesk.
Gedruckt wurde seit 1904 in der sogenannten Stefan-George-Schrift, einer Letternschrift, die der Graphiker Melchior Lechter im Jahre 1903 in Anlehnung an die Handschrift Georges aus einer freien Akzidenz-Grotesk-Schrift der Schriftgießerei Berthold, Berlin, geschaffen hatte. Stefan George ist 1933, Melchior Lechtor 1938 gestorben.
Die Akzidenz-Grotesk is sechzig Jahre alt, und doch scheint sie nicht zu veraltern, sondern in ihrer Frische und Lebendigkeit für immer zu verharren. Sie erfreut sich solcher Beliebheit, daß sie nun auf die Setzmaschine kam. Zusammen mit den Handsatz-Garnituren bilden die Linotype-Werkschiftgrade eine sehr stattliche Familie, die der Gestalter und Drucker oft und gern bei seiner Arbeit in Anspruch nehmen wird.
Exactly when Amsterdam Continental began importing Standard is unclear but it appears on several record album covers as early as 1957.
The capital letters are slightly too dark, and slightly too close to the lowercase letters that follow them in a word.
AG Buch war GGL's Antwort auf Helvetica, für die Berthold keine Lizenz kriegte von Linotype.
The copyright law does not protect typeface or mere variations of typographic ornamentation or lettering.
ist ja auch die beste AG