Claude Garamond: Typography...the way it used to be

Claude Garamond: Typography...the way it used to be

Have you ever stopped to wonder why there are SO MANY typefaces in the world? You can find a font for ANY OCCASION...no matter how obscure or strange (including your dog’s birthday!).

Anyway, with so many fonts out there, it’s easy to get lost in a sea of the “too many choices” syndrome. Have you ever done that? Have you ever clicked over to dafont.com and thought, “I’ll just quickly find a fun font to use,” and then a mind exhausting half hour later pulled yourself away from the computer, having found too many fonts that work ok, but not the perfect one you were looking for?

For this blog series, I thought it would be good to start with the beginning. There weren’t always one million fonts to choose from, and it wasn’t always as easy as a click of a button to change them. We will begin by taking a look at Claude Garamond and his fonts.

Garamond
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Born around 1500 in France, Claude Garamond is known for creating the Garamond typeface. Before you fall asleep and dismiss him, take a listen to this. Not only is he one of the leading type designers of all time, he lived during the time when one of the biggest inventions of all time was being invented...the printing press.

press
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I know that this may not seem monumentous to you, but smart phones and computers weren’t around forever you know. I’m talking about a time when there wasn’t even electronic light. The ability to read a book, to learn, to escape was a welcome distraction to the day to day grind.

The brilliance of his font, Garamond, is not that it is particularly pretty, nor that it would stand out if printed on a poster. The brilliance of it is in its readability. It is an old style font (click here for a lesson for more on "old style"), and as such it is extremely easy to read in printed form.

garamond type
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Claude Garamond, for his part, was a multi talented individual. He not only created the type, but was also proficient in type cutting (the discipline of cutting letter punches in steel which is the first stage of making metal type).

punches
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He struck out as an entrepreneur, but apparently didn’t have the flair for business because he died in poverty. There was a lot of competition and a fair amount of piracy in the Persian book industry at that time.

One odd tidbit, is that one can’t be 100% positive that the Garamond font was all Claude Garamond’s creation. You see, after his death, his poor wife was forced to sell his punches. This lead to the wide distribution and use of his font over the coming centuries, but because they switched hands so many times, one can’t know for certain that all the Garamond font was created by Garamond (here is a link describing some of the many variations of Garamond).

Despite all this, you can be certain that his contribution to graphic design has had the lasting effect that only good design can. Nearly 500 years later, his fonts are still distributed and widely used today. If you'd like the worksheet that accompanies this post, click the button to join the list below!

(ALSO, I am hosting a student contest for my Typography Shape Unit. If you've got a student who wants to enter, check out the contest here!)