Nearly two years ago I designed a poster for a typeface named Pistilli Roman in my Design Systems class at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. Since then, I have received over 20 email inquires concerning the typeface. Most of these inquiries include comments and simple questions about how one goes about obtaining Pistilli Roman (I usually respond by telling people that the typeface does not exist as a digital/functional typeface, but some similar typefaces do exist). Aside from these smaller inquiries, I have been fortunate enough to have made correspondence with some very interesting people who have revealed additional details to me about the history of the typeface and its designers, John Pistilli and Herb Lubalin.
Most recently, I have been contacted by a man who was quite familiar with the typeface. Here is what he had to say:
“ I first saw this face in the summer of 64-65, when Arnold Bank, a type designer who was teaching a course in the calligraphy studio at Reed College, put up a copy on the wall. Later on, Lloyd Reynolds, the Art History professor and calligrapher, commented how difficult it was (in those days of letterpress) to print such a face. If you used enough pressure to get an even impression on the wide areas, the thin lines cut into, and even through, the paper…”
This man also had an original pamphlet about Pistilli Roman that was put out by Aaron Burns & Co. He was nice enough to transcribe the promise/guarantee that came with the typeface:
We are pleased to present this first of a family of modern roman typefaces designed especially for our company by the American designer, John Pistilli. Designed in the classical French Didot style, this bold and delicately sensitive face will be followed shortly by Pistilli Roman Italic, Pistilli Roman Light and Pistilli Roman Light Italic. We hope that this booklet will serve as a helpful guide in your specification of this beautiful typeface.
fig. 1fig. 2fig. 3
This pamphlet also included a biography of John Pistilli: John Pistilli is head of lettering design at Sudler & Hennessy, Inc., where he has been employed since 1949. Born December 4, 1925, he attended public schools in Astoria and Long Island City, N.Y. He graduated from the Jean Morgan School of Art in New York City, where he studied lettering under J. Albert Cavanaugh. He has also completed art courses at the City College of New York and during World War II served in the U. S. Navy.
In addition to the above emails, I did happen to receive another very special message this past summer when I was contacted by John Pistilli Jr. (the son of John Pistilli). In his email to me, he briefly described his father’s history as an artist and as a type designer. He also thanked me for taking interest in his father’s work.
I first discovered Pistilli Roman for myself after I saw a specimen of it in Herb Lubalin’s monograph, written by Gertrude Snyder and Alan Peckolick. At about the same time that I learned about the typeface, I had noticed that Work in Progress (a design studio based in New York and Paris) was using a very similar typeface (named Galeere) for their design in Self Service magazine. Shortly thereafter, I learned that Pistilli Roman does not actually exist as a digitized typeface. It was then that I decided to recreate/vectorize the typeface from a high-resolution scan for use within this poster project.
A selection of unedited excerpts from e-mails concerning Pistilli Roman:
“ …I can’t for the life of me get hold of Pistilli font! Seeing it on your site could you help me out on this. I’m doing a stone carved identity and really want to use it. Your help would be appreciated.”
“ …I’m a designer and I saw the work around the Pistilli Roman Font, Do you have any idea where I can find it digitilised ?”
“ …good to see im not the only one obsessed with that typeface.”
“ …saw your website the other day…loving the lubalin respect! can i ask where you got pistilli roman from? didnt think it had been digitalised?”
“ …I was wondering if you had the Pistilli Roman typeface. I’ve been looking around for it lately, and can’t seem to find it for the life of me”
“ …Do you have Pistili? Is there any chance you can send me the ampersand from Pistilli?”
Pistilli Roman is a typeface collaboratively designed by Herb Lubalin and John Pistilli. Pistilli was a partner with Lubalin in New York City at the firm Sudler & Hennessey from 1949 to 1964. The typeface was accompanied by 3 alternate weights: Bold, Open No. 1 and Open No. 2, each of which varied exclusively in the thickness of the hairline strokes. Given the technology of the time when Pistilli Roman was produced, the typeface was only designed and made functional for use on a typositor.After the demise of phototype and typositor machines, the typeface was never revisited and as a result, the typeface has never officially been digitized. Because Pistilli Roman was a very exclusive typeface that gained acclaims as a result of its highly elegant and unique ampersand, many look-alike typefaces began to surface. In 1969, Phil Martin, of Alphabet Innovations, produced a Pistilli Roman replica with many of the same swashes and alternate characters named Didoni. The difference being that Didoni had hairline strokes that were typically thicker by a small percentage and also lacked the fancy ampersand that was a trademark of Pistilli Roman.The first unofficial digitalization of Pistilli Roman had supposedly been attempted by a type foundry named Castcraft in the early 1990’s. The typeface was classified under the “ OPTI” font range as “ OPTI Pirogi Roman.” Not long after that, another look-alike version of Pistilli Roman was made available by a media company named GreenStreet. As a part of a large software CD titled “ GST 500 Elegant Fonts,” the copycat typeface was hidden under the name “ Galeere.” Galeere, like the other typefaces contained many imperfections and did not offer the trademark ampersand. Besides Pistilli Roman’s rare appearance inside of the type specimen book titled “ Phil’s Photo Book” (published in 1985), it is a largely unknown and mysterious typeface.The only acknowledged versions of the original hard copy phototypes for Pistilli Roman are located in Brooklyn, NY with a company named Incipit. Incipit is a design firm that also houses a rare photocomposition library with approximately 3,500 available typefaces, including four different weights of Pistilli Roman.
fig. 1 – fig. 3 are scanned images from Self Service magazine that showcase the use of the typeface Galeere.