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Typewriter Typefaces

I was recently introduced to two distinctive books that share common ground in terms of their use of atypical typewriter typefaces. These typefaces function, at times, as simple typographic flourishes throughout the unwavering pages of these two books. But what I appreciate most about these typefaces is that they are unexpectedly refreshing while also holding […]

I was recently introduced to two distinctive books that share common ground in terms of their use of atypical typewriter typefaces. These typefaces function, at times, as simple typographic flourishes throughout the unwavering pages of these two books. But what I appreciate most about these typefaces is that they are unexpectedly refreshing while also holding stylistic relevance (especially in light of such contemporary, typewriter-derived, typefaces like Courier Sans).

The first of these books is Herbert Muschamp’s File Under Architecture (fig. 1), a book published in 1974 by MIT Press that encompasses Muschamp’s brashly worded views and critiques on architecture. The second book is Maurizio Nannucci’s self-titled artist book (catalogue d’exposition) (fig. 2) published in collaboration with the Internationaal Cultureel Centrum in Antwerp, Belgium, in 1979.

FileUnder1.jpgfig. 1Nannucci1.jpgfig. 2

File Under Architecture—with its cardboard cover, grocery-bag-like text paper, generously spaced lines, absence of imagery and its appearance of being completely typeset on a typewriter—is impressive in terms of its restraint and pragmatism (fig. 3). The combination of these nuances, in my mind, are features that make this book a precious and more noticeably tactile object. As for the typefaces that this book is set in, there are four supplemental typewriter typefaces used as sidenotes (in addition to the standard typeface used for the body text). The varying characteristics of the typefaces give the sidenotes of this book a distinct feel and an almost distracting voice. But despite the irregular cadence and the non-unified system seen throughout this set of sidenote typefaces, they beg to be read.

The artist book from Maurizio Nannucci is also quite special considering its unbound nature and the range of delicate and rare materials (prints on tissue paper, photographs, a 7-inch vinyl record, etc.) included throughout the book. In a similar way to File Under Architecture, I appreciate the raw and semi-processed spirit of certain components of this artist book. In this particular context, typewriter typefaces are used more simply. There is a typeset interview within a standard stapled document that is housed in this artist book in which one alternate typeface is implemented as a way to differentiate one commentators words from the other. What I found most striking about the typeface defining the words of “P.S. Vraag” on these pages is that it was unlike anything I had seen in the realm of typewritten documents. The cursive and stylized features of the typeface (fig. 4)—much like the cursive typeface found in File Under Architecture (fig. 5)—are a complete contrast to what we typically visualize when thinking about typewriter typefaces.

FileUnder3.jpgfig. 3Nannucci2.jpgfig. 4FileUnder2.jpgfig. 5

Looking at both of these books and their lo-fi aesthetics, it’s almost as though I can imagine Muschamp and Nannucci sitting at their typewriters, manually interchanging their typeface cassettes for an alternate typeface, or, even completely switching typewriters for that matter.

This notion of using alternate typewriter typefaces sparked my interest in many ways. I began to think about how I only wished that making typographic selections were that simple and hands on (a sort of no-nonsense approach to typography). One of the things that I became most curious about was the names or types of custom typewriter typefaces that had been used during the height of typewriter technology and how many typefaces were commercially available to typewriter owners.

After a bit digging around, I found a fantastic resource at the Walker library—a journal about design and typography titled Typographica. I was fortunate enough to find issue #6 from 1962 in which an entire section of the journal was dedicated to typewriter typefaces (fig. 6). The article was introduced by a simple explanation of how typewriter typefaces were manufactured and how they functioned. In addition to this intro, the supplemental pages of this article were used to display the large number of typefaces available within the typewriter market in 1962. As you will see in the image below (fig. 7), I have selected a few of my favorites from the collection put together by Typographica.

type0.jpgfig. 6 — Opening page for article about typewriter typefaces, Typographica magazine, 1962

typecombinedw.jpgfig. 7

In the end, after discovering these two books and the article from Typographica magazine, I was happy to learn a little more about the wide variety of typewriter typefaces made available during that time. And although the idea of typesetting on a typewriter in this technological age could be considered a nostalgic trap, I admittedly find the idea to be a very charming and fundamental one. I also find myself wondering: will we ever look back at our tools—G5 Apple computers, Adobe InDesign, etc.—and think of them in the same way we do the typewriter?

  • Those are really fantastic — thank you for sharing them! I do wonder what’s up with letter C in the first sample, Underwood Special Roman Gothic; odd that this little detail doesn’t recur in the G.

    I posted some typewritery goodness last week — behold Oriental and Old World. Enjoy!

  • Ryan Nelson says:

    You’re welcome! And yes, I actually wondered the same thing about that “C” in Underwood. Another noteworthy character is the lowercase “g” in Remington Art Gothic…very excellent.

    Also, thanks for the link… and thanks for commenting Jonathan!

  • nogoatee says:

    The Underwood Special is reminiscent of ibm selectric’s “Orator” font– meant for typing speeches and scripts that are read at arm’s length from a podium or script stand. Although perhaps the underwood may have been originated for typing telegrams?

  • Fantastic find, Ryan. I’m amazed at how condensed “Condensed Mikron” is. FYI, apparently the word micron is no longer in use, either. Most likely, InDesign, other applications, and most websites will look pretty charming, as you say, in about ten or so years!

  • Brenda Weber says:

    I am a Jewelry Desinger of Found Objects and make necklaces and bracelets from vintage typewriters. A great gift for the writers, graphic designers, typists,teachers, and unique jewelry lovers in your life.

    I will also be showing at the Walker Center one day only.

    Skyline Room

    May 3 at 10AM-3PM.

    Thanks for checking my web site!

  • heidi says:

    Hey, GREAT find! I posted about my typewriter just a couple of weeks ago:

    http://faboolosity.blogspot.com/2008/02/shift-freedom.html

  • Ryan Nelson says:

    Thanks for your interest Heidi! The link is a great addition. I wish I had one to tinker around with.

  • Chank Diesel says:

    Oh wow, cool! Thanks for the cool typewriter type displays… that’s quite a range. I like the Micro the best. Looks like it would work well on my carbon triplicate invoices. I used to have a landlord who sent me letters typed with his Olympia Typestyle 69 and I was always so jealous he had a *cursive* typewriter…. whoa! I made a couple typewriter fonts at my site for people who like the “printed” look and feel of typed type. Not my best sellers, but some of my personal faves. Typewriters are awesome machines.

  • Cuyler Brooks says:

    Have you ever seen the strange typeface called “diacritical”? I have a book typed in it, but have never seen it on a machine.

  • Monda says:

    This is wonderful. I’m always curious about typefaces, especially cursive. That Olympia cursive is delicate, lovely. I’ve been typecasting on my blog and have a couple of different examples there of an Olivetti and Tower/Smith Corona cursive typeface, as well as some others.

    http://freshribbon.blogspot.com

  • Ryan Nelson says:

    Chank and Monda —Yes, the cursive typefaces are a delight. This issue of Typographica—which all of these type specimens were scanned from—actually has a couple more examples of “script” or cursive typefaces. Some of the typefaces were a little less machined (they more so resembled handwriting) than the example shown above. Thanks for your contributions to the blog.

  • Thomas Karlin says:

    I found on Ebay a very peculiar Olivetti Lettera 35. What made it so peculiar was the typeface. It was like nothing I have seen before. It looked like Helvetica except it as thicker on the vertical side than the horizontal, almost like calligraphy but not cursive or italic. I lost the auction and have never seen such a font again. Do you know where I can get more information on Olivetti fonts?

  • Ryan Nelson says:

    Hi Thomas —Unfortunately, I have yet to find a good resource about or on the history of Olivetti typefaces. Though I just got word of a new Olivetti Lettera-inspired typeface from the Swiss type foundry, Lineto that you may be interested in. Lettera was adapted from a Olivetti typewriter typeface originally designed by Joseph Mller-Brockmann.

  • Santiago says:

    Fantastic Post! Thanks for the information… I have a little question. I posses a Triumph Condessa de Luxe typewriter, a german beauty with a killer 70s look. The typeface is very very similar to the Olympia Typestyle 69 cursive, and I was wondering if you know of any way place to get a downloadable font to reproduce it in all my Word documents. Cheers! Santiago.

  • Richard Massey says:

    you should take a look at the catalogs wim crouwel designed for both fodor and the stedelijk in the late 60s and early 70s — for many of them (especially the fodors) he used a single typewriter typeface, very similar to some of the olivetti-ish faces that lineto has been reviving — he was excited by the possibility of typesetting everything in house.

  • Thanks for the great collection … i use old typewriter and typefaces for my bookartworks ;o)

  • RW says:

    anyone know if these fonts are downloadable? Specifically Olympia Typestyle 69 or Elite Italic. Thanks!

  • Ryan Nelson says:

    Hi RW — to my knowledge, those specific ones are not downloadable or even purchasable. Considering how nice those typefaces are, it’s unfortunate that they are not (apparently) available in digital form. Those typefaces were most likely made for use exclusively on typewriters, so that definitely makes them all that much more rare and difficult to digitize.

    If you’re open to using other typewriter-style italic/cursive typefaces like the ones you mentioned, ITC American Typewriter Light Italic comes to mind or even LTC Remington Typewriter Italic.

    Hope that helps!

  • Jeff says:

    hello ryan,

    I am curious and would like to know more about the typeface on the “typographica” magazine page (fig.6-with “IBM” ), do you know the name of this typeface?

    Thanks,

    Jeff

  • Hello Jeff. — I went back to the scans I have of this Typographica and neither that page nor any surrounding page contains a caption for that specimen. But, taking a look through all of the specimens printed in this Typographica feature (many of which were not shown in this blog post), the typeface you’re asking about most resembles the typefaces named “Diplomat” and “Bold Face No. 1.” The only other information I have about these typefaces is that they were manufactured by IBM for their typewriters.

    Hope this helps you out to some degree. Thanks for your interest, Jeff.

  • Tina says:

    I have been reading archives of letters lately and have come across all kinds of different typewriting styes, including the cursive! What I am most curious about is the seemingly Futura-inspired typeface that is featured in the margin in figure 3 — “Artaud crouching…”. I have seen that in just a handful of the letters I have been reading and am dying to know what kind of typewriter featured it. Is it the Mikron? Any idea?

  • Hi Tina. Thanks for checking out the blog.

    The typeface you’re talking about, from File Under Architecture, is called “Artisan.” It’s an IBM typeface and I’m assuming that it was made available on many of their typewriters; but the sample you’re asking about was originally typeset by an IBM Selectric typewriter. If you’re interested, you should check out David Reinfurt’s article—”This stands as a sketch for the future—Muriel Cooper and the Visible Language Workshop”—from Dot Dot Dot 15. Pages 36-37 speak about how Muriel Cooper, for MIT Press, typeset and designed File Under Architecture entirely with an IBM Selectric typewriter.

  • Sarah says:

    I am doing a class project for a typography class and I cannot find any research on “Orator” font. It was used as a typewriter font for IBM in 1962 designed by john scheppler. and thats all I can find on the font or the creator. Any help at all would be appreciated and cited!