Excoffon’s Calypso now free for download!
During research for my book Letter Fountain many typefaces passed my eye. Most of them designed with meticulous precision and based on the knowledge of readability and technical perfection achieved in hundreds of years. But sometimes fascination strikes when a designer leaves the common path. Roger Excoffon was one of them and for me one of the most striking typefaces was Calypso, a typeface that has a terrible readability, and you can even ask yourself why it is made in the first place. Marcel Olive, owner of Fonderie Olive saw Excoffon experimenting with an enlarged print of a half-tone screen at Olive studio. He was rolling it up and looked through it like a kaleidoscope. A metal type with half-tone dots was not done before and a technical challenge to achieve. Marcel Olive saw the chance to profile the technical capabilities of his foundry and earn a worldwide reputation and gave Excoffon permission to execute the design proposal.
After establishing the angle and size of the dots by Olive Studio each character was drawn dot by dot using a pair of compasses. According to José Mendoza y Almeida, who lead the team at the studio, Excoffon made sketches of the outlines of each character and in the studio shading was added by airbrush. The airbrush shading was converted to a dot-screen that went from deep black to white. It was quite a challenge to transfer the drawings with a pantograph and to scale this complex drawings in different type sizes to the matrices. Then it had to be milled, retouched and casted in lead reproducing all the dots of the dot-screen. Calypso was cast in four sizes: 20, 24, 30 and 36 pt and had 26 capitals, a period, an apostrophe (used a lot in French), and a hyphen.
Most of the typefaces ever made have been digitized. Calypso was no exception. I found and downloaded Calypso Boy from Scootergraphics (Digitized by Marty Pfeiffer) and Calypso by Profonts (digitized by Ralph Michael Unger). Ralph Michael Unger has added numerals, a question mark, an exclamation mark, ligatures and a lot of other useful characters, making it a complete digital font. By comparing the capitals I saw that they where quite different and it seemed to me that they were based on the Calypso silkscreen-printed rub down Letraset version because the dots were not round like on the original drawings I had seen in several publications and advertising for this typeface.
Of course the original drawings were also not exactly the same as the metal type. As earlier written the punches that were cut by the Benton pantograph were retouched and because of that there were differences compared with the original drawings. So the final design had to be found in the actual cast type. I went looking for this type and found the site of D. Stempel GmbH that got the original matrices of D. Stempel AG and all the takeovers Stempel made during their existence. One of them was Fonderie Olive. I ordered a set of newly cast type from the original Olive matrices and found out that it was indeed quite different from the digital fonts that I bought. At that time Marjolein Koper was working as an intern at our design studio Polka Design and I asked her to digitize Calypso. The result was better than the fonts I bought but still I was not satisfied. After she came back to work at our studio on a steady base we photographed the metal type with a Micro Nikkor on a D800 to get the sharpest enlargement we could get. With this pictures Marjolein established the exact angle of the grid and we decided to begin again from scratch. Although it still is not an exact reproduction of the original metal type it has more detail and it can match almost the big reproductions seen in the first advertising in the French printers’ yearbook “Caractère Noël 1957” and recent publications with original drawings. You can download the result of our effort free on our site as TrueType font for Mac and Windows: http://www.letterfountain.com/extras_e.html
Please tale advantage of this utterly useless font in your work and send me some results!
In the picture you see above left the original sample of the 'C' from the Calypso from 1960 in the yearbook Caractère Noël. Below right you see our version. The other two are existing digital fonts from 1997 and 2005. Above the 24 point metal type our version is based on. Of course together with other sources that show original drawings and enlarged type.
Sandra Chamaret, Julien Gineste and Sébastien Morlighem, “Roger Excoffon et la Fonderie Olive”, Ypsilon, Paris 2010 (French/ English).
Rault, David, Roger Excoffon, Le Gentleman de la typographie, Atelier Perrousseaux, Paris 2011 (French/ English).
And a recent article in Eye Magazine featuring an original Calypso ‘R’ drawing on the cover: