The original Souvenir was drawn by Morris Fuller Benton and released by ATF in 1914. It appears, in a single weight only, in the famed 1923 ATF catalog. It has a distinctive “warm and fuzzy” look, and is probably one of the softest typefaces ever to have wide popularity.
The most common version today is the 1970 interpretation, drawn by Ed Benguiat for International Typeface Corporation. When ITC was formed, Souvenir was one of their first releases for phototype. With its large x-height, soft round curves, and clean design, ITC Souvenir Light closely follows Benton’s original, which anticipated their design philosophy nearly sixty years earlier. Ed Benguiat changed a few details and expanded the concept to a family of four weights in both roman and italic. ITC Souvenir became hugely popular, and many people associate it with the design aesthetic of the ’70s and of early ITC types in particular.
Souvenir was strongly influenced by Schelter-Antiqua and Tauchnitz-Antiqua (1906) from J.G. Schelter & Giesecke, a leading German typefoundry in Leipzig. They have many distinctive features, such as the open-bottom lowercase ‘g’, the narrowed top aperture of the uppercase ‘U’, and the convex diagonals of the A that mark them as the source for Souvenir.
Schelter & Giesecke had launched Schelter-Antiqua as their own original in-house design with very elaborate and beautiful specimens, an essay on its features, and a warning that they had protected it under German law (gesetzlich geschützt). It was intended as a very serious contender in the legibility stakes and the Schelter & Giesecke specimen contains a fascinating 4-page article on it. There is much emphasis on the care put into avoiding over-fine hairlines and achieving good spacing. Having invested so much work in a complete series (condenseds and semi-bolds and so on) no wonder S&G got legal protection for the face, in Germany at least. In fact there were several imitations, and one of them (not very close, but not that distant either) from an Austrian foundry was called ‘Souverain’–probably not coincidentally similar in name to Souvenir.
Benton had produced at the same time his entry in the legibility stakes, namely Clearface. Perhaps for this reason, he took ideas from Schelter-Antiqua, which was a Jugendstil-influenced hybrid of fraktur and roman. Benton went in another direction, giving it a ‘cuddly’ look, different from the German types. Its origins as a ‘legibility’ face, as well as Benton’s and then Benguiat’s skills, may account for why among ‘soft’ designs it gained wide acceptance. ATF Souvenir had nearly sunk without trace – until the 1960s, when the desire for typographic novelty unearthed it from obscurity and put it back into typographic consciousness.
Mac McGrew’s ‘American Metal Typefaces Of The Twentieth Century’ adds that its working title at ATF was ‘Round Roman’, and that the phototype version by Benguiat became so popular that ‘Matrotype’ in England cut metal faces based on it–thus becoming one of the few cases of phototype being cut in metal.
A query as to Souvenir’s origins.
A showing of Schelter-Kursiv can be found on page 10.
Souvenir was featured as font of the week by Linotype.
Typophile threads referencing Souvenir: