"humanist sans" - 1st use of label?

eliason's picture

I am trying to trace the history of the use of the term "humanist sans serif." It seems pretty indisputable that Gill Sans is the first of this kind, but I have found that, though from early on Gill Sans is promoted as a sans of a different kind to the contemporary geometric sans-serifs from Germany, "humanist" doesn't seem to have been the word used to name this "different kind."

A companion question (which actually may go pretty far in helping to answer the first) is when was "humanist" first used to describe specifically ANY lettering (that is, seriffed types or script)? B. L. Ullman in 1960 still opines that humanistic script has been deplorably neglected in scholarship, but cites Morison's writings of the early 1940s as the "leading treatment." Was "humanist" used in any of the turn-of-the-twentieth-century books? (I have Theodore Low De Vinne's 1900 Practice of Typography here and I don't see the term used.)

So: what's the earliest you've seen "humanist" used to refer to a sans-serif type?

And what's the earliest you've seen "humanist" used to refer to any lettering?

Thanks for any help you can provide!

Robert Trogman's picture

I think Bitstream was one of the first to post a category called humanistic.

James Mosley's picture

My hunch is that Syntax (Hans-Eduard Meyer 1969) may have been the first sans to be called 'humanist'.

kentlew's picture

"Humanist" is used to refer to a whole class of letterforms and calligraphic style from the 15th-century Italian Renaissance, which were based on 12th-century Carolingian style. Granted, this is writing/lettering and not type, per se.

I wouldn't be surprised if Johnston (Gill's teacher) were using the term in Writing & Illuminating, & Lettering, first published in 1906, though I'm sure that's not the first use of the term.

D.B. Updike refers to the Humanist book hands in an early chapter of his seminal Printing Types (first published in 1922). But he doesn't use the term to refer directly to types. When discussing the influence of the Humanists on the first Italian types, he uses the term "Humanistic influence."

-- K.

William Berkson's picture

>pretty indisputable that Gill Sans is the first of this kind

Not Gill Sans, but Johnston's Underground is usually credited with being the first to depart from 19th century models. Full proportions of a traditional seriffed type may have been first done, though I'm not sure, in Goudy Sans, which was first shown in 1922, a number of years before Gill Sans--which is I believe also less fully 'humanist' as far as proportions.

eliason's picture

Not Gill Sans, but Johnston’s Underground is usually credited with being the first to depart from 19th century models.

You're right of course; I would have to qualify my statement a bit for it to be incontrovertible.

Full proportions of a traditional seriffed type may have been first done, though I’m not sure, in Goudy Sans, which was first shown in 1922, a number of years before Gill Sans—which is I believe also less fully ’humanist’ as far as proportions.

Bringhurst's Elements has Goudy Sans designed in 1929-30 - do you have other information?

William Berkson's picture

>do you have other information?

Yes, Jaspert's Encyclopedia and also Mac McGrew's American Metal Typefaces says that the first foundry type version was done in 1922. They both say the Lanston Monotype version was done 1929-1930.

Bringhurst says that Goudy Sans is the "spiritual father" of "several recent typefaces, including Erik Spiekermann's Meta and Officina." Perhaps Erik will chime in and let us know if Goudy sans was indeed an influence or inspiration.

Goudy Sans has never been very popular, but I have a feeling that subsequent designers of humanist faces have been aware of it. I my guess is that it was path-breaking, though is not entirely successful as a design.

Nick Shinn's picture

Globe Gothic, from the 1890s, has a lot of "humanist" qualities -- unfolded curves and (pen-angled) terminals in the lower case.

Bernhard Gothic, a type of similar vintage to Gill Sans, is far more chirographically informed in general.
But Gill's "a" and "g" really make a statement -- perhaps in contrast to the quite geometrically modern (or neoclassical) proportion of the rest of its letters.

Round about 1980, when I was becoming familiar with type, there were only two "humanist" faces -- Gill and Syntax -- although I don't recall them being referred to as that. Even in the mid '80s, when I designed Shinn Sans, I thought of it as a calligraphic face, not humanist, and could only really add Eras and Shannon to the genre, and possibly Frutiger.

Si_Daniels's picture

>Round about 1980, when I was becoming familiar with type, there were only two “humanist” faces — Gill and Syntax

Would you not have classed Frutiger alongside Gill and Syntax back then?

I do like the myfonts search results on the term - http://www.myfonts.com/search?search%5Btext%5D=humanist

blank's picture

Was Johnston’s underground actually produced as a typeface to be used for materials within the system, or was it a series of guidelines for drawing the letters used in the signage?

Nick Shinn's picture

Would you not have classed Frutiger alongside Gill and Syntax back then?

I didn't know what to make of Frutiger, it was transcendent, in a class of its own. What perplexed me most was the ease with which it could convincingly present the most banal messages -- in huge Bold Italic all cap headlines, for instance, in trade advertisements in Advertising Age magazine.

eliason's picture

Was Johnston’s underground actually produced as a typeface to be used for materials within the system, or was it a series of guidelines for drawing the letters used in the signage?

As I understand it, Johnston's design was made into a type near the time of its design, but I think it was only used by the railroad (not sold), and Johnston's involvement in that stage of his letters' use may have been pretty removed. Robin Kinross: "Johnston's Arts & Crafts scruples and his natural diffidence obstructed any collaboration with the world of machine production: he never developed the alphabet as a typeface (i.e. in a range of sizes, with variant forms) for a typefounder, still less for machine composition." (Modern Typography, p75)

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