Akzidenz Grotesk roots

xurxo_insua's picture

I am interested in the roots of Akzidenz Grotesk, a truly seminal typeface for the development of sanserif, considered anonymous by various sources.

According to typolexicon.de, the "Royal Grotesk", by German typographer Ferdinand Theinhardt is its direct precursor. Do you know any publication or website where I could find a specimen of this typeface?

In broader terms, talking about the context in which it appeared, Robert Bringhurst in "The Elements of Typographic Style" relates it to the Realist movement in art. Do you know of any other source in which this is further discussed?

Thanks a lot

bieler's picture


My understanding is that the German Jacob Erbar's Erbar "family" was the one of first influential san serifs. Might be some interchange there.

The Realist movement in art, huh!


rcapeto's picture

Robert Bringhurst in "The Elements of Typographic Style" relates it
to the Realist movement in art. Do you know of any other source in
which this is further discussed?

There is none. Bringhurst

Nick Shinn's picture

>the Caslon sans of the 1820s, so praised for its early appearance, has no real relevance.

Huh? The guy invents a major genre and it's irrelevant?! The sans is present in the specimen books of UK typefounders (I'm not familiar with other countries, but I would imagine the same situation) from the 1830s, and in steady use, especially advertising, subsequently.

Caslon's sans had a very geometric quality -- circular Os and straight-legged R etc. Figgins sans's of the 1830s show an indecision between geometric and grotesque qualities, with versions at different sizes leaning one way or the other.

Those earliest sans were Bold and Caps only, and appear to have been used mainly for contrast, in text work. The most popular early sans was probably the Bold Condensed style, used in a range of sizes, particularly in commercial jobbing. Regular weight sans faces were used in the 1840s.

I suspect that the introduction of lower case to the sans genre pushed it in a grotesque direction, as the world was not ready for a geometric lower case at that time (the 3rd quarter of the 19thC), when the radical tone of the early century had become more conservative.

AG is well-known for the logic of its systematic family, and it is tempting to equate this modernist idea with the sans genre -- however, almost no-one used sans faces for text in 1900. In fact it was the massively popular Cheltenham that lead the way in being a face with a large family that you could set an entire job in: heads, decks, subheads, and text.

andreas's picture

Royal Grotesk was made for sientific publications as text/body typeface round about 1880 by Ferd. Theinhardt Schriftgiesserei Berlin.

source: http://www.typolexikon.de/t/theinhardt-ferdinand.html

Royal Grotesk hand setting version
Royal Grotesk Monotype version

Scan sources: specimen book from Haag Drugulin, Leipzig - edition 1936.
BTW. Haag Drugulin was well known for its collection of old, original type material.

Nick Shinn's picture

Interesting. Were sans faces the norm for scientific texts at that time in Germany, or elsewhere?

xurxo_insua's picture

In my opinion, we could talk about two different approaches to the grotesque, one developed mainly in the UK and USA, and the other in Germany, that follow different lines.

As I see it, the first develops in the UK from the Caslon breakthrough, and represents the modulated, less geometrical approach, that has in Franklin Gothic its paradigm. The tipology of this line remains fixed through time. Thus Trade Gothic (1948) and News Gothic (1908) belong to the same formal category.

The German grotesques of the XIX century, like Akzidenz Grotesk, tend to geometry and monoline anatomy, and a more systematic development of the range of weights. I think this ascetic approach fitted more the rationalist modern spirit of the XX century typographic avant-gardes. Thus, this grotesque tipology evolved in time into neogrotesque (Helvetica, 1957), by absorbing the influences of the technical and aesthetical proposals of those avant-gardes.

Of course, this comparison has nothing to do with a value judgement, in terms of one being "better" than the other in any way.

bieler's picture


One slight problem with the Caslon "breakthrough." The type was shown on a specimen only as an information marker and not a face that was offered for sale. It is thought by some historians to be a dead link. There are other earlier examples but they were seemingly only found in stone cutting.

More likely there was some form of interplay of influence between styles offered from different countries.

For instance. The Americans who developed decorative wood type based it on British metal type imports which were in turn derived from French decorated typefaces and then Dutch, at about the turn of the century and very early 1900s. The popularity of American wood type in turn resulted in metal type foundries churning out a lot of similar decorated styles.

Sometimes the string of influence is just not a straight line.


xurxo_insua's picture

(No coments to your argument, Gerald. Thank you for it.)

In words of Erik Spiekermann ( http://www.typophile.com/forums/messages/83/552.html ), "Schelter Grotesk" was the actual model for Helvetica (not Akzidenz). Do you know any source where I could find a specimen of this typeface?

Helvetica was originally called Neue Haas Grotesk, and was a direct redesign of a previous "Haas Grotesk", itself based on AG. Any source for a specimen of this one?

Thanks again

rcapeto's picture

Xurxo, your email came without a reply-to address. My answer is

bieler's picture


I'm not sure if your request was directed to me but I doubt I would be able to provide an adequate source at this time for the specimens. But Keith Tam did write a very good article (as part of his dissertation at Reading) on the evolution of sanserifs. It is on his website in PDF form. I downloaded this a while back and can send it to you if you like.

Send me your address offlist and I'll get it off to you.


xurxo_insua's picture

(Rodolfo, Gerald, I

dezcom's picture

If anyone finds samples of "Schelter Grotesk" and "Haas Grotesk," please post the source. I would be very interested as well.

Thank you,


xurxo_insua's picture

I would like to know, at least, the date and/or any release notes for "Haas Grotesk".

Also any clarification of the influence of Schelter Grotesk on Helvetica.

Thanks again

Nick Shinn's picture

Xurxo, there are two articles in the "Essays" section of my web site (www.shinntype.com), "The Face of Uniformity", and "Punch Cuts", which touch on pre-1850 English sans serif faces, with a couple of examples from specimens and magazines of the era.

ovaalk's picture

Martin Majoor suggests that the basic construction of AG comes from Walbaum.

I would also be interested in Schelter and Haas grotesk specimens, and also metal AG semibold at 60 points.

Does anyone know if anything was changed when AG was released as Standard in America, other than name and body size?

xurxo_insua's picture

We are still looking for Schelter Grotesk and Haas Grotesk samples. Any help will be appreciated.

Another question on Akzidenz Grotesk origins. While some sources (including Berthold website) set its release date in 1896, it

xurxo_insua's picture

(Sorry for the repetition of posts, I sent then while waiting for the server)

as8's picture

Here is a scan from Giuseppe Pelletteri's 1963 Atlante Tipologico (SEI, Torino).
Haas Grotesque, 1957

dezcom's picture

Thank you Alessandro

ovaalk's picture


as8's picture

Kiitos paljon Mr. Tiimo Klaavo,
that's cool like a viilipytty!

ovaalk's picture

Grazie for the Haas sample Alessandro! Peoples finnish skills keep suprising me on this board. Have you been living in Finland?

ovaalk's picture

I see, you still freelance for Finnish companies?

Back to topic... I wonder if the Neue Haas grotesk was simply Haas grotesk with lower case, and maybe some changes in weight and height.

I like the weight of the sample although it

dezcom's picture


ovaalk's picture

That explains it, thanks.

The film version is just alot more geometric then...

Standard was the official name in the States, but Berthold was just a short for Berthold Akz... I guess. There was Linotype AG too, not long ago. Now Basic Commercial.

The AG old face seems to bear closest resemblance to the metal versions I

dezcom's picture

I had the pleasure of meeting and studying with Wolfgang Weingart in the mid 80s. He told me about discovering a few old, dusty, forgotten job cases of AG in the bowels of the type shop in Basel. He described how he had "awakened them from sleep" and began a long partnership with the fonts. You can see examples of his work with the quite extraordinary (and to my mind best) version of AG in his book "Weingart: Typgraphy

eriks's picture

> but Berthold was just a short for Berthold Akz... I guess. There was Linotype AG too, not long ago. Now Basic Commercial. <

There is also a Berthold Grotesk which had nothing to do with AG. And that is the proper nickname.

> The AG old face seems to bear closest resemblance to the metal versions I

ovaalk's picture

Thanks for the correction Erik. Looking forward to hear more on Akzidenz.

Very confusing with the nicknames and real names. Yes there is a face called Berthold grotesk also, it

as8's picture

> Which is part of the attraction- <

That is little bit idiosyncratic, Mr. Spiekermann :-)

Nick Shinn's picture

>Nick is very wrong in saying that AG was a systematic family.

Sorry, Erik, that was sloppy of me.

Meggs (A History of Graphic Design) calls it "graphically unified", which is close to what I meant, as I was trying to identify the affinity between AG and Modernism.

For instance, "graphically unified" is the modernist way Tschicold used the type face to set the prospectus for "Die neue typographie" (1928) in bold and regular weights of the same face, nothing else.

dezcom's picture

My "sad" case

Below is what remains from my job case of 42 years ago

as8's picture

very nice.

speter's picture

Chris, that picture is now my desktop background! Thanks.

dezcom's picture

That's what I get for getting the Lead out :-)

xurxo_insua's picture

Thank you all for your substantial information

Timo, I

ovaalk's picture

The numbers show the range of sizes that were available. I don

xurxo_insua's picture

We are still looking for information on "Haas Grotesk". Does anyone have a complete sample and/or any release notes of this typeface?

Thank you

ovaalk's picture

Here is the release data of the book 100 Jahre Berthold

Festschrift zum einenhundertj

gilbert's picture

Hi I'm new here. By chance I was Googling to find information on AG and found this thread (and this great site).

Regarding the different versions and descendants of AG, does anyone know how AG Book and AG Schoolbook fit in to the picture? In particular, AG Schoolbook has quite a few marked differences with other AGs (e.g. lowercase "a") so it seems there must be an interesting story on the impetus of this AG variant.

This has been on my mind for a while and I even tried contacting Berthold a few times about this and I've never got a response.

Thanks to anyone who can provide some background.

xurxo_insua's picture

Thank you for the 100 Jahre Berthold book data, Timo.

We keep looking for a complete sample of "Haas Grotesk", and/or any release data for it.


Wellcome to the forum, Gilbert

ovaalk's picture

In the book Wim Crouwel Alphbets there is a quote of Crouwel: "The Swiss had with them big wooden boxes with rubber stamps of Akzidenz grotesk. It was beautiful, in all sizes. Oh, how I envied them!"
Something like this I guess (from another book):

Where these stamps came from? Berthold? Linotype?

PS I just made an AG related post in the identification board.

xurxo_insua's picture

Very nice and interesting, Timo, thank you. From which book did you take the illustration?

ovaalk's picture

The rubberstamp image is from:

Bruckmann's Handbuch der Schrift
Erhardt D. Stiebner, Walter Leonhard unter Mitarbeit von Johannes Determann...[et al.]
München : Bruckmann, 1985

Sorry about the two year delay. The book was from a library.

Brought me back here. Great info there too.

The Book of Type and Design by O. Hlavsa (1960) has a sample of a grotesk "cast by the Swiss Haas Foundry", but it appears to be Schelter & Giesecke grotesk (like FF Bau). Is there a connection or is it just confusion?

Another interesting related grotesk is Genzsch & Heyse Blockschrift:

Does anyone know the year it first appears? This sample is from a late 1910's specimen book.


poms's picture

> about "Haas Grotesk"

Maybe someone can translate the parts you are interested in -

Max Miedinger schuf den Entwurf zur Helvetica mager und halbfett im Jahr 1937. Im Jahre 1957 bei der Haas'schen Schriftgießerei, Münchenstein, Schweiz unter dem Namen Haas-Grotesk mager und Haas-Grotesk halbfett gegossen.
Nach der Übernahme der Haas'schen Schriftgießerei durch die D.Stempel AG, Frankfurt am Main wurde die Schrift dort unter dem Namen Helvetica ins Programm genommen und gleichzeitig im Jahr 1961 um die vielen anderen Schnitte erweitert und zwar parallel in Frankfurt am Main und in Münchenstein, Schweiz.

HERE you can view printed Material and read further informations, search for Helvetica.


dan_reynolds's picture

>Max Miedinger schuf den Entwurf zur Helvetica mager und halbfett im Jahr 1937.

What is your source for that, Thomas? I've seen that quoted on Typografie.info (from Georg).
It isn't true. And I posted that there, too!

Miedinger was commission by Haas to make the base design for Neue Hass Grotesk in the 1950s.

poms's picture

>What is your source for that, Thomas? I’ve seen that quoted on Typografie.info (from Georg).
It isn’t true. And I posted that there, too!

I've taken this text directly from Georgs Website.
Sorry, i thought Georg would know it...

Should i edit my first posting?

dan_reynolds's picture

No, it's OK. All the other information is correct. Somewhere, at the beginning of the chain—probably where Georg got his info in the first place—there is a typo. That's all ;-)

It isn't too serious. Imagine if Helvetica had been drawn in the 1930s. Boy, those Swiss boys would've been onto something.

Nick Shinn's picture

Genzsch & Heyse Blockschrift

Timo, what are those little "Flare" characters at the bottom tight of the specimen you showed -- can we have a close-up please?

Charles Leonard's picture

Since this thread has been picked up again, does anyone know how Akzidenz Grotesk was cut? I think I remember reading somewhere that it was one of the earliest fonts to have been engraved using the Benton pattern machine engraving process.
And is it correct that it was re-released after 1900 for the US market as Standard Gothic?

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