Bremer Antiqua, Emerson, and the punchcutter's role

At the instigation of Ben Mitchell I'm starting this thread, potentially about the often strong influence of silent punchcutters on the end-result fonts. Many type designers (such as JvK) have on occasion derided this contribution, but the least we should admit is that they've played a role, and in the case of successful/appealing fonts presumably a positive one.

Here's an image of Bremer Antiqua:

And here's one of Emerson:

Both fonts were cut by Louis Hoell... almost 3 decades apart!



John Hudson's picture

What do you know about the history of the development of Emerson and, particularly, why Hoell was employed as the punchcutter?

hrant's picture

The development of Emerson isn't detailed much in the one place you would expect it, Blumenthal's "Typographic Years". If memory serves Blumenthal took a long trip to Europe during the Great Depression, and ended up at Bauer when he wanted his font cut; I think this was due to some mutual acquaintance. Louis Hoell was Bauer's resident punchcutter (although he was actually nearing the end of his life). In his book Blumenthal speaks admiringly of him, his experience and abilities. But there is no talk anywhere about any affinities with Hoell's earlier work, such as Bremer Antiqua; I noticed that myself, by chance. Also of note is that Spiral (see below) was proofed at the Bremer press during its development.

BTW, a clarification and a correction: the original version cut by Hoell was called Spiral, while Emerson was the name of the typeface released by Monotype; the elapsed time between Bremer Antiqua and Spiral was closer to 2 decades than 3.


hrant's picture

BTW, this is where I started making the Hoell connection:


kentlew's picture

The development of Spiral/Emerson was covered pretty thoroughly by Jerry Kelly (who worked with Blumenthal and has first-hand accounts) in his article on this typeface in the APHA’s American Proprietary Typefaces.

In the section entitled “The Influence of the Bremer Presse,” Kelly writes that the Bremer Presse was “the strongest influence on Blumenthal’s early work.” He’s speaking here specifically about influence on Blumenthal’s printing sensibility, but obviously it applies broadly.

Blumenthal visited Wiegand in Munich shortly after starting the Spiral Press and just a few years before embarking on his own type design.

When Blumenthal was ready to have his type produced, he traveled to Frankfurt specifically to work with Hoell and the Bauer foundry, presumably because of their success with Wiegand’s font.

Kelly reports, “The initial drawings formed more of a guide than an exact model for the punchcutter Louis Hoell to work from. The punches were cut by Hoell with the designer close at hand.”

The Spiral face went through a couple different cuttings, becoming progressively less overtly calligraphic, before arriving at its final form.

You should get your hands on a copy of American Proprietary Typefaces.

eliason's picture

Thanks for the book tip, Kent!

hrant's picture

Kent, thank you! (Had you mentioned this before, and I forgot?)

> presumably because of their success with Wiegand’s font.

Makes sense.

Kelly's insights are highly revealing. It would have been nice for Blumenthal to say something more candid and concrete in his book. The way I see it, Emerson should be credited equally to Blumenthal and Hoell; and this is exactly the sort of thing that was in my mind when I started this thread concerning punchcutters get short shrift.

BTW, "American Proprietary Typefaces" is something I've had my eye on for a long while, but in the eternal quest to save money I've been holding off until I could make a[nother] trip to the Clark Library... Except the last time I went (for a riveting lecture by Russell Maret) the library was closed. Now I'm thinking TypeCon-LA should include a side-trip there... when it's open!

BTW, is Consuegra's "American Type Design and Designers" any good?


kentlew's picture

Well, you won’t get any argument from me that punchcutters like Hoell, Malin, Wiebking, et al. made a contribution to the final results of projects they were engaged in. But I don’t know if Hoell deserves *equal* credit in the sense that we currently credit type designers.

I think you would need to examine the progress of the design a little more carefully before making that claim. Apparently a bunch of material (punches, smoke proofs, etc.) exists now in the Cary Collection at RIT.

If you read the Kelly article, you’ll find that Blumenthal started sketching well in advance of engaging Hoell/Bauer. The similarities between the Bremer Presse font and Spiral are probably as much a result of Blumenthal’s obvious admiration of Wiegand’s work as they are of any innate stylistic contribution of Hoell’s. (Or perhaps I’m not giving adequate credit to Hoell’s influence on the Bremer?)

And, as I understand the account, the movement progressively away from the calligraphic was driven by Blumenthal’s personal ideas and experiences as a printer.

Again, I’m not saying that Hoell did not probably contribute a great deal in terms of making the design a successful font. I just don’t know if the contribution rises to the level of equal design credit.

I’m not familiar with the Conseugra book.

quadibloc's picture

The publishers of American Type Design and Designers have authorized Google to present an extensive preview of that book on Google Books, so anyone who is interested should be able to judge its merit for themselves.

Bendy's picture

You're right, this would make a great revival.

Curious. I like the blackletter/calligraphic influence, reminding me of Romic with the asymmetric serifs. And I can see the similarities with Emerson of course. Perhaps it's my uneducated eye but the /s/ looks unhappy, and is the spacing bumpy? And what a strange choice for the /y/. And is that a question mark next to the exclamation?

I like the way it seems to have options with different widths (e.g. /r/, /s/ and /t/). Would the two sizes of asterisk be for upper and lowercase settings?

kentlew's picture

> And what a strange choice for the /y/.

Perhaps a Dutch ‘ij’ influence on the form?

Florian Hardwig's picture

>> And what a strange choice for the /y/.

> Perhaps a Dutch ‘ij’ influence on the form?

Or a textura influence? Note how other characters like ‘v’ and ‘w’ avoid diagonals aswell. Not uncommon, though – this list has a number of typefaces with that straightened ‘y’.

>> and is that a question mark next to the exclamation?

Yes, cf. Schneidler (also from Bauer).

Bendy's picture

I hadn't thought of the 'ij' thing, would that have a precedent in other typefaces? Thinking about it, the form not so strange, given the overall blackletter construction, but the tail does seem stumpy.

Anyone familiar with the mini brackets (next to the guillemets)?

riccard0's picture

The question mark seems to be a german thing:

(see also Futura)

hrant's picture

For the sake of completeness:

Based on the Typocurious interview* linked in another thread** I have to
believe that Blumenthal was yet another type designer who suffered from
Punchcutter Role Denial... :-/




Trevor Baum's picture

Are there any legal issues preventing one of us digitizing the beautiful Emerson as a revival face? It certainly seems worth it.

kentlew's picture

Trevor — Jerry Kelly (pre-eminent book designer and friend of Blumenthal’s) has digitized Emerson. It is available from

Bendy's picture

You're right, it is beautiful. I'd love to see this revived again...the Nonpareil version is not the approach I'd take. I started drawing a darker, softer version with some of the irregularities of the printed face, but don't have the skill/time to manipulate the whole thing into something useable at present. My vision would be to redraw the italics and 'invent' a bold too.

And yes, permission needs to be sought from Monotype.

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