It's hard to believe that Monotype, a successful company and a great font house with a history of brilliant design behind it, could cut two slightly different versions of a distinctive eighteenth-century font, and choose the wrong one to preserve; but such happened in the 1920s to 'Fournier' -- attractive enough, if a little plain -- and its more beautiful sister 'Barbou'.
From: – Stanley Morison, ‘A Tally of Types’, pages 79-80. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1973.
To these biographical notes a few paragraphs may be added about the book-faces originated by Fournier, which were recut by the Monotype Corporation and immediately acquired for use at Cambridge. Although it was decided in 1922 to proceed with the recutting of one of the roman and italics characteristic of Fournier’s early period, work was not begun until the autumn of 1924. When the Corporation made its decision, there remained some doubt as to the best model, and two designs were cut, which are here compared for the first time. They are numbered 185 and 178 respectively.
Owing to some confusion (due to the typographical adviser’s absence abroad), series 185 was approved. This, therefore, is the face that, after a highly successful career of over twenty-five years, appears here and in the Corporation’s specimen. It is a reproduction of Nos. xlvi (roman) and xlvii (italic) named in the Manuel Typographique as ‘St Augustin Ordinaire’. The great seven-volume Shakespeare printed at Cambridge for Francis Meynell between 1929 and 1933 is, according to the considered judgement of its designer, the ‘chef d’oeuvre of the Nonesuch Press’. As a use of series 185, it is no less a monument to Fournier le jeune, although the capitals were specially reduced in height. The first size of the Monotype recutting was completed in 1925.
The second and, surely, preferable design (shown in this paragraph) is numbered series 178, only one size of which, in one set of matrices, was struck. They were acquired by Cambridge, where they are known as ‘Barbou’, and were first used for the composition of ‘The Fleuron’, vol. V, printed at Cambridge in 1926. The Barbou type was used for the composition in 1926 on a type-facsimile of ‘Traité historique et critique sur l’origine et les progrès des caractères de font, pour l’impression de la musique’ which Fournier wrote and Barbou published in 1765. The facsimile was duly proofed, but pressure of work of a different kind having first delayed the writing of the necessary introduction and finally postponed it to the Greek Kalends, Lewis after fifteen years dissed the type (‘It had whiskers on it’), and the project was abandoned. The Barbou type has had occasional use since ‘The Fleuron’ came to its appointed end with volume VII (Cambridge, 1930). This paragraph enables comparison to be made with the standard Fournier shown in those preceding it. Both designs were cut by Fournier le jeune before 1742. They are both unmistakably eighteenth-century in cut; neither is conspicuously French, or even markedly continental. Both series provide for a persistent need in the trade: a bookish type which is narrow in the body without looking starved, an effect better reached by series 178 than by 185.*
The headpiece at the beginning of this section is composed from reproductions of ornaments designed and engraved by the artist. Fournier’s ornaments as a whole and the use he made of them alone place him at the head of his craft during a century that included Bodoni and Baskerville among his great contemporaries.
Attached is a scan of page 80 of Morison's book, which gives examples of Fournier at the head and tail of the page, and Barbou in the centre.
I like my digital version of Fournier, but I agree with most commentators that at sizes less than 16 point, it gives a spindly and anaemic effect. How I long to hear that Barbou has been revived as a digital face...
John Tranter, Balmain