Century Misnomer

quadibloc's picture

A long time ago, a typeface called Century was devised by ATF for Century Magazine.

Later, that typeface was used as the basis for the very popular Century Expanded typeface from ATF. And then numerous other typefaces were added to the family. Century Oldstyle, a modern descendant of Alexander Phemister's old style typeface. Century Schoolbook, which was very popular in the 1960s.

Century was quite narrow; Century Expanded, although still somewhat narrow, thus providing economy of space, was a conventional typeface. Century Schoolbook was not narrow at all, but it seems to me to be just a tad too Clarendon-ish to be the ideal typeface for general text typography.

So I would have liked to find a Century Wide, as it were - and I thought I did run across such a face with such a name, somewhere in a specimen book, but I couldn't find it again. Of course, what with optical scaling, Century Six would do, were there such a thing.

A while back, looking through a specimen book of IBM Selectric Composer typefaces, I saw that the typeface that they simply called Century was similar to Century Expanded in styling, but to Century Schoolbook in width. Thus, it wasn't what was just called Century in ATF specimen books.

An understandable misnomer - since they had just one style from the Century family, why not give it an unmodified name. But using a different name does cause confusion, and it does obscure the history of the face, so I still deplored it a bit, even though I liked the face, it being the version of Century I wanted.

But just today, I've found out that IBM was not alone in this.

ITC Century, it turns out, from the catalogue of the original batch of ITC typefaces in issue 1, volume 8 of U&lc magazine, is another "Century" that follows IBM's naming convention.

oldnick's picture

Once upon a time, a typeface designed specifically for a magazine had a single utilitarian purpose: to use less ink. The original Century is a marvelous solution and a durable design.

The IBM Selectric Composer fonts were set up on a pretty coarse grid—six or nine units to the em, IIRC. Thus, type designs were sorely abused.

In any event, some version of Century—Bitstream versions preferred, I believe—is now required for all paperwork submitted electronically to the United States Supreme Court.

quadibloc's picture

The Selectric Composer did use a nine-unit system. But it's not quite as coarse as nine units to the em would imply. In order to manage with only nine units, and fit the characters on the Selectric element, what IBM did, basically, was to scale down the Monotype 18-unit system to an 11-unit system, and then compress the widest characters.

That is, except for the 18 unit M and W, Selectric Composer widths are pretty close to 3/5ths of Monotype widths in units.

Since in the Selectric Composer, one has a choice of three unit sizes, 1/72" (red), 1/84" (yellow), and 1/96" (blue), which span more than three point sizes, it's not really a 10 4/5 units to the em system, but it approximates that.

Mark Simonson's picture

A minor clarification: ITC Century Light and Ultra were released in 1975 (announced in Vol. 2, No. 3 of U&lc.), the rest of the ITC Century family (Book, Bold, plus the same four weights Condensed) was released in 1980 (announced in U&lc. Vol. 7, No. 3).

ATF had a Century Bold Extended.

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