What is De Vinne?

phrostbyte64's picture

It's probably a stupid question. I've seen several fonts that were called De Vinne or Devinne. They all have serifs but that is where any similarity ends. So, back to the question, what is De Vinne relative to fonts - history, definition, etc.? If someone would care to be enlightening, that would be awesome.

James

PublishingMojo's picture

Theodore Low De Vinne (1828-1914) designed several different typefaces that bear his name.

hrant's picture

Not a bad question at all!

De Vinne also wrote some foundational books. Great stuff in fact. He has a number of admirers, including Matthew Carter.

hhp

Nick Shinn's picture

He wasn’t a type designer.

Small-space ad, Saturday Evening Post, 1906.
Fonts: De Vinne by G. Schroeder, 1893; Numbered Oldstyle. Anon.
Typical of the Progressive Era, during which the rate of infant mortality was halved, this ad promotes a gender neutral exercise machine for children.

Here is part of a text I’ve been working on, which describes the first De Vinne typeface (shown above):

Elzevir, originally designed in the late 18th century, was revived in France in the 1880s and enjoyed a return to popularity in the USA, inspiring Gustav Schroeder's “De Vinne” of 1893 (Elzevir Bold, really), which became the most popular typeface of the 1890s. It was named after Theodore De Vinne, the leading figure in American typography. He was a printer in the wide sense of the term as it was then employed, a publisher of books and magazines, instigator of coated paper, co-founder of the Grolier Club for bibliophiles, and an authority on typography who wrote extensively on the subject. Of the eponymous face, De Vinne said, “This face is the outcome of correspondence (1888-90) between the senior of the De Vinne Press [meaning himself] and Mr. J. A. St. John of the Central Type Foundry of St. Louis, concerning the need of plainer types of display, to replace the profusely ornamented types in fashion, of which the printers of that time had a surfeit. The DeVinne Press suggested a return to the simplicity of the true old-style character, but with the added features of thicker lines and adjusted proportion in shapes of letters. Mr. St. John approved, but insisted on grotesques to some capital letters in the belief that they would meet a general desire for more quaintness. Mr. Werner of the Central Type Foundry was instructed to draw and cut the proposed face in all sizes from 6- to 72-point, which task he executed with great ability. The name given to this face by Mr. St. John is purely complimentary, for no member of the De Vinne Press has any claim on the style as inventor or designer. Its merits are largely due to Mr. Werner; its few faults of uncouth capitals show a desire to please eccentric tastes and to conform to old usage. The new face found welcome here and abroad; no advertising face of recent production had a greater sale.”
The De Vinne typeface was a successful compromise between two established forces competing for the soul of the popular magazine.
The foundry man claimed it for commercial interest, as a business venture captivating the consumer with visual spectacle, in the manner of brash job-printed flyers and bills larded with exotically dimensionalized fonts, or lithographed posters with even more ornately flourished lettering. St. John recognized the need for something new and eye-catching, and Schroeder's (not Werner, as De Vinne had mistakenly believed) adaptation provided that, with the quiet personality which the features of Elzevier possessed as a light text type becoming quite loud in the guise of a bold display face, the upper case features going so far as to impress DeVinne as "grotesques". It was a marriage of Parisian cachet with Yankee brashness. Such commercial interest found its foothold in the advertising of mass magazines, which during the 1890s became an experimental laboratory for marketing communication.
De Vinne claimed the magazine for typography and idealism, the editorial well his stronghold, calling for fonts of dignity and simplicity used in the understated manner of quality book and traditional magazine printing; but while he railed against the usual late Victorian suspect of profuse ornament, he too needed something new, for there were plenty of beautiful, simple, functional Victorian faces he could have turned to, but they had been around awhile, and their virtues had palled.
Although Mr De Vinne was not entirely satisfied, he couldn't argue with the instant and immediate success of his eponymous face. A year later (1894) he began working more closely with a typefounder, Linn Boyd Benton, on a commission for the Century magazine, of which he was publisher. The strict demeanour of the resulting Century Roman was more to his taste, and the heft of its hairlines more to his ease (he was 66 at the time); the face would not become popular, although its descendants would. The Century family branched out with Century Expanded (1900), Century Oldstyle (1906), and Century Schoolbook (1918).
In Devinne and Century, there is a gradual movement away from the refined detail of the Scotch Modern, which had been the favored style of everyday text type in the US for 60 years, and the more recent but similar in effect Old Style, towards a heavier impression, matching the tenor of the times which found its most forceful expression in William Morris. Like De Vinne, Morris was in his sixties in the nineties, so their beef with fine type may well have been age-related.

eliason's picture

Thanks Nick. I'm really intrigued by his use of "grotesque" in that quotation.

hrant's picture

Good stuff, Nick.

hhp

PublishingMojo's picture

@ Nick: Very enlightening! I can't recall when I've so enjoyed discovering I was in error.

phrostbyte64's picture

@Nick: Wow. Awesome stuff.

Nick Shinn's picture


A comparison of a Scotch Modern c.1870 (left) with text from Theodore De Vinne’s Correct Composition (my edition is from the 1920s). This type is similar to Bitstream’s De Vinne typeface, all very generic.


Barnhart Brothers & Spindler catalogue, 1915.

mvor's picture

Hi there — this is a sort of cross-post, but I am wondering if any of the clues on this post might help me find the serif used for Wyndham Lewis' BLAST...? — http://typophile.com/node/104424

I think I am after one of the 'sort-of -De Vinne' typefaces, but a printed source / reference would be ideal to work from as the digital cuts seem wide of the mark in terms of the condensed lowercase and expresseive uppercase on the sample from p61 of BLAST.

.00's picture

399 Lafayette St New York, NY 10003 was the site of De Vinne's printing company. Now home to Astor Wine and Liquor. Use Google Maps street view to see the well preserved building.

William Berkson's picture

Nice commentary, Nick. Looking forward to your book!

DeVinne was a great and unique character in the history of printing and type, being both the leading American printer and scholar of printing and type history in his day. His Historic Printing Types is a great book and thankfully it's on line—the link goes to it. He has an superb eye, and his critiques are extremely insightful and not dated at all, which is pretty astonishing.

I consulted it in doing my article about the 19th century revival of Old Style types, and Caslon in particular, for July 2011 edition of Printing History. There is also a first rate series of historical articles by Ovink, called '19th Century Reactions against the Didone Type Model' which includes the history of the French old styles. I consulted these also, thanks to the tip by William Peterson, then editor of Printing History. Nick, you might want to consult those, if you don't know them already.

I think the 'grotesque' display 'DeVinne' is not worthy of his name, though he may not have had a problem with it. His legacy in type design is really the Century series, which bears the stamp of his ideas, even though the Bentons drew it. There is also a Linotype DeVinne in metal, which is a Scotch style, without the thickened thin strokes of Century. It was very widely used, especially in scientific texts, I believe, though I may have it wrong; Bitstream did a revival of it, as Nick notes. DeVinne himself constantly used a lot of Scotch style types as a printer, as Nick's illustration shows, even though his Century was intended to improve on the style.

Deus Lux's picture

Nick Shinn is so Punk Rock.

peterwgnd's picture

Has this De Vinne ever been digitized? I've only managed to come across a De Vinne Roman BT, which matches the sample Nick posted above and a De Vinne Swash / Ornamental, which seems to share only a superficial resemblance with the Schroeder face.

phrostbyte64's picture

There are very few that I have found which actually make some reference to their origins in De Vinne or give proper credit. I haven't found any versions that I was satisfied with.

William Berkson's picture

Not the display type De Vinne, but a lovely version of the original French old style caps that inspired it was done by Tobias Frere-Jones, called Grand Central. It also, of course, resembles the signs originally in Grand Central Station—which I believe now uses Frere-Jones's version.

peterwgnd's picture

Thanks to both of you. It really does evoke the period. Also, thanks for pointing me in the direction of Grand Central.

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