Born in Leipzig, Germany on the second of April in 1902, Jan Tschichold was a famous typographer and book designer. Jan Tschichold was the son of a signwriter and trained in calligraphy, graphic arts, and book crafts. His father’s profession gave him an early introduction to the many forms of written scripts. He often helped his father and learned script writing without ever thinking of this as his future. He wanted to be a fine arts painter but his parents saw this profession as too unstable and did not believe he could earn a living at it. As a compromise he decided to become a drawing teacher. After finishing his schooling the 14-year-old Tschichold started a teaching seminar in Grimma, near Leipzig.
Jan Tschichold was a front-runner in the Bauhaus inspired movement called “New Typography” in which he wrote a book appropriately called Die Neue Typographie. Interestingly enough, the Bauhaus movement had no interest in serif fonts, which Tschischold also expressed in his earlier design days in Die Neue Typographie in 1928. Die Neue Typographie was strongly in favor of bold, asymmetric, sans serif type fonts. This manifesto would soon be an upset to the growing Nazi party in Germany and scorned by them.
When the Nazi party came to power in 1933, Tschichold was arrested and lost his teaching job and emigrated to Switzerland in 1935. While in Switzerland, Tschchold continued to advocate his views about asymmetrical typograpy being superior and published Asymmetrical Typography. Despite both Tschichold’s and Switzerland’s keen interest on Modernist sans serif typefaces, Tschichold started to rethink his negative views on serif fonts. He eventually saw his views on Typography as too fascist and even condemned his own book Die Neue Typographie as extreme.
Jan’s first years in Switzerland were anything but easy as he was struggling financially and also coming up with interesting work. He saw a turn for the better in 1935 when his book Typographic Design appeared. Typographic Design sold over 1000 copies before it was even on the printing press. In the same year Tschichold exhibited his work at the major London print shop Lund Humphries, after which he received commissions from the shop as well as the task of designing the typography of the world famous Penrose Annual of 1938.
His next book appeared in 1942, “Typeface Theory, Practices and Sketches”. Tschichold left the Bauhaus and elementary influence behind and returned to classic typography and art. This is evident in the numerous designs he produced in this period. Since 1938 he had devoted himself completely to book typography. He abandoned the assymetrical arrangements of industrial typography and began to center almost all his work. In later years, Jan Tschicold started developing his most well known font, Sabon.
Sabon was developed between the years of 1964-1967 at the request of three German companies Linotype, Monotype and Stempel. It was definitely the result of Tschichold’s reversion back to Classicism, as Sabon is an Old Style serif font. Sabon was the result of many years of preparation. Its model was the 1952 Garamond interpretation which Jacob Sabon and Conrad Berner produced in Frankfurt. It was the first typeface that was produced with undifferentiated forms for the linotype, monotype and hand setting. There were only 3 weights of Sabon when it was first created, being normal, italic, and semi-bold. In 1984, Sabon expanded and included a semi-bold cursive weight. The name of Sabon comes from the Frankfurt printer Konrad Berner. Berner had married the widow of a fellow printer Jacques Sabon. The typeface was commissioned by a group of German printers, who wanted a good text face that would appear the same on all three metal type mechanisms used at the time. Sabon has been described as one of the most beautiful Garamond fonts. Sabon is also very versatile being good for body test, headlines, magazines, advertisements, business reports, corporate design, multimedia, and correspondence.
One of the defining characteristics of Sabon is the W, which is actually made out of two intersecting Vs featuring no apex. Lower case letters with ascenders are taller than any of the capital letters, when comparing them on a baseline. There is a moderate contrast between the thick and thinness of the strokes of each letter. The spurs of Sabon’s Gs are very subtle, but still noticeable. Lower case As and Cs of Sabon also feature ball serifs. The tail of an uppercase Q is very long, but not as luxurious as one may compare to say Baskerville.
The font Sabon was being developed at a particularly interesting time in our world’s history, as it was the 60s—a time of radical change in attitude toward the world around us. Countercultures of the United States spread to Western Europe, sparking a number of new-left student organizations. The main difference, however, was the existence of mass socialist and communist organizations. We also know that Sabon was a demand by three German companies.
One of the main events in Europe brewing at the time was the German Student Movement. Though the movement was born a year after Sabon was created, there were events leading up to it while Sabon was being developed. Germany had just gone into a recession. There was also a frustration in dealing with a number of Germany’s past issues, including, but not limited to, the Nazi past which Germany had not yet overcome, as the extreme right-wing NPD was attracting more voters and many former members of the Nazi party were still working for the government and universities. With this, Germans worked to move towards a more democratic nation and to close the gap between the rich and the poor.
Jan Tschichold may have been a revolutionary designer, but the Sabon font doesn’t really seem to reflect the climate of Germany at the time. Sabon seems to more live in the past as it was intended as an Old Style font. Again, Jan Tschichold was a revolutionary back when he was beginning, but soon became more accepting of traditional fonts and development one of the most well known old style fonts. Sabon seems to reflect an attitude of appreciating the old instead of welcoming Tschichold’s Modernist roots.
Revival of the Fittest by Phillip Meggs pg 115
20th Century Type Designers by Sebastian Carter pgs 169-171