Monday, April 25, 2016

The Natural History of Palatino

The Book Club of California has announced the release of a definitive account of Hermann Zapf's enduring typeface Palatino, written and designed by Canadian poet, historian, linguist, typographer, and book designer, Robert Bringhurst. Published nearly a year after Zapf's death at age 96, Palatino, The Natural History of a Typeface, explores the evolution of his most ambitious design project; from his original sketches in 1948, to the first trial cutting of Palatino roman at the Stempel Foundry in 1949, and to the last authentic digitally drawn members of the family which Zapf himself carefully supervised just ten years ago. The story of Zapf and his notorious typeface which he originally named Medici, also bridges one of the most transitional periods in all of the history of typography and printing; spanning the age of metal type, photo lettering and then digital. 

From the collection of the Hessisches Landesmuseum, Abteilung fürScriftguss, Satz und Druckverfahren, Darmstadt.

From the collection of the Hessisches Landesmuseum

Image above by Robert Bringhurst

Image above by Robert Bringhurst

According to the book's prospectus, Bringhurst provides a detailed account of "all members of the Palatino tribe", with it's many controversial offspring from various foundries. "The book includes new specimens of the foundry type and Linotype faces printed by hand directly from metal, as well as hundreds of color illustrations documenting the artistry and care expended in creating these components of our typographic heritage."

Above: Zapf's original production drawing at 36 pt size, for Medici-Kursive (soon to become Palatino foundry italic), June 1949. Published with permission of Herman Zapf.

Palatino: The Natural History of a Typeface is 296 pages and bound in full cloth with two-color typographic endpapers and slipcase. The principle text faces used in the book are Aldus Buchschrift and Palatino Sans. The type in the letterpress pages are Palatino, Michaelangelo, Sistina, and Aldus. The book is printed offset in five colors and includes nearly 200 images of Zapf's ambitious work — some published for the first time. The letterpress portions of the book are printed by Jerry Kelly in two colors. This fine press edition of three hundred copies, are each numbered and signed by the author. Each copy also includes two additional letterpress specimens printed by Richard Seibert — one from polymer plates, the other from handset Heraklit loaned by Norman McKnight. 

Book Club of California members may pre-order this book before the publication date of May 23rd, 2016. Should copies remain after all pre-publication orders by BCC members have been filled on May 23, any non-member requests will be honored in order of receipt. The non-member price is $195 (plus any sales tax and shipping). To place an order, see this link.


  1. Thank you for this very informative post. Many years ago I was introduced to this beautiful font by an art editor who always choose it for her children's books. It has an elegant simplicity which perfectly suits picture books, so interesting to read about its history.

    1. You are most welcome, but it is Robert Bringhurst and ultimately Hermann Zapf who are the real contributors to this type heritage. I'm hoping this book will someday be published in a more affordable trade edition so I can read it too ; )


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