Post 4 (Helene) – Hermann Zapf’s calligraphy & typography

Posted: March 27, 2012 by Helene in Uncategorized

Born in 1918 in Nuremberg Germany, during a troubled time of his country’s history, Hermann Zapf attends in 1935 an exhibition in Nuremberg in honor of the late typographer Rudolf Koch. This is the beginning of his interest in lettering. Zapf bought two books there, using them to teach himself calligraphy. He also studied examples of calligraphy in the Nuremberg city library. Soon, his master noticed his expertise in calligraphy, and Zapf’s work shifts to lettering retouching and improvement of his colleagues’ retouching work.

His first typeface is in 1938. Zapf comes into contact with the D. Stempel AG adn Linotype GmbH,  both type foundries of Frankfurt, and he designs his first printed typeface for them, a “fraktur” type called Gilgengart.

Typesetting in Fraktur was still very common in the early 20th century in all German-speaking countries, as well as Scandinavia, while other countries typeset in Antiqua in the early 20th century.

After the war, Zapf teaches calligraphy and starts designing types for various stages of printing technology.  His two most famous typefaces, Palatino and Optima, were designed in 1948 and 1952, respectively. Palatino was designed in conjunction with August Rosenberger, with careful attention to detail. Optima, a flared sans-serif, was released by Stempel in 1958. Zapf disliked its name, which was invented by the marketers at Stempel.



Zapf was not given many jobs in calligraphy. The largest one was writing out the Premable to the United Nations Charter in four languages, commissioned by the Pierpont Morgan Library in 1960 for $1000.

Asked about his philosophy in designing typefaces, his answer was: “The interpretation of a message should be direct, without delays caused by fancy typefaces, amputated letter-forms, and other ideas ignoring the necessity of legibility. We no longer live in the time of Renaissance palaces and Baroque costumes but in the computer age. For modern industrial products, letterforms of the 16th century or 18th century are an anachronism. We should also stop copying 19th century typography and graphic design. Design has an immense social responsibility, a cultural message to people in regards to taste, education, and communication.”

After Palatino and Optima, Zapf creates Aldus, Aurelia, Comenius, Edison, Kompakt, Marconi, Medici Script, Melior, Noris Script, Orion, Saphir, Sistina, Vario, Venture, Virtuosa Classic, Linotype Zapf Essentials, Zapfino (and related family), ITC Zapf Dingbats.

For his achievements as a world renowned calligrapher and typographer, Prof. Hermann Zapf has been awarded with the Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany on  25th May 2010.  During the presentation of the medal at State Minister President’s villa, Hessian Secretary of State for the Ministry for Science and Art in Wiesbaden Gerd Krämer stated, “You have made exceptional contributions to the development of typefaces, and your trend-setting publications have been translated into 18 languages, in whole or in part.”

The Art of Hermann Zapf    –

  1. kinnit says:

    Old school, but beautiful. Nice one, Helene. But where are you these days?

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