5 Styles. ADVANCED

Foundation is a suite of revival fonts inspired by historical typeface specimens originating from America, France and Nordic countries. Currently, the fonts exist in hairline roman format only, however, multiple weights and styles are planned for future release.

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  • Sans Number 44 Thin

  • Sans Condensed Thin

  • Sans Wide Thin

  • Serif Thin

  • Serif Didot Thin

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From £100.00

Image from A2-TYPE Specimen book #3. Published September 2018

Type research and text by Paul Shaw, NYC August, 2018

The Foundation fonts are a set, not a type family. The five fonts—two seriffed faces and two sans serifs—are diverse in design with each having its own distinctive history. A2-TYPE derived their inspiration from three principal sources: the Barnhart Brothers & Spindler specimen book no. 9 (1907), a Deberny & Peignot specimen book (c.1934), and an alphabet sheet (dated 1939) from the Gunnar Biilmann Petersen Archive at the Design Museum Danmark. What unites such disparate fonts as a group is that they are all skeletal in form. To emphasize their barebones, elemental nature, the fonts have been named Foundation.

Foundation Sans Number 44 (specimen image above)

Foundation Sans Number 44 was inspired by Circular Gothic No. 44 as shown on pp. 235 and 473 of the Barnhart Brothers & Spindler Specimen Book no. 9. Circular Gothic No. 44 was designed in 1879 by Charles E. Heyer (born 1841 in Berlin as Carl Emil Heyer; died 1897 in Chicago), who cut the face for the Great Western Type Foundry, the predecessor of Barnhart Brothers & Spindler (BBS). It was patented under the redundant name Grotesque Gothic on September 9, 1879 as a capitals-and-small capitals only typeface. In that configuration, it was presumably intended for social printing. Although lightface types became popular in the United States after the middle of the 19th century, it appears that Heyer’s design was the first lightface sans serif. The success of Grotesque Gothic led BBS in September 1882 to announce the addition of a lowercase (probably designed by Heyer as well since he was the foundry’s principal type designer from 1879 until his death). The foundry promoted the expanded typeface, now known as Lightface Gothic, as “…EXCELLENT and USEFUL for getting up neat and attractive Circulars, Programmes, Etc.” The name was changed by 1882 when The American Model Printer (vol. II, no. 2 December 1882–January 1883) described it as “…a medium-squared, light-faced cut letter, with just enough modern embellishment [referring to a few characters that had swash variants] to make it a favourite where delicately-light and exquisite results are desired.” The new name described its intended usage not its appearance. The BBS Specimen Book no. 9 shows Circular Gothic No. 44 in 6 pt, 8 pt, 10 pt, 12 pt, 18 pt and 24 pt sizes. There are subtle but clear differences among the sizes. Foundation Sans Number 44 most closely resembles the 24 pt size, but A2-TYPE has also taken forms from the smaller sizes. He has changed the widths of some characters, smoothed out the curves of others, and—of course—created glyphs not present in the specimen. Taking a cue from the final name of the BBS face, he has followed the 8 and 12 pt sizes in making the bowls of b, c, d, e, g, o, p and q circular. At the same time he has left C, G, O and Q oval as they are in all sizes. Thus, Foundation Sans Number 44 hovers between a grotesque and a geometric sans serif.

Foundation Sans Condensed and Foundation Sans Wide (specimen image above)

Both Foundation Sans Condensed and Foundation Sans Wide are derived from two types described as Caractères pour Marques de Linge (typefaces for marking on linen) in the Signes section of the first volume of Spécimen Général des Fonderies Deberny et Peignot (c.1934): respectively, Caractère No. 1, a condensed sans serif, and Caractère No. 7, a wide sans serif. Both are light grotesques (antiques maigres) and as such are oddities in the volume which is set, with the exception of the running heads and some captions, entirely in Europe, the foundry’s name for its licensed version of Futura. The inclusion of the Caractères pour Marques de Linge in the Signes section of the specimen book—lumped together with meteorological signs, botanical and medical signs, manicules (mains indicatrices), arrows, musical notation, and other miscellaneous typographical material—indicated that they were outside of the normal world of type. These types were not intended for printing with ink on paper, but for stamping onto cloth. (The foundry also advertised Marques GravОes: a service for creating marks from company logotypes that could be stamped into metal. Because the Caractères pour Marques de Linge were not part of Deberny & Peignot’s regular type offerings—those were shown separately in volume 2—they are orphans with no known history. This is reflected in their generic names. Since they have no geometric pretensions they are undoubtedly of 19th century origin, a supposition reinforced by the presence of Caractère No. 8, derived from Monastic issued by the Caslon foundry in 1864, on the same page.

Foundation Serif (specimen image above)

Foundation Serif is based on Caractère No. 7, another Caractères pour Marques de Linge in the c.1934 Deberny & Peignot specimen book. It is a skeletal slab serif. Small touches such as the tail of Q, the leg of R, and the figures 2, 5 and 7 indicate that it is 19th century in origin and not part of the new rational slab serif style that appeared as an offshoot of the geometric sans serif phenomenon in the early 1930s. This is borne out by its appearance in Le Livret Typographique by Deberny & Cie. (1893) where it has the generic name Caractères Maigres and a code that indicates it was designed in 1891. For each of the three fonts inspired by the Caractères pour Marques de Linge A2-TYPE had to invent the entire lowercase from scratch since the Deberny & Peignot samples are strictly capitals and figures. A2-TYPE adjusted the proportions of the original characters (including refining overshoots) to create more harmonious designs. This is most notable in the figures.

Foundation Serif Didot (specimen image above)

Foundation Serif Didot, despite its name, has no direct connection to the types of Firmin Didot or other members of the extensive Didot clan. Instead, it is indicative of the long shadow that types by the Didot family cast over 19th century printing, not only in France but also in other European countries. A2-TYPE's inspiration for Foundation Serif Didot, was a sheet of lettering (dated August 21, 1939) he discovered in the archive of the influential Danish architect and graphic/industrial designer Gunnar

Biilmann Petersen, 1897–1968

The Biilmann Petersen sheet contains a series of vertical, slanted, curved and wavy parallel lines; a monolinear slab serif set of letters; a didone set of letters; various Norwegian place names in the didone style (italic and backslanted as well as roman) along with some in sans serif and ronde; and Norwegian words paired with cartographic marks. It was undoubtedly part of a mapmaking project. The sharpness and consistency of the letters on the Biilmann Petersen sheet belies the fact that they are hand drawn and not type. Although the didone letters captivated A2-TYPE, especially the g with its open loop, Foundation Serif Didot is based on the skeletal slab serif letters. However, the name makes sense since that skeletal alphabet is clearly the foundation for the didone one. For Foundation Serif Didot A2-TYPE did not have to invent a lowercase, but he did have to create his own Q, a letter not used in Norwegian, along with figures and punctuation. A2's Q, with its unusual tail, is one of the highlights of the Foundation set. Despite the fact that all of A2's models for the members of the Foundation set come from 20th century sources, they are 19th century at heart. It is this, coupled with their shared skeletal structures, that gives the five Foundation fonts stylistic unity.

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