Venice was considered the cradle of Italian Renaissance. It was there that in 1470 Nicolas Jensen, a French coin engraver at the court of Charles VII, created a Roman typeface called antica, ancient or old face. It was considered a model type for many years.
It was also in Venice that Aldus Manutius (1449-1515) invented the lettera antica, which was used throughout the 16th century. Inspired by Petrarch’s manuscripts, he created italics, an elegant sloping cursive known as aldine.
Geoffroy Tory, French bookseller, publisher and admirer of Leonardo da Vinci, created the champfleury style c. 1530. His personal trademark was the pot cassé that appeared on the sign of his workshop on the rue Saint-Jacques in Paris.
Research carried out by the Parisian printer Simon de Colines (Soleil d’Or, rue Montagne-Sainte-Geneviève, Paris) resulted in the creation in 1540-1541 of an elegant Greek type with accents. The character, known as grec du roi, was cut by Claude Garamond, the greatest typographer of the Renaissance. In 1544 Garamond, who worked for Robert Estienne, produced a Roman character: the Garamond Roman.
The success of Dutch publishing prompted Louis XIV, the Sun King, to reform French printing. In 1700, in response to the King’s request for a more formal and geometrical alphabet, the type engraver Philippe Grandjean created the romain du roi, also known as Grandjean type.
In the 18th century, to help promote communication and make the spirit of the Enlightenment more accessible to all, François-Ambroise Didot designed an elegant, yet simple, alphabet with clear downstrokes and upstrokes. The Didot was a modern version of the Roman type. François-Ambroise Didot was also the first to use stereotypy, a technique that used lead moulds to reprint entire pages.
In England, in 1716, William Caslon created a beautiful Roman typeface that was used in 1776 to print the United States Declaration of Independence. Circa 1770 his successor, John Baskerville, introduced major innovations in the quality of ink and vellum paper (wove instead of laid) and designed new typefaces. They were later sold to the Société de Beaumarchais and used to print Voltaire’s famous Oeuvres complètes.
At the same time as the Didot family created their typeface, Giambattista Bodoni, director of the Duke of Parma’s press, designed a variety of Roman typefaces that would soon be renowned worldwide. The Bodoni, modelled on the Garamond, was used in Great Britain for newspaper printing until the mid-20th century.
In Germany, Roman type was never very popular. German printers preferred the Fraktur typeface. The famous Leipzig printer J.G. Emmanuel Breitkopf, founder of the music publishing house of the same name, was a passionate defender of the Fraktur type which came to be recognized as the national German typeface. Johann Fr. Unger, a friend of Firmin Didot, modernized the Fraktur at the end of the 18th century.
In the 19th century two more typefaces were created: the Egyptian typeface, which appeared in England c. 1815, and the sans serif, characterised by letters of the same width and thickness. On the Continent they were commonly known as grotesque or antique typefaces.