Hermann Zapf, a classical master of Type Design by Nicholas Fabian.
The classical master of Type Design
Hermann Zapf, Type Designer

by Nicholas Fabian

Hermann Zapf was born November 8, 1918 in Nuremberg, Germany. In 1934, he began a four year apprenticeship as a retoucher with a local printing firm, Karl Ulrich & Co. He acquired a deep interest in calligraphy in 1935 after visiting a traveling exhibition of Rudolf Koch's work in Nuremberg. The two books that set him on his future course were The Skill of Calligraphy by Rudolf Koch, and Writing and Illuminating and Lettering by Edward Johnston.

Type sample 1
Sample text set in "Zapf Chancery," the typeface was introduced in 1979 and it is probably the most frequently used cursive typeface in the world.

After Zapf's apprenticeship in 1938 he began to work at Paul Koch's workshop in Frankfurt where he studied printing, punchcutting, and other related skills, and also met August Rosenberger who was a master punchcutter. With the collaboration of Rosenberger, Zapf produced a book of 25 calligraphic alphabets titled, "Pen and Graver" (Feder und Stichel) which was published by Stempel in 1949. In addition to "Pen and Graver", Hermann Zapf also published some superb material on his favourite subjects of type design, typography, and lettering. Titles include: Manuale topigraphicum (1954); About alphabets, some marginal notes on type design (1960); Typographische Variationen (1963); Hunt Roman, the birth of a type (1965); Orbis Typographicus (1980); and Hermann Zapf and his design Philosophy, Society of Typographic Arts, Chicago (1987). It is obvious that Zapf is a man of great passion guided by an even greater intellect.

His wife, Gudrun Zapf-von Hesse, is also a type designer. She designed the beautiful "Diotima" roman and italic in 1951; "Smaragd" in 1953; "Ariadne" in 1953; "Shakespeare" in 1968; "Nofret" in 1987; "Carmina" in 1987; "Alcuin" in 1991; "Colombine" in 1991; and "Christiana" in 1995.

Type sample 2
Sample text set in "Palatino," the typeface was introduced in 1948 and named after the famous16th century Writing Master/Calligrapher, Giovanbattista Palatino. Zapf's Palatino has remained the typographers' frequent choice for almost half a century.

It is a historical fact that Hermann Zapf designed some of the greatest typefaces of the 20th century, but, without question, he accomplished much more than that. Through his body of work, he raised the standard in type design for both artists and craftsmen, a rare achievement in typographical history.

Some of the typefaces Hermann Zapf designed are:

Gilgengart (1941), Palatino (1948), Michelangelo (1950), Sistina (1950), Aldus (1952-53), Melior (1952), Saphir (1952), Kompact (1952), Virtuosa (1952-53), Phidias (1953), Frederica (1953), Heraklit (1954), Optima (1958), originally named "Neu-Antiqua", Hunt Roman (1962), several different typefaces for Hallmark Cards (1967-72), Venture (1969), Medici (1969), Orion (1974), Marconi (1976), Comenius (1976), Zapf Book (1976), Zapf Dingbats (1977), Zapf International (1977), Edison (1978), Zapf Chancery (1979), Vario (1982), Aurelia (1983), Euler (1983), produced for the American Mathematical Society, using Metafont, Civilite (1984-), a script face, Zapf Renaissance (1984) and Zapfino Four (1998) for Linotype.

An exquisite example of Hermann Zapf's calligraphic mastery.

On September 4, 1998 the above text was reviewed and corrected by Hermann Zapf for completeness and historical accuracy.

The origin of the "Super Ellipse": A historical curiosity.

Piet Heine, was a Dutch architect, poet and acknowledged creative genius. (Somna, Hex, Super-ellipse, Super-egg, "Grooks", etc.)

Well, regarding the super-ellipse, here is the story. In 1959 Piet Heine the architect was approached by the Stockholm city planners to solve a difficult problem in urban planning. This was the first time Heine ever focused on the subject of ellipses. The city square, with all the streets leading into it, needed a fresh approach, a pleasing architectural shape to create a focal point for the town. None of the city planners were able to solve the problem. The square didn't work, the ellipse didn't work and the "segmented ellipse" didn't work. Indeed, it was a devious puzzle.

Enter Piet Heine . . . Voila! . . . and the super-ellipse was born!

The curious thing about this story is that Hermann Zapf had used a "super-ellipse" like shape in the design of his typeface called, "Melior", which was designed in 1949 and commercially released in 1952. Now, that is 7-10 years earlier then the "super-elllipse" was invented!

Super ellipse vs Melior

So, the question is, "On what reference did Mr. Zapf based his Melior design on?" Or, perhaps a better question might be, "Did he originate the "super-ellipse" shape used in Melior?" What a delightful possibility!

At this moment, I have no answer to this fascinating question. As soon as I do, I will update this document.

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