Claude Garamond, French Renaissance Type Designer by Nicholas Fabian.
The Renaissance designer from France
Claude Garamond, Type Designer

by Nicholas Fabian

Claude Garamond was born 1490 in Paris, France. In 1510 Garamond served his apprenticeship with the Parisian punch-cutter and printer, Antoine Augereau¹. The still pioneering era of the first half of the 16th century required unique multi-talented people for the production of fine books. The printers of the period were well suited to the task. Literary speaking, many of them were able to master all or most of the artistic and technical skills of book production from type design to bookbinding.

Claude Garamond was the first to specialize in type design, punch cutting, and type-founding in Paris as a service to other publishers, closely followed by his pupil, Jacques Sabon of Lyon, France. Garamond's typographic historical references included the works of Conrad Sweynheym, Arnold Pannartz, Erhard Ratdolt, Nicholas Jenson, Aldus Manutius, Francesco Griffo, Henri, Robert, and Charles Estienne, Geofroy Tory, Cristopher Plantin², Ludovico degli Arrighi da Vicenza, Giovanantonio Tagliente, and Giovanbattista Palatino. A most eclectic list of experts known for typographic excellence.

From the late 1520s, Garamond was commissioned to supply type to the publishing firm of the famous scholar-printer, Robert Estienne. Garamond's first roman font was used in the 1530 edition of Paraphrasis in Elegantiarum Libros Laurentii Vallae Erasmus.³ His design was inspired by Nicholas Jenson's roman which was cut in 1469, and Francesco Griffo's roman used in the 1495 edition of Cardinal Pietro Bembo's De Aetna published by Aldus Manutius¹¹.


Type fragment from Virgil's Bucolica, printed in 1475
with type designed and punches cut by Nicholas Jenson in 1469.

Type fragment from De Aetna

Type fragment from Cardinal Bembo's De Aetna printed in 1495
with type designed and punches cut by Francesco Griffo.

After a decade of Garamond's phenomenal success with his roman types all over Europe, King François I of France, ordered Garamond to produce a Greek typeface, which later became known as "Grecs du Roi". He modelled the three fonts after the handwriting of Angelos Vergetios, and cut the largest size first, on a 16 point body. On October 1, 1541, the King ordered payment for the commission with 225 livres tournois, which was over a year's top salary at the time. The Royal Greek types of Claude Garamond were first used in the elusive 1543 edition of Alphabetum Graecum published by Estienne. All three original sets of Royal Greek punches are preserved at the Imprimerie Nationale in Paris, France.

In 1545 Garamond also became his own publisher, featuring his own types including a new italic. The first book he published was Pia et religiosa Meditatio of David Chambellan. (In the preface to the book, Garamond states that he cut his italics after the Aldine model in two sizes.) As a publisher, Claude Garamond relied on his creativity harnessed by reasoned discipline to produce superbly well crafted products. His book publishing style was modelled after the classic works of the Venetian printers who catered to the absolute elites of high society. He admired and emulated the works of Aldus Manutius, the great Italian scholar-publisher, and the fine quality books of Estienne. Garamond insisted on clarity in design, generous page margins, quality composition, paper and printing, which was always accentuated with superb binding. (His books were printed with fine ink on quality paper, pages were sewn in signatures and bound with precision, the quality was accentuated with head and tail bands and beautiful marbled endpapers, had gilded edges, a colourful bookmark, bound in Morocco leather with tooled bands on the spine, and finished with elegant gold stamped titles). Garamond produced Renaissance books in an ageless classic style. Looking at his books 450 years later, the finished work still invokes that rare intellectual response, admiration. He was a superbly confident craftsman-artist, and a creative business man who enjoyed the challenges of being a leader and an innovator.

Because of the soundness of Garamond's designs his typefaces have historical staying power, and they are likely to remain the day-to-day tools of professional typographers, as long as western civilization survives. Reading a well set Garamond text page is almost effortless, a fact that has been well known to book designers for 450 years.

Garamond type specimens

Part of the famous Garamond type specimens published by Conrad Berner in 1592.

Starting at the early part of the 20th century, the search for fresh new typefaces by the large type foundries created a Garamond "revival." For the next 80 years, there wasn't a type foundry worth its salt, which did not make some attempt to design a "new" Garamond typeface. Some companies were more successful than others at this elusive task.

Regarding historical accuracy of sources, Stempel's Garamond, released in 1924, is the clear winner. Both their roman and italic were based on the original Garamond designs.

In the case of Adobe Garamond, designed by Robert Slimbach, the romans were based on Garamond's punches at the Plantin-Moretus museum, while the italics were derived from the types of Robert Granjon, who was a younger contemporary of Garamond's.

Interestingly, most so called "Garamonds" by the various foundries are not based on Garamond's fonts but rather on the designs of another French type designer and printer Jean Jannon, (his typefaces are known as the Caractères de l'Université in the Imprimerie Royale¹²) who was not even born until 19 years after Garamond's death!

Ross Mills's "1530 Garamond" design stand out as an individual effort to interpret with elegance the flowing rhythm and inner strength of the original Garamond characters. All his references were based on material printed with original Garamond metal type (a Gros Canon). The matching italics are also based on the original Garamond designs.

Some of Garamond's punches are at the Plantin-Moretus museum in Antwerp, Belgium and others found a home at the Imprimerie National in Paris, France. Claude Garamond was truly a Renaissance man. He searched for excellence, found it, and made it his own. The sign of a true professional. He died in 1561. At his estate's auction, parts of his stock was purchased by Christopher Plantin of Antwerp, some by André Wechel, the printer-publisher who was the executor of the estate, some by Conrad Berner, who was the owner of the Egenolff foundry in Frankfurt am Main, and Guillaume Le Bé, a punch-cutter and type founder in Paris. In 1592 Berner published a type specimen sheet, which is the most reliable printed proof of Garamond's original designs. This Egenolff-Berner sheet became a major source of reference for many designers, nearly four centuries later.

Garamond closeup

Extreme closeup of the real Garamond type.

"Garamond" typefaces were produced by:

  1. Deberny & Peignot Garamond (1912-1928), supervised by Georges and Charles Peignot.

  2. ATF Garamond (1917), designed by M.F. Benton and
    T.M. Cleland.

  3. Monotype Garamond (1921), designed by F.W. Goudy.

  4. Stempel Garamond (1924), designed by (n/a).

  5. Mergenthaler Linotype Garamond (1925), designed by
    Joseph Hill.

  6. Ludlow Garamond (1930), designed by R. Hunter Middleton.

  7. Mergenthaler Linotype Garamond 3 (1936), based on the designs of M.F. Benton and T.M. Cleland.

  8. Simoncini Garamond (1958-1961), designed by
    F. Simoncini and W. Bilz.

  9. Grafotechna Garamond (1959), designed by Stanislav Marso.

  10. Berthold Garamond (1972-1975), designed by
    Günter Gerhard Lange.

  11. ITC Garamond (1976-1977), designed by Tony Stan.

  12. Adobe Garamond (1989), designed by Robert Slimbach.

  13. "1530 Garamond" (1993-1994), designed by Wm Ross Mills.

    After all these "Garamonds" come the designers who, for various reasons, titled their Garamond designs by other names.

  14. GRANJON (1928-31), by George W. Jones is a remarkable achievement to capture typographic history.

  15. Nebiolo's GARALDUS (1956), a lively Garamond variant designed by Aldo Novarese.

  16. SABON (1964), another design based on Garamond, designed by Jan Tschichold with the italic influenced by the types of Robert Granjon.

  17. GARNET (1992), a Garamond like typeface but with a larger x-height. (John GARNET was a printer in Sheffield, England between 1737-1753.)

This is the history of the Garamonds spanning four hundred and sixty seven years. It was the creative genius of Sweynheym, Jenson, Griffo, and Garamond that built the roman-based typographical foundation for western literary civilization. Fashions, fads, and typographical con-artists will come and go but one of the eternal typefaces representing the best in human achievement will remain forever, the typeface named . . .


¹ Twenty four years later, in 1534 Augereau was hanged and burned for his suspected religious beliefs in Reformation.

² It is most interesting that Plantin, the great publisher from Antwerp, during nearly three decades of doing business with Garamond, only purchased roman fonts from him, and acquired the italics from Granjon of Lyon. (Granjon also worked in Paris, Rome, Antwerp, and Frankfurt.)

³ Qualitative verification of subject is under way.

¹¹Aldus Manitius' father-in-law, Andrea Torresano who was a printer/publisher, owned both the equipment and the types of Nicholas Jenson, having purchased it sometime after Jenson's death on September 7, 1480. This interesting historical connection explains how Jenson's influence, both in design and technical expertise, filtered down so directly to Griffo and indirectly to Garamond.

¹² It was Arthur Christian, the director of the French National Printing Office, who in 1905, mis-identified Jannon's punches and matrices as being of Garamond's. No one questioned the reliability of his statement until Mrs. Beatrice Wardle discovered the historical error. [His embarrassing official statement was the culmination of several previous erroneous Garamond attributions by Duprat (1861), Auguste Bernard (1867), and Joseph Dumoulin (1901).]

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