Slab Serif Fonts
Many typeface catalogs, including our own, group all serif typefaces together under one umbrella-category. But in truth, there are many different kinds of serifs, e.g., Renaissance serifs, baroque serifs, unbracketed modern serifs, Latin serifs, wedge serifs, etc. One of the most popular styles of seriffed letter, especially for display type, remains the slab serif.
The slab serif is a genre of letterforms that has been in use for almost 200 years. Throughout this time, many different sub-styles and groups have come in and out of use. The following Font Feature discusses five categories of slab serifs that may be found in the Linotype library. For our sake, we will call these categories Clarendons, Contemporary Text Faces, Classic Text Faces, Standard-Bearers, and Massive Display Examples.
How did slab serif types come about?
During the early 19th century, especially in Britain, letter drawers began creating thicker versions of letterforms common in European printing during the 18th century, e.g., the types of the Fourniers, Giambattista Bodoni, or the Didots. These new letter styles began to appear throughout British society. Artists, artisans, printers, and typefounders … they all would come to embrace these new ideas. In the realm of typefounding, these faces came to represent the age of industrialization, and also the beginnings of advertising. This also marked the birth hour for typefaces that would be marketed by their makers for “display” use. Quite common today!
As far as the typefaces go, the first examples seem to have been all-caps alphabets; faces with lowercase letters would come a bit later. In the UK, many of these early slab serifs were called “Egyptians,” even though they had very little to do with Egypt. Enthusiasm in Western Europe was quite high during this time period; Napoleon and his army had faced off against the British there, and hieroglyphics were in the process of decipherment. Perhaps the naming of typefaces as “Egyptian” had something to do with this popularity.