Zapf Birthday Celebration

Still looking for refinements at 87

Linotype celebrates Hermann Zapf’s birthday and Palatino™ nova premiere

When a man reaches the age of 87, it is always a reason for celebration. When this man happens to be Hermann Zapf, a person who has shaped the history (and continues to shape the future) of modern typography, it is a reason to celebrate with respective style. Under the motto “finest hours revived”, Linotype chose to host this special event in an atmosphere aptly reflecting Hermann Zapf’s own style: a mixture of exquisite attention-to-detail and warm-hearted generosity. The result was an evening among friends rich with memories and new visions on the 24th of November 2005.

Hermann Zapf designed one of his most famous typefaces, Palatino™, more than half a century ago. The drawings were completed in 1948, and by 1950 it was in use both as hand-set type and as a hot-metal typeface set on Linotype machines. In the early 1950s Zapf extended the Palatino family to include Aldus™, a version designed specifically for text setting, and a pair of display variants (Michelangelo and Sistina), as well as narrow and swash italics.

Although he designed it originally for hand-setting and for Linotype composition, Palatino has proven to be a very durable typeface. In various versions, it has been in constant use since 1950, and as a digital font it appears all over the world on laser printers and in a wide range of software packages. Zapf himself has always believed in designing new type for new eras, and he has been at the forefront of efforts to design type that can meet the challenges of new technologies.

So only those who don’t know him would find it surprising that the celebration of Hermann Zapf’s 87th birthday was also the official launch of Zapf’s new digital reworking and expansion of Palatino: Palatino nova.

D. Stempel AG proof for Palatino Regular, early 1950s

Palatino nova Light
  Hard Work
At the birthday banquet, held in the sumptuous Schlosshotel Kronberg, a converted 19th-century German chateau, Linotype managing director Bruno Steinert recalled Hermann Zapf’s relentless work ethic. Far from giving 100% to any effort, Steinert said with an admiring laugh, Hermann would give "150% or even 200%." (John D. Berry reports that watching the face of Hermann’s wife, the calligrapher and type designer Gudrun Zapf von Hesse, at that moment; she laughed heartily in acknowledgment of the truth of this exaggeration.) When Hermann would come in to the Linotype offices, said Steinert, he would disappear into the office of type director Akira Kobayashi at 9 a.m. and not emerge until they came out for a twenty-minute lunch break in the middle of the day; then they’d both disappear again and not be seen until five o’clock. This fruitful collaboration had already produced a new version of Optima™ (Optima nova),2003, and they’re now working on the soon-to-be-released Palatino Sans – a departure for Zapf’s designs.

The celebration began with a surprise. Hermann Zapf believed he was going to spend the evening with a few close friends. Little did he know it would be party of nearly 40, with many guests even from the United States. All the more surprising as it was the American holiday of Thanksgiving! The Schlosshotel Kronberg, not far from the Linotype headquarters in Bad Homburg, was an ideal place for the celebration: representing a deep appreciation of European tradition while, via the guests, also paying tribute to the United States, which has played such a significant role in Hermann Zapf’s life and career.

Among the guests were renowned typographers, type designers, and calligraphers, several of whom rose and spoke in German or English. Hermann was surprised by the number of Americans in the group and decided that he should deliver his own remarks in English, although he had prepared them in German; his fluent English made this impromptu translation go smoothly.

Highlights of an Ongoing Career
Jovica Veljovic, who like Hermann is both a calligrapher and a type designer, spoke about the seminal influence of Zapf’s little book About Alphabets, which chronicled the development of his type designs up to 1960—by which point Zapf had already established his reputation and designed several of the 20th century’s most popular typefaces. This remarkable book, which was republished in 1970 but not since then, has been the catalyst for a love of typography in many readers.

Akira Kobayashi gave a personal insight
of his work with Hermann Zapf

Akira Kobayashi also spoke of About Alphabets, which he said gave him his first step into the Latin alphabet and the traditions of Western calligraphy twenty years ago. That path led Kobayashi in 2001 to Linotype, where he now has the opportunity to work on new projects with Zapf. Clearly he enjoys this, though he smiled and said, "It’s not always easy to work with Hermann." (Gudrun again laughed).

“But there is no way to say no to Hermann Zapf” Kobayashi adds. Then he unfolded a large thank you note handwritten by Zapf after one font was completed to his satisfaction. Kobayashi sighs: “This beautiful OK makes all of the trouble worthwhile”.

Debut of the New
Around the sides of the dining room were large typographic posters showing the new Palatino™ nova in use. The new Palatino types look at first glance much like the old, including new versions of Michelangelo and Sistina (called Palatino Nova Titling and Imperial) and a reworked Aldus. The differences appear in various details, and in the extensiveness of the range: four weights each of Palatino Nova roman and italic, plus Aldus Nova Book in roman and italic, all with both roman and italic small caps; Titling and Imperial in roman caps and small caps; lining and old-style figures, each in both proportional and tabular widths, for all the text faces; full sets of accented characters for a range of Western and Eastern European languages; all the expected ligatures plus a few more besides, along with various swashes and alternate characters; and full Greek and Cyrillic fonts in two weights. Palatino Nova is more systematic than the original Palatino.

Hermann Zapf takes a look at the poster series designed with Palatino™ nova that was launched the same day

Palatino nova Titling in the design of a book jacket for a publication by Professor Alexander S.Lawson. Note the use of ligatures in the 1st and 7th lines, and the alternate versions of the letter U, letter R and letter W

Finally, the focal point of the evening himself, Hermann Zapf, stood up to say a few closing words. “In the alphabet I’m always last,” Mr Zapf admitted. In the same tone of whimsical understatement, he disclaimed all previous praise as over-exaggerated. Then, candidly, he offered an explanation for his ongoing intense energy and dedication to typography: the technological progress over the last decades has finally made it possible to create typefaces exactly as he had always dreamed. And he still has a lot of catching up to do in the years to come!

Palatino™ nova only officially went on sale that day, so it’s too soon to see how it will fare alongside its still-popular parent. But Palatino has gone through a number of slight changes over the years, particularly as it was adapted from one typesetting technology to another (not to mention being imitated and pirated many times under many names); it’s good to see a version that incorporates Hermann Zapf’s fifty years of reflection on type design and printing technology. And it’s inspiring to see someone with so many laurels to rest on instead continuing to invent and create in the midst of his ninth decade.