Fat Faces

Fat Faces

Display type comes into its own

By the middle of the 1820s this approach to the use of bold type in advertising had become the norm all over Britain, and it remained the idiom for the letterpress poster well into the present century. Many posters which at first sight present themselves as stacatto, telegraphic messages that concentrate on a few key words will, on closer inspection, be seen to be composed of a series of conventional sentences. In other words, large bold type was used by the printer to override our normal reading strategies, thereby effectively changing the nature of a text. This point is made here because it is at its most obvious in posters; but it could be argued that this was the principal way in which bold types began to be used by nineteenth-century printers, whether they worked on a large or a small scale.

Bodoni Poster
Poster Bodoni, designed by Chauncey H. Griffith, 1929. Linotype.
Woodtypes from a poster printed in letterpress from the Museum für Druckkunst collection, Leipzig.

Extreme effects through thick-thin contrast

Most of the bold-looking typefaces introduced by British typefounders in the first few decades of the nineteenth century were designed first and foremost for use on poster work. The stock in trade type of the first period of display typography was the fat face, which derived from the modern face and was produced by increasing the contrast between thick and thin strokes to such a degree that thick strokes in large sizes were sometimes almost half the height of the letters. It was an extremely effective design in larger sizes, and was presented with great panache in such sizes in specimen books, but in smaller sizes it lost its impact because the strong contrast between thicks and thins could not be retained without loosing the essential character of the letters.

Roman Extended
Roman Extendend. First shown by George Nesbitt in his 1838 specimen.
From the book American Woodtype 1828–1900 – Notes on the Evolution of Decorated and Large Types, by Rob Roy Kelly, New York, Van Nostrand.
Reinhold Co. 1969. St. Bride Printing Library.
Sixteen Lines Condensed and 14 Line Pica Italic
Sixteen Lines Condensed, and 14 Line Pica Italic, from Specimen of Printing Types, by Blake & Stephenson, 1842.
St. Bride Printing Library.
Five Line Condensed
Five Lines Condensed, from Specimen of Printing Types, Stephenson, Blake & Co., c. 1856.
St. Bride Printing Library.

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