A rediscovered classic in the style of the Art Nouveau era: ITC Benguiat
The extravagant launch of ITC Benguiat® in issue 4-4 of U&lc magazine proved to be an accurate predictor of its future. It was the right font, in the right place, at the right time. Even now, several decades after its first publication, ITC Benguiat by Ed Benguiat is still considered among the most popular of standard typefaces.
Pages 44–48 of U&lc Magazine, issue 4-4 with presentation of ITC Benguiat (PDF file, 737 KB).
The complete issue 4-4 of U&lc Magazine (PDF file, 17,4 MB). Yet the birth of this celebrated font was rather less smooth than its later success might suggest. A friend asked Ed Benguiat to do him a favour and design a logo for his new business – the friend had no money and could not afford to properly commission Benguiat with the job. So, in the spirit of friendship, Benguiat got down to work only to find that his friend was surprisingly obdurate, and rejected design after design. Benguiat had to submit something like 100 sketches until one finally found the friend’s approval. It is unclear whether the friendship survived this process or whether the business turned out to be a success. From the typographical point of view, however, what is more interesting is the fact that Benguiat himself found some of his rejected designs so attractive that he began to rework the letters and add new ones. Before very long, this project was not only occupying the whole of his leisure time, but also began to take up a significant proportion of his working hours. Benguiat’s boss, ITC co-founder Herb Lubalin, finally took him to task: either these designs were to lead to something concrete or Benguiat was to stop this futile waste of time. Benguiat decided to put this work to one side only to resolve, a couple of days later, that he had already invested too much time in the project to abandon it at this stage. He put together an alphabet and submitted it to the ITC Typeface Review Board. His typeface was rejected. But Benguiat wasn’t about to give up so easily; he modified his font and resubmitted it. It took him three attempts until his efforts were finally approved. The rest is history – ITC Benguiat went on to conquer the world of typography. The unusual forms of the letters of the antiqua font ITC Benguiat are reminiscent of those of Art Nouveau era typefaces. There are numerous details that recreate the ornamental elements of these fonts. This is particularly apparent in the case of the dynamically designed uppercase “A” and “B”; somewhat more restrained but no less eye-catching are the diagonal bar of the lowercase “e”, the extravagant loop of the single counter “g”, the slightly curved tail of the “k” and the inward curving arms of the uppercase “U”. Particularly characteristic of ITC Benguiat are the long and finely extended line terminals that harmonise perfectly with the tapering serifs. Another aspect worth mentioning in this context is the unusual decision to provide the baseline-positioned vertices of the “v” and “w” with serifs, normally a stylistic attribute of Western fonts.
The relatively broad letters of ITC Benguiat seem almost rounded because of their very generous x-height, making the font appear somewhat squat. In addition to the standard lowercase ligatures, the font also comes with a few ligatures featuring the uppercase “A” that have an illuminated initial-like effect.
In addition to the upright variants, Ed Benguiat also designed genuine italics. Here, in most cases, the uppercase letters take on new, more dynamic and rounded forms while displaying serifs on one side only.
In the originally published suite that was first presented in U&lc, ITC Benguiat had six variants including the three starkly contrasting weights Book, Medium and Bold. Condensed versions of all variants were added later.
ITC Benguiat is a living, breathing font whose timeless appeal has long been recognised. While its distinctive forms reveal the typographic skills and creative courage of its designer, they have for decades represented the perfect choice for setting headlines and producing promotional text. And although the finer details of the font only really come to the fore in larger point sizes, the typeface cuts a very good figure even in short texts.
ITC Benguiat GothicTwo years after creating his serif font ITC Benguiat, Ed Benguiat designed a sans serif version of his typeface called ITC Benguiat Gothic™. Although the fundamental forms of the letters are based on those of the antiqua version, Benguiat has not only eliminated the serifs, but has in general simplified the effect in the case of ITC Benguiat Gothic. There is, for example, practically no detectable difference in line weight while rounded line terminals augment the monolinear character of the font. The already somewhat reserved, stencil-like effect of ITC Benguiat Gothic is further underlined by vertical segments in the curves, for example in the “c”, “d”, “e” and “s”. But the font generates its own vitality due to the interesting contrast between the incorporated elements of a grotesque font on the one hand and numerous graphic allusions to the Art Nouveau epoch on the other. Hence, ITC Benguiat Gothic also has an arched bar in its uppercase “A”, the playfully shaped lowercase ‘g’ and the inward curving stems of the capital “U”.
ITC Benguiat Gothic is available in the four weights Book, Medium, Bold and Heavy. Oblique variants, with inclined letters, complement the upright versions of the font.
The unusual incorporation of graphic elements characteristic of the Art Nouveau style in an almost monolinear grotesque-type font mean that ITC Benguiat Gothic has an individual, appealing and somewhat unusual personality. Thanks to the rounded line terminals, the font also has a modern touch that can still be appreciated in the 21st century.