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Albertina was a typeface ahead of its time. It was in the early 1960s when designer Chris Brand, an accomplished calligrapher, aspired to draw a typeface based on the principles of calligraphy. Unfortunately, typesetting machines of that era put many restrictions on designers. Characters had to be drawn within a very coarse grid, which also defined their spacing. Technological limitations meant that italic designs often had to share the same character widths as the romans. Designers were forced to draw italic faces much wider and with more open spacing than what would be typical in calligraphic lettering or hand-set type.
Not surprisingly, production of the first Albertina fonts went very slowly. Brand would submit his character drawings, and the Monotype Drawing Office would modify them to be compatible with the company's typesetting equipment. The new drawings would then be sent back to Brand for approval or rework. Most were reworked. The process took so long, in fact, that by the time the face was completed it was once again out of phase with the times: instead of being released as metal type for the Monotype composing machines it had been tailored for, Albertina debuted as phototype fonts for the Monophoto typesetter.
The design's first use was for a catalog of the work of Stanley Morison, exhibited at the Albertina Library in Brussels in 1966. Sales of the design were not remarkable.
With the advent of digital type technology, Albertina's story took a far happier turn. Frank E. Blokland, of the Dutch Type Library, used Brand's original, uncompromised drawings as the foundation of a digital revival. The Monophoto version had taken a considerable battering from the limitations of Monotype's unit system," recalls Blokland, "but there was no need for me to incorporate these restrictions in the digital version."
With the full backing of Monotype and original designer Brand looking over Blokland's shoulder, a new design for Albertina emerged, displaying all the grace and verve of Brand's original drawings. The basic family drawn by Brand also grew into three weights, each with an italic complement and a suite of small caps and old style figures."
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