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t Times Roman

an excerpt from Alexander Lawson’s Anatomy of a Typeface

Stanley Morison at work in his Fetter Lane office, 1933. Morison was primarily a critic and printing historian, although he collaborated with some typographers during his career.

Of all the typefaces developed during the past seventy years, Times Roman is the one most frequently singled out as typifying the twentieth century. The design is currently available to printers from all the standard sources — foundry type, Monotype, Linotype, Intertype, and Ludlow — in addition to most of the phototypesetting machines, both keyboard and handoperated. Times Roman has even been digitized for the cathode-ray-tube typesetters. It is a universal type. The design of the font is credited to Stanley Morison, the noted English typographic historian, who was asked by the management of The Times of London to restyle that newspaper in 1929. The circumstance that prompted this move was Morison’s brusque article ‘Newspaper Types: A Study of The Times,’ which was written for a special number of that paper devoted to twentieth-century printing issued on October 29, 1929. In it Morison severely criticized The Times for being both badly printed and typographically out of date. The commission to redesign it was a challenge that pre-empted his censure. In his article Morison had said that The Times’s typeface (a nineteenth-century modern roman) was ‘cut off from the mainstream of typographic endeavour.’ Continuing, he stated, ‘For, whereas the history of the craft is that of letter-cutting and founding as applied to the printing of books, the history of newspapers is that of mechanical development of the typesetting machine and the power press — the newspapers being left untouched, either by the aesthetic movement of the California, USA

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nineties or the arts and crafts movement represented by William Morris.’ At a meeting of a committee of important staff members of the newspaper, Morison went on to say that in his opinion the types employed for The Times should ‘be brought to the standard obtaining in the average book as brought out by London publishers.’ It so happened that during the 1920s there had been an increasing interest in the study of legibility factors in type design on the part of both typographers and psychologists. There also existed a wide divergence of opinion on whether continued research in the legibility of printing type should follow aesthetic or mechanical concepts. One of the most important of the early studies of the subject had recently been published, by His Majesty’s Stationery Office, R.L. Pyke’s The Legibility of Print (1926).

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“The universality of the acceptance of Times Roman has in turn served to enlarge its usefulness.”

Sydney, Australia

1913 Frank Pierpont designs Plantin, the official model for Times Roman


A further stimulation to Morison’s thinking was the 1926 cutting in America of Ionic by the Mergenthaler Linotype Company. Ionic was the first of a series of so-called legibility types produced for newspaper use. It had immediate and enormous success, for it was designed specifically to meet the mechanical requirements of modern newspaper production. As early as the last decade of the nineteenth century, the noted American printer Theodore L. De Vinne and Linn Boyd Benton of the American Type Founders Company had jointly produced a ‘type for a purpose’ in the Century design, created for the specialized printing requirements of Century magazine. The Cheltenham type of Bertram Goodhue, issued by ATF in 1902, was also originally conceived as a legibility type for the printing of books. In addition, the French Alphonse Legros and the English J.C. Grant in their authoritative manual on the mechanics of typesetting, Typographical Printing Surfaces (1916), included a chapter on legibility. All of this activity in the area of typographic legibility provided impetus to the perception that the style of The Times was due for a complete revision.

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Part of the popularity enjoyed by Linotype Ionic, a design of Clarendon origin, was due to its rich color, a feature contrasting favorably with the rather anemic modern romans then widely used in newspapers. Morison disapproved of these romans, believing that the ‘colorful’ juxtaposition of stroke differences as represented by the old-style letter forms was preferable to the monotony of the antique style.

Monotype Plantin 113 was designed by Frank Pierpont in 1913. He based the typeface off of Robert Granjon’s roman drawings currently preserved at the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, Belgium. Morison used Plantin as the model for Times Roman.

1928 Stanley Morison publishes ‘Newspaper Types: A Study of The Times’

In his report to the publisher Morison wrote: The Times will not be recommended to introduce anything remotely resembling the aesthetic faces of the private press movement of the 19th century, not one of the mass production faces which American newspapermen have recently brought out, but rather…by articulating the problem of a new type with relevant detail of past and present practice, to assist the Committee towards the adoption of a font which shall be English in its basic tradition, new, though free from conscious archaism or conscious art, losing no scintilla of that ‘legibility,’ which rests upon fundamental ocular laws, or that of ‘readability,’ which rests upon age-long customs of the eye. There have been several accounts of the provenance of Times New Roman, the name of the type created for the restyling of the newspaper. Morison is, of course, listed as its designer, but it is obvious that since he was not a draftsman he could have not drawn the type himself. Rather, he brought his ideas to an artist, who prepared the drawings from which the type was cut. Although Morison had commended what he called the technical superiority of Ionic, he stated that for the Times’s purposes it would be more productive to redesign a nineteenth-century modern type albeit with an approach similar to Ionic’s. It is therefore perplexing that he in fact turned to the old-style form once he was charged with preparing a new type. One must assume that in arriving at his decision Morison was impressed by R.L. Pyke’s praise in his legibility report for three Monotype faces, two of which were old-style. Whatever the case, Morison selected Monotype Plantin 113 as the model for the new newspaper type.

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Morison then asked Victor Lardent, an artist employed in the Times’s advertising department, to study a photographic copy of a page printed by Christopher Plantin, the sixteenth-century Antwerp printer. The type shown on this page had been identified as a Robert Granjon cutting and had already been used as the source of Monotype Plantin. Lardent worked up alphabets from this model, which were subsequently revised by Morison until his desired effects were attained. Basically, these were maximum legibility and economy of space, displaying the salient attributes of the finest book types. The design that emerged from the Morison-Lardent collaboration resembles its Plantin model in outline, but its sharp serifs and higher degrees of contrast lend it a sparkle never achieved by Monotype Plantin. As the type already employed by the newspaper was called Times Old Roman, the revision became simply Times New Roman. American manufacturers of the type have dropped the ‘New.’ On October 3, 1932, The Times appeared in its new typeface. The newspaper held exclusive rights to the type for just one year, after which the design was released for copies produced by the Linotype and Intertype firms.

The new face was very successful for The Times, but it never gained popularity with other newspapers, particularly in the United States. The reason for this lies in the procedures of newspaper production. The Times was unique in its use of newsprint that was a good deal whiter (and, of course, more expensive) than that of other periodicals; the paper held a stronger impression than lower-quality newsprints, carrying more ink on the page. To most newspaper publishers such printing was a luxury not to be imitated. Thus Times Roman, which for its success required higher-quality newsprint, never replaced the standard legibility types in American newspapers. But it soon came into favor as a type for book and commercial printing.

1945 Linotype registers Times Roman as a part of its family

1931 Stanley Morison and Victor Lardent create Times Roman

1932 The typeface is first used in the October 3rd printing of The Times

“Times Roman…never replaced the standard legibility types in American newspapers. But it soon came into favor as a type for book and commercial printing.”

Paris, France

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The startlingly similar typeface known as Starling was designed by Mike Parker in June of 2009. Parker claims that his typeface is based off of drawings done in 1904 by William Starling Burgess, nearly thirty years before the release of Times Roman.

1972 The Times switches its typeface to Times Europa, designed by Walter Tracy

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Writing in 1953, Stanley Morison said of his design, now flourishing outside the world of newsprint: ‘Morris would have denounced the heresy of the original cutting immediately. As a new face it should, by the grace of God and the art of man, have been broad and open, generous and ample; instead, by the vice of Mammon and the misery of the machine, it is bigoted and narrow, mean and puritan.’ Contemporary critical opinion, nevertheless, favors Morison over Morris (although it should be pointed out that without Morris’s impact on the consciousness of printers, there would have been relatively few with sufficient typographic sophistication to have an opinion of any kind concerning type designs). Perhaps an indication of the value of Times Roman as a book type of the first order was its purchase by the extremely conservative D.B. Updike of the Merrymount Press in Boston, who became the first American printer to employ the design. Indeed, Updike’s own last book — Some Aspects of Printing, Old and New, published in 1941 (the year of his death) — is set in the Morison type. The American use of Times Roman increased when David Silve, as consultant to the Crowell-Collier Publishing Company, recommended the face for the restyling of the firm’s magazines. The December 1941 issue of Woman’s Home Companion accordingly published a spread in Times New Roman (set by the Merrymount Press), and by August 1942 the entire magazine employed the type. Following suit were

the American magazine in October and Collier’s in December. However, the wide use of Times Roman in American printing did not take place until the close of the Second World War. Since then it has been chosen primarily for commercial printing, magazines, and books (a few newspapers use it, but it has never been able to compete with other legibility types designed for ordinary newsprint). Its popularity constitutes solid proof of Morison’s dictum ‘For a new font to be successful, it has to be so good that only very few recognize its novelty.’ The universality of the acceptance of Times Roman has in turn served to enlarge its usefulness. The English Monotype firm has adapted the type to Greek and Cyrillic, provided long descenders for book work, added several weights, and supplied the countless extra characters necessary in the various printing specialties but so rarely provided in types brought out for general use. Alas, despite all this, The Times in 1972 abandoned the type it had spawned. The paper went over to a new letter, named Times Europa, which lends itself more favorably to the newest methods of newspaper production — phototypesetting and web-offset reproduction.

1992 Microsoft releases Windows 3.1 on April 6th, the first version of the OS to come standard with Times Roman

1982 Times Roman again replaces Times Europa at The Times on August 30th

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Florida, USA

1994 Mike Parker, typographer and printing historian, first claims that Times Roman was based on a design by William Starling Burgess

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Times Roman  

An editorial inspired by Alexander Lawson's "Anatomy of a Typeface."

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