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Anatomy of a Letter counter









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1 GiamBattista Bodoni In 1768, a twenty-eight year-old Bodoni was asked to take charge of the Stamperia Reale (Royal Press), the official press of Ferdinand, Duke of Parma. Bodoni, whose father was also a printer, accepted and became the private printer to the court – a job that he maintained for the rest of his life. He printed official documents and publications desired by the Duke, in addition to projects conceived and initiated by Bodoni himself. The quality of Bodoni’s design and printing, even though scholarship and proofreading were sometimes lacking, created a growing international reputation and before the 18th century was through he had become internationally regarded.

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2 Origins As a young printmaker, Bodoni employed decorative, old-style type faces, showing his admiration of the work of famous printers such as John Baskerville. In later years, however, the radical simplicity found in the work of his great Parisian competitor, Firmin Didot, influenced him dramatically. Bodoni surely studied Didot’s designs very

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carefully, butthere are important differentiating factors. There is even hint of “old style” in Bodoni’s work to differentiate him. He followed Didot’s lead, carefully evaluating the designs of his great competitor, consciously remaining, however, always just slightly behind the radical modernism of his contemporary.


3 Bodoni’s weight transitions are more gradual than Didot’s and his serifs still maintain a slight degree of bracketing. Perhaps this explains to some degree the longevity of Bodoni’s type designs. They were radical enough to be considered new and different (to establish for Bodoni an important and influential place in current typographic circles), but not so different that they became the 18th-century versions of fad designs. Although Bodoni was always, in some manner, dependent on the works of other, bolder contemporaries, he is credited with creating what we now call the Modern Roman Typeface.

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Although his work could not be classified as fundamentally new (because many influences in the type world), the letters he cut and the books he printed were more refined and of exceptionally higher quality than most of the work originating before or during his lifetime.



1234567890 Characteristics

Bodoni created typefaces and typography to impress the eye. His designs were studied efforts meant to be seen as well as read. Few would deny that Bodoni’s typefaces are beautiful; unfortunately, few would say they are also easy to read. By current standards, his designs are, in fact, the antithesis of what an easily readable typeface should be. Had he known this fact, however, Bodoni would probably not have been very upset. His goal was not to create typography to be appreciated by the masses. His books and other printing exercises were large regal efforts meant to be looked upon and appreciated as works of art, rather than as mere pieces of communication.


5 Its hairline serifs, strong thick-and-thin stroke contrast, and abrupt weight changes cloud the reading process. strong thick-and-


abrupt weight

Bodoni is no quiet servant to the communication process;

thin stroke contrast



it is a design that demands attention. If used poorly, Bodoni’s extreme weight contrast and vertical stress can cause a typographic effect, “dazzling,” which is visually uninviting

Mm Nn Oo and exceptionally disruptive to the reading process. If used carefully, however, Bodoni type can create typography that is exceptionally beautiful, even elegant.

6 Comparisons HTF Didot is an adaptation of the work of Bodoni’s contemporary and influencial competetor, the typographer Firmin Didot, redesigned for contemporary publication. Created by Jonathan Hoefler in 1992, HTF Didot is generally used for headlines and display text; at small sizes the reader’s eye is only drawn to the thick lines, while the thin parts of the letters disappear. A close examination reveals that Bodoni’s weight transitions are more gradual than Didot’s and his serifs still maintain a slight degree of bracketing.


Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz

HTF Didot

Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz


7 The font’s very vertical letterforms feature extremes of thickness and thinness and have thin, long, horizontal serifs. large, circular counters narrow, ovular


extreme thicks

cap-height and thins


no bracketing



higher cross bar


less dramatic


thicks and thins



tear-drop terminal

terminal flat




Qq Rr counter

8 Baskerville, designed in 1754 by John Baskerville, is most known for its crisp edges, high contrast and generous


less horizontal


proportions. It is is categorized as a transitional typeface in-between classical typefaces and the high contrast modern faces. Bodoni used this typeface as an early inspiration in his work and many elements of it can be seen in his own work.


Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz


Aa Bb Cc Dd Ee Ff Gg Hh Ii Jj Kk Ll Mm Nn Oo Pp Qq Rr Ss Tt Uu Vv Ww Xx Yy Zz






9 Baskerville’s smoother transitions and bracketed serifs bring out the classical elements of Bodoni smooth weight









Tt Uu Vv serif

10 Legacy Giamattista work was internationally admired. Some of his most famous work were his productions of several Greek and Roman classics, which were actively sought by collectors even within his lifetime. His hundreds of faces embrace considerable variety, and more than 25,000 of his punches are in the Bodoni Museum in Parma. The font revivals issued in his name reflect only a tiny part of this legacy, and many are simply parodies of his ideas. Bodoni was one of the most prolific type designers in history and his legacy is still a prominent force for designers around the world.

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11 Bibliography Haley, Allan. Typographic Milestones. New York: Van Nostrand Rein-

Revival of the Fittest: Digital Versions of Classic Typefaces, essays by

hold, 1992.

Carolyn Annand ... [et al.]; edited by Philip B. Meggs and Roy McKel-

(SC: Z250 A2 H18 1992 4o)

vey, New York: RC Publications, 2000. (A&A: Z250.R45 2000)

Lawson, Alexander S. Anatomy of a Typeface. Boston: D.R. Godine, 1990.

Bodoni, Giambattista. Manuale Tipografico, 1788. Facsimile a cura de

(SC: Z250 L34 1990)

Giovanni Mardersteig, Verona: Editiones Officinae Bodoni, 1968. (SC: Z232 B66 1788a 4o)

Bringhurst, Robert. The Elements of Typographic Style. Vancouver: Hartley and Marks,1997.

Bodoni, Giambattista. Preface to the Manuale Tipografico of 1818,

(A&A: Z246 B745 1996 and Vault)

translated by H. V. Marrot, London: Lion & Unicorn Press, 1953. (SC: Z232 B66 1953)


Jaspert, W. Pincus. The Encyclopaedia of Typefaces. Poole, Dorset:

Blandford Press; New York: Distributed in the U.S. by Sterling, 1983.

(SC: Z250 J36 1983) Cleland, T. M. Giambattista Bodoni of Parma. Boston: Society of Printers, 1916. (SC: Z232 B66 C5)

This book was designed by Sarah Healy for the class entitled Typgraphy I at Washington University in St. Louis. It uses the Bodoni MT, Univers, Basketville MT, and Didot type families and is printed on 28lb Hammermill Paper.


everything you need to know about a typeface


everything you need to know about a typeface