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Khmer Printing Types and the Introduction of Print in Cambodia: 1877–1977

Zachary Quinn Scheuren Dissertation submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the Master of Arts in Typeface Design, University of Reading, 2010

Abstract This dissertation explores the history of Khmer printing types and their use. First, an introduction to the script and its use in stone inscriptions and palm-leaf manuscripts will provide historical reference. This is followed by an overview of the social structure in Cambodia at the time the first Khmer printing types were made and its relevance to writing and print. The introduction of print came through the French Protectorate who governed Cambodia from 1863–1953. At first there was some resistance to print by traditionalist Buddhist monks who had for hundreds of years relied on hand-written palm-leaf manuscripts. A brief look at the short-lived romanisation attempt in the 1940s will give another perspective on the importance of the Khmer script to the Cambodian people. With this background in social history the discussion moves on to the most important printers and typefoundries responsible for the creation of Khmer printing types. This is not an exhaustive study, but will focus more on the most important typefaces. A more in-depth study of the Stephen Austin & Sons Cambodian type, including a specimen hand set by the author, will elucidate some of the difficulties encountered in the design and hand-setting of Khmer. Finally, the paper will conclude with a brief look at Khmer printing types in use and a discussion of how the roles of the two main script styles, mul and chrieng, were altered in the transition to print.



1 Introduction


2 History of the Khmer script

11 11 13 15 19

3 Colonialism and the Introduction of Print Culture 3.1 Pre-Colonial Literacy 3.2 The Sangha and Resistance to Print 3.3 Introduction to Print - Administration / Education 3.4 Romanisation

21 21 21 25 27 31 31 33 33 35 35 37 39 41

4 Khmer Printing Types 4.1 Staatsdruckerei Wien / Alois Auer 4.2 Imprimerie Nationale 4.3 Joseph Guesdon / The Father of Khmer Type 4.4 Deberny & Cie / Deberny & Peignot 4.4.1 Design Alternates 4.5 Imprimerie F.H. Schneider, Hanoi 4.6 Beaudoire & Cie 4.7 D. Stempel AG 4.8 Stephen Austin & Sons 4.8.1 Stephen Austin - Oriental Printers 4.8.2 Design and Casting 4.8.3 Composite Sorts 4.8.4 Hand-setting with the Stephen Austin Cambodian type

43 43 45

5 Typewritten Khmer 5.1 The Cambodian Typewriter 5.2 Varityper


6 The Transition of Khmer Script Styles to Printing Types


7 Conclusion

53 53 53 55 57 65

Type Specimens Manuscripts Websites Works Cited Works Consulted Appendix – Deberny & Cie Exposition coloniale Type Specimen


Fig 1. Page from Méthode pratique d’écriture khmère et française showing the Khmer alphabet in mul (top) and upright (bottom) styles.

ក្ក (k)

ខ ្ខ (kh)

គ្គ (g)

ឃ្ឃ (gh)

ង្ង (ṅ)

ដ្ដ (ṭ)

ឋ្ឋ (ṭh)

ឌ្ឌ (ḍ)

ឍ្ឍ (ḍh)

ណ្ណ (ṇ)

ច្ច (c) ត្ត (t)

ប្ប (p)

យ្យ (y) ស្ស (s)

ឆ្ឆ (ch) ថ្ថ (th)

ផ្ផ (ph) រ្រ (r)

ហ្ហ (h)

ជ្ជ (j)

ទ ្ទ (d)

ព្ព (b) ល ្ល (l) ឡ (ḷ)

ឈ្ឈ (jh) ធ្ធ (dh) ភ្ភ (bh) វ ្វ (v)

អ្អ (q)

Fig 2. Khmer consonants with subscripts


ញ្ញ (ñ) ន្ន (n)

ម្ម (m)

1 Introduction Printing in the Khmer1 script came extremely late in the history of printing compared to many other scripts. One of the main factors contributing to this late introduction was the lack of a need for printing types. A low level of literacy confined almost entirely to the Buddhist monks meant that there was not a large demand for printing. The introduction of print came from outside Cambodia when, under the French Protectorate, Khmer printing types were created in Paris, initially for the purposes of administration and education. The roles of the two main handwritten styles, mul and chrieng, shifted as they were adapted to print and began to mimic Latin models. Although the total number of printing types ever produced for Khmer is extremely low, this is not an exhaustive study. Rather, this paper will serve as a general background to the introduction and use of printing types for the Khmer script from the late nineteenth century until the 1970s. As the author’s knowledge of the Khmer language is limited, sources in Khmer have not been consulted. However, the main period of focus, the colonial era under the French from 1863-1953, means that the majority of sources about printing and typefounding from the time are in French. This necessarily leaves out a much needed Cambodian point of view, but since the French were responsible for the first type and printing it is useful to view their methods and reasons through primary sources. A detailed discussion of stone inscriptions and other archaeological finds is outside the scope of this paper. However, some examples are given to serve as a reference point to where the French stood in relation to the cultural and linguistic history of Cambodia. This dissertation begins with a general overview of the history of the Khmer script and its place in pre-colonial Cambodia. Next is a look at the introduction of print under the French Protectorate including the initial resistance by some traditionalist monks. Following is an overview of the major typefaces created. A more indepth look at the Stephen Austin & Sons type, including a specimen hand-set by the author, considers some of the technical and design issues encountered in the creation of a Khmer printing type. Next is a review of the Cambodian typewriter keyboard and the Varityper composing machine, looked at in terms of technical limitations as well as design. Finally, the paper concludes with a look at Khmer printing types in use and a discussion of how the roles of the two main handwritten script styles, mul and chrieng, were altered in the transition to print. All pictures are at 100% scale unless otherwise specified. Photographs of palm-leaf manuscripts (SOAS library) and the Deberny & Cie specimen (Bibliothèque de Marseille) were taken by the author and may not be reproduced without permission from the respective libraries. The Thai manuscript provided by Jana Igunma, Curator of the Thai, Lao, and Cambodian Collections at the British Library, may not be reproduced without permission from the British Library.

1  When referring to the script or language the terms Khmer and Cambodian will be used interchangeably. 7

9th Century stone inscription 1566 stone inscription

19th Century palm-leaf manuscript

ណ ណ

Modern Khmer digital typefaces

Fig 4. Development of na from The World’s Writing Systems with the author’s additions for Khmer. The basic form has hardly changed at all since the sixth century.

6th century 7th century 667 970 1002 1066 12th/13th century 13th century 1702 modern (1915)

Fig 3. Selection of stone inscriptions showing the changes in style over time. From Georges Maspero’s Grammaire de la Langue Khmère.


2 History of the Khmer Script The Khmer language belongs to the Mon-Khmer branch of the Austro-Asiatic language family. Much of the “administrative, military, and literary vocabulary” is borrowed from Sanskrit and later, with the spread of Theravada Buddhism, Pali words began to be borrowed into the language. The close connection to Thailand also led to mutual borrowing between Thai and Khmer although the two languages are not related. (Huffman, Lambert et al. 1970) Later, during the French colonial administration many French words came into the vocabulary. Pali continues to serve a source of neologisms. The Khmer script, like many scripts in Southeast Asia and India, is derived from the Brahmi script and has developed into its own unique style while still retaining certain recognisable characteristics. Many letters are still easily discernible across scripts (Fig 4). The earliest documented use of the script is in a stone inscription dating from A.D. 611 in Angkor Borei. Charles Fossey writes in Notices sur les caractères étrangers, anciens et modernes that Khmer writing “is derived from inscriptional letters. More precisely, it is the result of successive transformations of this alphabet” between the ninth and fourteenth centuries. Characters recognisable as Khmer were already apparent in the ninth century. (Fossey 1948) The Khmer empire extended far into present day Thailand, Laos, and Vietnam (Fig 5), both influencing and being influenced by the local languages and scripts. Theravada Buddhism spread throughout Southeast Asia, reaching Cambodia around the thirteenth century, bringing with it Pali, the liturgical language of the Theravada school. Instead of having a single unique script of its own, Pali was written using the vernacular script; in Sri Lanka the Sinhalese script, in Burma Burmese, and in Thailand and Cambodia the Khmer script.2 In Cambodia the Khmer script could be used to write both Pali and the Khmer language. The content found in stone inscriptions was in two categories: religious writing directed to the gods, written in Pali or Sanskrit, and secular events and records written in the Khmer language. A chart from Georges Maspero’s Grammaire de la Langue Khmère gives a concise view of changes in the script over time as found in stone inscriptions (Fig 3). Palm-leaf manuscripts were the most common way of writing in Cambodia before print. Usually these texts were written in Pali in the mul style (Fig 7). Palm-leaf manuscripts written by Buddhist monks were the main reference used in the creation of the first printing types, just like the scribal hand of medieval monks was taken as the source for the first Latin printing types in the fifteenth century. This, of course, meant that a good understanding of the script and variations in style was required to create a faithful and acceptable printing type. There were two main styles of Khmer script in use at the time of the introduction of print to Cambodia (Fig 9). The round style, mul (“round”), found in Buddhist manuscripts was the only acceptable style for use in Pali and religious works. This style was a continuation of the style found in stone inscriptions that made its way into

Fig 5. Map of Cambodia showing the extent of the Khmer empire at the height of the Angkor period.

Fig 6. Khmer text in a stone inscription from 1566. From Une inscription cambodgienne en pali et en khmer de 1566.

2  In Thailand the Thai script began to be used at the end of the nineteenth century, but earlier manuscripts from Thailand were written with the Khmer script. 9

Fig 7. Tikkapatthana, book 13. Pali text in Cambodian script on palm leaf, 19th Century? SOAS library 142130 (30%)

Fig 8. Pali manuscript from Thailand using the Khmer script. IO Pali 207 TEN BIRTH TALES Folding book, 60 x 9 cm, 71 folds. 5 lines per page. Thick Cambodian Script in black ink. British Library.


200% Fig 9. Chrieng handwritten style from lithographed books. Introduction au cambodgien, 1950 (top). Lectures cambodgien, 1968 (bottom). 10

palm-leaf manuscripts. In Thailand different tools began to be used, creating a different look from the palm-leaf style (Fig 8). The daily handwritten style, chrieng (“inclined,” but literally “singing”), was used for everything else (Fig 9). In the early days of colonial rule, and continuing even into the 1970s, many lithographed books were produced in the chrieng style. However, when the first printing types were created for Khmer they were modeled on the mul style. Only later were chrieng and upright versions created. The upright style was basically a standing version of a carefully written chrieng.

3 Colonialism and the Introduction of Print Culture Fig 10. Detail of palm-leaf in Fig 7 at 100%.

3.1 Pre-Colonial Literacy Before the French Protectorate took administrative control of the country in 1863 Cambodia had no printing presses and literacy levels were extremely low. In the 1840s the primarily rural population of Cambodia was around one million. (Chandler 2000) Cambodia was poor compared to surrounding countries and operated a “subsistence economy,” growing only the food needed with little outside trading. In this agricultural society literacy was not particularly needed or desired. Instead, as David Chandler writes, literacy was something “linked since Angkorean times with the study and promulgation of religious texts.” The only people to read and write were monks who were “widely respected as repositories of merit, as sources of spiritual patronage, and as curators of Cambodia’s literary culture.” (Chandler 2000) This social structure, with no middle class and limited literacy, was not yet prepared for the introduction of print and needed time to grow into the concept. In pre-colonial Cambodia a high culture zealously guarded by a small literate elite coexisted with an oral culture transmitted from generation to generation with little assistance from full-time cultural specialists. During the 1900s and 1910s, the growth of a secular elite, the colonial patronage of reformist elements within the sangha, the gradual expansion of colonial schools, and the introduction of Khmer print production leveled this cultural terrain and facilitated the emergence of a “shared high culture”—a crucial element in the crystallization of national sentiment. (Edwards 2007, 73)

Fig 11. Detail of Fig 8 at 100%.

The introduction of print required more than just the creation of printing types and the establishment of presses to promote French policy. The cooperation of the Buddhist monks was essential to the success of print if it were ever to be more than merely a foreign tool for administration.


SOAS library 142130

SOAS library 142131

SOAS library 142132 Fig 12. Three palm-leaf manuscripts from SOAS library showing variation in style.


3.2 The Sangha3 and Resistance to Print In the 16th century missionaries arrived in Cambodia to spread Christianity. If they had succeeded in establishing a stronger base perhaps printing would have been introduced at a much earlier stage or possibly earlier attempts would have been made to romanise the Khmer script. However, early missionaries were unsuccessful in converting a large number of people. One missionary, Gaspar da Cruz, wrote that people would gather around to listen to him and would agree with his words, but they would leave as soon as a Buddhist monk came by saying “What he says is good, but come listen to what I have to say.” (Exposition Coloniale and Henrique) Hundreds of years of Buddhism in Cambodia and surrounding countries had largely resisted missionary efforts. In Cambodia this power of Buddhism influenced the introduction of print in terms of the acceptance of print as well as the design models taken for printing types. While printing flourished in many parts of the world, in Cambodia the tradition of the handwritten manuscript continued into the late nineteenth century when Cambodia came under colonial rule. A low level of literacy and the technical difficulties of creating Khmer printing types were not the only reasons for the lack of printing before the French arrival. Some traditionalist monks were opposed to the idea of print because it broke with the tradition of the handwritten manuscript and literally took the act out of their hands. It was both an usurpation of power and an affront to a long religious tradition. Penny Edwards explains the status of the handwritten form:

Fig 13. Detail of variation in style between manuscripts.

Fig 14. SA from three different palm-leaf manuscripts and one Thai manuscript.

Khmer religious manuscripts, much like the illuminated manuscripts produced in monasteries of medieval Europe, were highly potent objects of religious significance, which acquired a value beyond the words contained therein. Manuscripts also possessed their own distinct visual appeal, and their production carried its own aesthetic. The art of writing and reading was associated with particular gestures and the proper arrangement of forms, and the divine essence of sacred manuscripts was intimately bound up with the material and corporeal: the scent of ink, the feel of palm leaf, the sound of a stylus making its mark, its pressure between the fingers. (Edwards 2007, 105)

The French were fully aware of the position of the sangha in Cambodian society and knew they needed the sangha’s collaboration to some degree in order to implement the French agenda. In one instance, a 1911 ordinance concerning the education of natives, the Protectorate addressed this conflict with the traditional authority of the monks: “To mitigate the sangha’s fear of losing control, the ordinance specified that the sangha would be in charge of organizing education.” (Edwards 2007, 175) Still, not all monks agreed with one another, leaving two sides in this argument over the use of print. In 1918-19 the Buddhist monks Chuon Nath and Huot Tath requested permission from the Minister of Education to publish two books on the Vinaya.4 In Tath’s own words “[t]he Council of Ministers will not allow bhikku or samnar to study Vinaya

Detail of MA. (SOAS library 142130)

3  In Buddhism the sangha refers to “The community or order of monks.” (Oxford English Dictionary) 4  “The code of monastic discipline as set down in the Vinayapitaka.” (Edwards 2007) 13

Details of palm-leaf manuscript (SOAS library 142130)


Paade’mook or Kathen-kanake inscribed in paper books....{It} will only allow the study of the vinaya {inscribed} on palm-leaf manuscripts.” (Edwards 2007) This came forty years after the first Khmer types were cut in Paris. Traditionalists were insistent on palmleaves as the only way of presenting religious texts, but progressive monks saw the power and capabilities of the printed book. There was “a flurry of clandestine copying, lithography, and circulation of Nath’s book by monks and novices” after the denial of permission to print. Tath wrote about the conflict and the resistance by traditionalists. He claims “more and more people studied and wanted to know. And there were more and more books on Vinaya for Buddhists to study.” (Edwards 2007, 120) With time print shifted from merely being a tool used by the Protectorate for administration and education into a tool for use in all aspects of Cambodian life. The Cambodian people began to use print for their own purposes including newspapers, journals and literature. With the introduction of books came the need for a place to store and consult them. The first public library in Cambodia was built in 1922, although initially it held mostly French books. “These libraries, in conjunction with a proliferation of print media later in that decade, would further fracture the monastic monopoly on knowledge.” (Edwards 2007, 121)

3.3 Introduction to Print - Administration / Education The French introduction of print to Cambodia has two sides: the practical purpose of administration/education and as part of the French cultural discovery and absorption of Khmer history seen through the discoveries and interpretations of stone inscriptions and temples like Angkor Wat. When the French Protectorate took over administration of Cambodia in 1863, there were no printing types for the Khmer script.5 Even after France took over it was another 14 years before the first types were cut in Paris in 1877. The reasons to finally create Khmer printing types were for the practical purposes of administration and education. The French Protectorate required Khmer speaking officials to be in charge of administration and hoped to train them in schools devoted to learning “the French language, morals and customs.” In September 1885, Governor of Cochinchina Thomson wrote to the representative of France in Cambodge, Badens, stressing the colonial administration’s strategic and political ‘interest {in} the prompt creation of a Cambodian printing press in the Protectorate’ so as to ‘enlighten the population as to the intentions of the French over sympathies of Cambodians, and combat seditious incitements.’ (Edwards 2007, 105)

The Imprimerie du Protectorat was set up around 1886 and by 1902 another press was set up in Phnom Penh. Printing in Khmer had already begun outside the country in Paris, Saigon, and Hanoi. With the introduction of print and the training of new officials “the French Protectorate created room for the emergence 5  There was at least one type at the Staatsdruckerei in Vienna in 1847, but people were either not aware of it or had no interest because everything written points to the first type being cut by the Imprimerie Nationale in 1877. 15

Fig 15. Reconstruction of Angkor Wat at the Paris Colonial Exposition of 1931. Postcard in author’s collection.


of a secular literati tied not to kings or individuals but to the state administration.” (Edwards 2007, 92) This was a radical break from the pre-colonial era where the small literate class was made up almost entirely of monks. Many French felt that they needed to help the Cambodian people out of their “secular ignorance” through a modern education. René Morizon writes in 1931 calling the traditional monastery schools “an ancient and imperfect body that the Protectorate has modified and harmonized with our times and our civilization.” (Morizon 1931) Whatever the intentions of the French and their often disparaging views of the Cambodian people, this new level of education and literacy paved the way for the eventual emergence of Khmer language newspapers and Khmer modern literature. Besides administration, the other main use of print was in education, an area the French were particularly invested in. They set up secular schools to teach a new generation of administrators and also worked their way into the curriculum of the vat schools, the traditional religious schools tied to the monasteries. The traditional education consisted of learning to read and write Khmer and study the history and doctrines of Buddhism. The French imposed a reform of the traditional education to make it more modern. In 1904 a commission was established, the Commission to Study the Reorganisation of Education in Cambodge, to “‘spread knowledge of the French language and to give a more practical slant to schooling’” (Edwards 2007, 173). The new curriculum required Khmer language materials and in 1905 a list of books was made “ranging from the Khmer alphabet, volumes of chbap6 and moral lessons, a concise history of Cambodge, to a Buddhist primer.” (Edwards 2007, 173) The discovery of Angkor Wat was the most important archaeological find for the French. Never mind the fact that it had never been lost and had continuously been in use.7 The colonialist romantic view of a “lost civilisation” only helped to show off their colonial possessions and their skills in archaeology and education of natives. Reconstructions of Angkor Wat were built at many of the colonial expositions in France as the grand representation of a lost past (Fig 15). French scholars, most notably Georges Coèdes, were responsible for the extensive study and translation of stone inscriptions, shedding light on a past that not even many Cambodian people knew much about. As the French were responsible for the rediscovery of Angkor and the reintroduction of the Cambodian people to their own past through archaeological finds like Angkor Wat, they also reintroduced the Khmer script to the general population through print. If type design had been done from the start entirely by Cambodians then no doubt the outcome would have been different. Perhaps they would have chosen different manuscript models for the style or chosen to alter aspects of the script. The manuscript style seen in Thailand in paper manuscripts like (Fig 8) use a different tool and have a completely different look from the style found in palm-leaf manuscripts. It is not known 6  Didactic poems meant to be chanted and memorised to teach morals. 7  The first illustrations shown in France left out the monks at Angkor Wat, making it appear abandoned and forgotten thus reinforcing the romantic notion of a grand discovery of a lost civilisation.



which exact models the French chose for Khmer printing types, but they cut types with their own purposes in mind and their own views of how the script should be represented and any Cambodian contribution to these works may unfortunately never be known.

3.4 Romanisation In 1943, in a move to further adjust the Cambodian culture to the needs of the French, Georges Gautier attempted to institute the romanisation of the Khmer script. He cited the example of Turkey, but made no mention of the Vietnamese Quoc Ngu romanisation scheme because of political tensions with Vietnam.8 Many Cambodians “saw the reform as an attack on traditional learning” and were opposed to a change of script. King Sihanouk said that to “adopt the roman alphabet would mean the society would become ‘a society without history, without value, without mores, and without traditions.’” (Chandler 2000, 169-170) Even earlier in 1926 when a less radical proposal was put forth for a change in Khmer orthography, Princess Malika objected, saying that new rules break from the past tradition and students learning the new ways wouldn’t be able to read ancient texts. (Khin 1999, 33) A complete replacement of the script was even more extreme and a change that many were not willing to make. The reform, however, was only to apply to non-religious texts, leaving the greatest opposition, the sangha, to continue using the Khmer script for religious texts. The French tried hard to push Romanisation, but with little success. This system of romanisation, devised by Georges Coèdes, was used by the Kambuja newspaper, who “covered one tenth of its pages with news from overseas, local advertisements and government notices in romanised Khmer.” (Thong 1985, 109) In 1944 a romanised Khmer dictionary was produced. Finally, in 1945, any threat of romanisation was eliminated when control of the country fell into Japanese hands and “Japanese throughout Indochina disarmed French forces and removed French officials from their posts.” (Chandler 2000, 170) Romanisation was a short-lived attempt at a time when the country was moving closer to independence. By 1945 the Cambodian people were in control of Khmer language presses which they used to produce increasingly more works of modern literature and newspapers rather than the limited educational and administrative printing of the early colonial period.

8  The main reason for the establishment of the French Protectorate was to avoid a Vietnamese takeover of Cambodia.


Fig 16. Buch der Schrift, 1880.

Fig 17. Pali-Siamesisch from Buch der Schrift, 1880. The thicker strokes are closer to the ink and paper Pali manuscripts from Thailand (right) rather than palm-leaf manuscripts.


4 Khmer Printing Types 4.1 Staatsdruckerei Wien / Alois Auer

side and bottom strokes not identical

Most sources claim that the first printing type cut for Khmer was in 1877 at the Imprimerie Nationale in Paris. However, Alois Auer’s Sprachenhalle from 1844-1847 already shows a type labeled Kambog’a (in und ausser Verbindung). This same type is later shown in Alfabete des Gesammten Erdkreises aus der K.K. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei in Wien from 1876 as Camboja. In the Buch der Schrift from 1880 the same type is listed as Pali-Kambodža to differentiate from Pali-Siamesisch, Pali-Burmesisch, and Kambodža Cursiv which appears to be merely a handwritten example of the chrieng style and not a printing type (Fig 16). Once again the name changes to Pali-Siamisch (Kambodscha) in the 1910 Schriftproben der K.K. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei in Wien. Perhaps there was some initial confusion about the use of the script in Thailand because the Pali-Siamesisch shows two styles similar to paper manuscripts from Thailand (Fig 17) while the Pali-Siamisch (Kambodscha) is based on the forms from palm-leaf manuscripts. It is not clear whether these types were ever used, but the original intention must have been for Pali studies and not for general printing in the Khmer language in Cambodia. The type was probably based on a limited number of manuscripts or even just one single manuscript as it is clearly a direct copy of the manuscript style with little attempt to unify common forms. The vowels sharing a common base (Fig 19) are the main exception. In other cases strokes which follow the same pattern in writing seem here to be mere copies of the variation in the scribe’s hand (Fig 18). If these types were ever used then it was negligible compared to later types.

top stroke not identical

top stroke not identical

Fig 18. Common elements are not the same and make the type look like a direct copy of handwriting without any attempt to unify features.

4.2 Imprimerie Nationale Fig 19. Some common elements are shared across letters, but not all.

The first major typeface cut for the Khmer script was an 18pt mul cut in 1877 at the Imprimerie Nationale in Paris (Fig 21). It was cut by Aubert, under the direction of Léon Féer. In 1879 Féer wrote an article on the history of the script and the approach taken by the Imprimerie Nationale in the creation of this new type. He writes that they chose the mul style because the cursive style was unsuitable for printing due to the difficulties with the style (chrieng) and problems with overprinting. What he means by this isn’t entirely clear, but possibly because the mul style has much larger counters in comparison to the chrieng style, it was seen as gathering too much ink in the small counters. Féer’s comments are surprising given the fact that for 400 years prior to this type many styles of upright and italic Latin had been cut, even at incredibly small point sizes, so to say the chrieng style wasn’t suitable for type for technical reasons was far from the truth. He goes on to state more practical reasons for the cutting of a mul style: “this alphabet will serve principally for printing Pali, for which only mul is acceptable.” He then writes “The models were taken from Thai manuscripts where the form of the letters is the most correct and most elegant.

Fig 20. Detail of the Imprimerie Nationale Mul.


Fig 21. Imprimerie National mul, 1877.


Fig 22. Imprimerie National chrieng, 1906.


Fig 23. Imprimerie Nationale Mul type shown in Léon Féer’s article on its creation. 24

The alphabet of the Imprimerie Nationale is comprised of about 130 sorts, classed like other Indic alphabets. Any Pali text can be composed with these; Cambodian can also be printed; however, for extended text some supplementary signs must be added.” (Féer 1879) Only one book on Pali that uses this type was found by the author so far.9 The type is only used to show the letters of the alphabet, but no actual text is printed. The second Khmer type from the Imprimerie Nationale was a 20pt upright style cut by a punchcutter named Lek in 1906 (Fig 22). In specimens it is labeled as Jrieṅ (chrieng) although it is not actually a true chrieng style, but an upright. Other chrieng typefaces had already been cut by Deberny & Cie more than ten years earlier and by 1906 were beginning to be used widely. Unfortunately, no other information is given about the model used for this type as Féer gave for the mul.10 Perhaps for the same reasons stated in Féer’s article, the decision was made to cut an upright style rather than a true slanted chrieng, but without further information we can only look at the type itself. It was used in a number of books including Georges Maspero’s Grammaire de la Langue Khmère (Fig 25). The extent of use of the Imprimerie Nationale Khmer types is difficult to establish as they may have been used in a number of publications from government documents and flyers to books and periodicals, but from a general look at available resources neither type appears very much. Fig 25. Imprimerie Nationale 20pt chrieng in Maspero’s Grammaire de la Langue Khmère. (100% top, 200% bottom)

4.3 Joseph Guesdon, The Father of Khmer Type11 Marie-Joseph Guesdon (1852–1939) was a Jesuit priest who arrived in Cambodia in 1874 where he began to learn the language and develop a love for the language and the country. Due to conflict with his Mission he left Cambodia for Hong Kong where he spent two years between 1881-1882 working on a translation of a Khmer-Latin dictionary into Khmer-French. In 1883 he returned to Cambodia and spent the next five years studying Khmer and assembling a larger Khmer-French dictionary. He returned to France in 1888 where he composed a map of Cambodia with place names in Khmer. It is not clear whether or not he had any experience with printing types at this point, but in 1892-93 he returned to Hong Kong to the Imprimerie de la Société des Missions Étrangères (aka Imprimerie de Nazareth) where he published a number of books in Khmer. The Khmer printing types used at the Imprimerie de Nazareth must have been created there and two different types are seen in later books, most notably J.B. Bernard’s Dictionnaire Cambodgien-Français from 1902 and S. Tandart’s Dictionnaire Français-Cambodgien of 1910 (Fig 24). Both types are rather crude and uneven. In the type used for Tandart’s dictionary the base forms are

Fig 24. Dictionnaire FrançaisCambodgien, S. Tandart, 1910.

9  Henry, Victor. (1904). Précis de grammaire pâlie, accompagné d’un choix de textes gradués. Paris, E. Leroux. 10  Féer died in 1902 and the specimens for the chrieng have no name other than Lek the punchcutter. 11  In the 1904 Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient Guesdon is referred to as “the ingenious inventor of Khmer typography.”


Fig 26. Deberny & Cie, Exposition coloniale de Marseille, 1906. Bibliothèque de Marseille.


inconsistent between ligatures and the numerous composite sorts (Fig 27). Guesdon must have used these types for any printing done in Hong Kong, but he does not mention them when he discusses his personal contribution to the creation of new printing types in Paris. Writing in the introduction to the 1930 edition of his Dictionnaire Cambodgien-Français Guesdon says “there were always combinations of letters that couldn’t be done with typographic characters. Upon returning to France, convinced of success, we undertook the cutting of characters and the creation of notched printing types.” (Guesdon 1930) There is no clear explanation of how this “notched” type12 was utilised for Khmer, but perhaps it was similar to other types using this idea (Fig 28). There is mention that he invented this new technique, but no further information is given. (Bizot 1992) Such a technique makes sense for the proper alignment of lines in Khmer where there can be up to five vertically stacked levels of consonants, subscripts, vowels, and diacritics. As discussed below, the Stephen Austin types do not use any special “notched” technique other than the same kind of kerns found in Latin type; hand-setting long texts can quickly become a difficult task. For some reason there is no mention in the literature of Deberny & Cie’s role in the cutting of the Khmer types for Guesdon, but it is written that Guesdon cast his own types in 1894 and published many books with Plon-Nourrit in Paris. (Nepote and Khing 1981) Based on the few known pieces of information it is certain that Guesdon worked with Deberny & Cie in the creation of new printing types. In 1945 at the Exposition du Livre et des Arts graphiques en Indochine there were 57 woodcut Cambodian characters on display that Guesdon had “cut in 1914 for the printing of his dictionary.” No information is given to explain exactly what these were used for, but most likely they would have been the headers for each letter since the main text is printed using the Deberny types (Fig 29).

Fig 27. SA alone and in different ligatures is not the same at all. Other letters have similar problems.

Fig 28. A notched technique shown in La Fonderie Typographique. Could Guesdon have done something similar with Khmer?

4.4 Deberny & Cie/ Deberny & Peignot The most important foundry in the history of Khmer print and type design was Deberny & Cie in Paris. Under the direction of Charles Tuleu, Deberny & Cie was responsible for the creation of at least three Khmer typefaces: 26pt Mul, 26pt Chrieng and 40pt Chrieng. The chrieng is the same design at two point sizes, possibly the only chrieng typeface designed in this way. At the 1906 Colonial Exposition in Marseille in a specimen designed specifically for the exposition13, Deberny advertised these three types as “Caractères Khmêr (Cambodgiens).” (Fig 26, Fig 30, Fig 31) In the introduction to the specimen they wrote that they owe the creation of their Khmer types to a French missionary. For some reason they do not mention

Fig 29. Letter headings from Guesdon’s Dictionnaire Cambodgien-Français, possibly from the woodcut letters mentioned in the 1945 Exposition du Livre et des Arts graphiques en Indochine. (150%)

12  His words are “fontes à encoches” 13  Caractères Quôc-Ngù (Annamites). Caractères Khmêr (Cambodgiens). The majority of the specimen displays various types for Vietnamese with only three pages devoted to Khmer.


Fig 30. Deberny & Cie, Exposition coloniale de Marseille, 1906. Bibliothèque de Marseille.


Fig 31. Deberny & Cie, Exposition coloniale de Marseille, 1906. Bibliothèque de Marseille.


Fig 32. Imprimerie Nationale Mul (top) and Deberny & Cie Mul (bottom) (200%)


Joseph Guesdon by name, but he is without doubt the missionary in question. They go on to describe the technique for writing on palm-leaf manuscripts and claim that the printing types created by Deberny “are a faithful copy of these manuscripts and give the absolute illusion of handwriting.”(Deberny 1906) Deberny & Cie’s mul was the first mul type to faithfully follow the basic manuscript style while also considering typographic qualities for an overall consistency in color and details. Compared to the Imprimerie Nationale mul the Deberny curves are more consistent and controlled. The bottom curves are flattened to rest on a sort of baseline, unlike the Imprimerie Nationale type which has many curves floating above this imaginary baseline (Fig 32). There is nothing wrong with either method, but the Deberny type is cleaner and sharper, showing a clear understanding of the script while at the same time reinterpreting the shapes with a designer’s eye. It is not known exactly how Guesdon was involved in the creation of the three Deberny & Cie types, but based on the note in the 1906 specimen as well as Guesdon’s own words, he must have been the driving force to create them all. In the introduction to his Dictionnaire Cambodgien-Français he says that “our first publication” was with the journal Le Mékong in 1895 and then mentions that the types were shown hors concours at the Universal Exposition of 1900. They were out of competition in 1900 because Deberny’s director Charles Tuleu was on the jury, but they were apparently displayed at many more expositions in the coming years.14 The types are found in use in numerous publications ever since. The specimen even mentions the major printers who were supplied with the types as of 1906: The Imprimerie du Protectorat in Cambodia, F.H. Schneider in Hanoi, and Plon & Nourrit in Paris. After the merger of Deberny and Peignot in 1923 no Khmer types appear in the general Deberny & Peignot specimen books until 1952. Oddly, the only Khmer type shown in this later specimen is a completely different type from the three original types cut by Deberny & Cie. It is an upright style with sharper curves and slightly narrower forms than those found in the earlier chrieng and mul (Fig 35). The type is the same size as the 26pt types from Deberny & Cie, but no size is given in the specimens. There is also a larger 40pt size of the same upright style which is found in printed materials like the journal Kambujà Suriyà (Fig 35). The 40pt does not appear in any specimens alongside the 26pt, but it is used in numerous books alongside the 26pt upright as well as the Deberny & Cie 26pt and 40pt Chrieng, and 26pt Mul.

Fig 33. Detail of Deberny & Cie Mul (400%)

Fig 34. Comparison of PA and MA which share a similar shape. In the Staatsdruckerei type (top)there is no real attempt to match the two shapes. In the Imprimerie Nationale type (center) they are closer in shape. In Deberny’s Mul (bottom) the forms are very close and consistent.

Fig 35. Kambujà Suriyà 1928 using Deberny 26pt and 40pt upright. (200%)

14  The specimen for the 1906 Exposition coloniale in Marseille says Grand Prix for Hanoi 1902, Athens 1903, St. Louis 1904, and Liège 1905. However, such prizes were given to foundries and printers, not necessarily for a specific typeface, but more likely for their overall presentation. Including this information on the specimen was probably meant to advertise Deberny & Cie more than the actual types contained in the specimen.


Fig 36. Deberny & Peignot 1952 Specimen

Fig 37. Deberny & Peignot Specimen (undated 1960s)

Fig 38. Deberny & Cie 26pt Mul, 26pt Chrieng, and 26pt Upright. All use the same alternate form of RO.sub when set together. (Lexique Khmer-Français, 1962)

Fig 39. Deberny & Peignot different vowel mark designs between the 1952 (left) and 1960s (right) specimens.

Fig 40. Detail of RO from the stone inscription chart in Fig 3 from Maspero’s Grammaire de la langue khmère.


4.4.1 Design Alternates In the 1906 specimen both sizes of chrieng types as well as the mul have a full-arching subscript RO ្រ (hereafter referred to as RO.sub), but later in printed examples another half-arching form of RO.sub is found (Fig 41). This form is similar to ancient forms seen in stone inscriptions from as far back as the sixth century (Fig 40). The same design alternate is also found in the Deberny & Peignot upright style (Fig 43). The alternates are not found in any specimens so it is not clear whether or not Deberny cut these at the same time or they were added later. However, due to the consistency in forms and the fact that all five types are seen with both forms it is logical to conclude that Deberny cut these as true alternates. It would have served as a useful reference to include both forms in a specimen to demonstrate the possibilities, but specimens are limited. The only specimen found so far that includes the mul and chrieng types is the one printed for the 1906 Colonial Exposition, now held at the Bibliothèque de Marseille in France. However, when seen in printed matter all examples of RO.sub found so far are consistent across typefaces in the use of either full-arching or half-arching forms (Fig 38, Fig 42). When using the full form in the chrieng the full form is also used for the accompanying mul or upright and likewise with the half form. Another possible design alternate is seen in the vowels ​​​ (Fig 39). Between the 1952 Deberny & Peignot specimen and their later 1960s specimen these vowels are completely different designs. Other letters are somewhat difficult to judge due to the print quality in the later specimen where overprinting obscures the details. However, many printed examples can be found with a variety of print quality. Why Deberny & Peignot would only display this upright type in their later specimens and not the chrieng or mul is unknown, but the upright version is found in books as far back as 1920, before the merger of Deberny and Peignot (Fig 43). Based on the overall quality and consistency in design of the upright types it is probable that Deberny & Cie created all five of these Khmer types. More research is needed to determine when and why the upright types were cut. In any case, these five types are by far the most used Khmer printing types, found in practically every book consulted by the author.

Fig 41. Deberny & Cie 26pt Chrieng with full-arching RO.sub (top) and half-arching forms (bottom)

Fig 42. Alternate RO.sub in 40pt upright, 26pt mul, and 40pt Chrieng. (62%)

4.5 Imprimerie F.H. Schneider, Hanoi The brothers François-Henri and Ernest Hippolyte Schneider were both involved in the printing business in Vietnam in the late 19th century. François-Henri became foreman at the Imprimerie du Protectorat in Hanoi in 1883 and in 1885 set up his own printing house. Being located in Vietnam, the printing house F.H. Schneider was capable of printing in Chinese and Vietnamese (Quoc Ngu) characters, but at some point they also acquired Cambodian printing types from Deberny & Cie. In 1900, under the name F.H. Schneider, they began printing the Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient (BEFEO) which often included Chinese,

Fig 43. Deberny & Peignot 26pt upright with different RO.sub, 1920 (top), 1968 (bottom)


Fig 48. Beaudoire & Cie advertisement. Similar ads are found in La Fonderie Typographique.

Fig 49. D. Stempel Frankfurt a. Main Specimen 1925

Fig 49 at 200%


Vietnamese, and Cambodian characters (Fig 50). At some point F.H. Schneider became the Imprimerie d’Extrême-Orient and continued to print the BEFEO. The 1906 Annuaire administratif de l’Indochine shows advertising for F.H. Schneider, Imprimeur-Editeur, but in the 1912 Annuaire Schneider’s name is replaced in all the advertisements with Imprimerie d’Extrême-Orient. Although F.H. Schneider did not create Khmer printing types they are an important part of Khmer printing history, being one of the first the printers to use the Deberny & Cie types as well as being printer for the BEFEO which has included articles and reviews on practically every aspect of Khmer studies from 1900 to 2007. Fig 50. Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient, 1902. Issues were printed using Chinese, Vietnames and Khmer types, sometimes on the same page.

4.6 Beaudoire & Cie An advertisement from the Annuaire de la presse française et Étrangère et du monde politique in 1908 claims that the Fonderie Générale, Beaudoire & Cie held type in many scripts including Cambodian (Fig 48).15 No further information is given so it is unknown whether they acquired type from somewhere else or created their own. None of their general specimens show any Cambodian types. However, Charles Beaudoire was closely associated with Charles Tuleu of Deberny & Cie so he definitely would have had knowledge of the Deberny Khmer types.16 Perhaps he advertised them knowing he could acquire type from Deberny if needed. If any separate Cambodian types did exist with Beaudoire they would have later become part of the Peignot collection when Peignot took over Beaudoire in 1911 or 1912. (Cuchet 1908) With the Deberny & Peignot merger of 1923 any Cambodian types would have presumably gone into the Deberny & Peignot collection. This still leaves open the possibility that the Deberny upright types came from Beaudoire originally, but so far there is no evidence to support this.

palm-leaf manuscript


4.7 D. Stempel AG

palm-leaf manuscript

In the 1925 specimen of D. Stempel AG an example is given of a mul style typeface called 10pt Kambodscha, also available in 18pt (Fig 49). The manuscript style chosen for this typeface is close to the style used by the Imprimerie Nationale, but with some noticeable differences. One difference is the flattening of the base on some letters. In the Imprimerie Nationale type these letters curve up from the baseline, but Stempel, like Deberny, chose to flatten the curve, giving the type a more solid base to sit on (Fig 51). The author has not been able to locate this type in use anywhere, but like other mul types it was most likely intended for Pali studies rather than Khmer language work. Although it appears in the 1925 specimen there is no indication as to when it was actually cut. Since Deberny dominated the Khmer print world in France and Southeast Asia the likely place to look for the Stempel type in use would be German language Pali studies.

Imprimerie nationale


Fig 51. D. Stempel Kambodscha type compared to a palm-leaf manuscript and the Imprimerie nationale mul type.

15  The same advertisement is also found in La Fonderie Typographique, 1908. 16  Beaudoire was president and Tuleu Vice-President of a trade union of Parisian printers who published a monthly periodical on printing, La Fonderie Typographique - Organe de la Chambre syndicale des maîtres fondeurs typographes français.


Fig 52. Stephen Austin & Sons 18pt Cambodian specimen set by the author at St Bride Library, London.


4.8 Stephen Austin & Sons 4.8.1 Stephen Austin - Oriental Printers Stephen Austin & Sons became printer for the East India Company after their first foreign language printing of the Hitopadesa in 1847. The company soon became known as a printer of Oriental books with the capacity to print many different scripts. By 1856 Austin claimed they “could print and publish manuscripts in Sanskrit, Bengali, Arabic, Persian, Pushto, Hindustani, Hindu” and more. (Moran 1968) No mention is made of Cambodian type in James Moran’s history of the company, but Stephen Austin’s multilingual capabilities expanded into Southeast Asia with the acquisition of Siamese and Burmese types in 1916, and Burmese and Sinhalese in 1954. It is unknown if they created their own Cambodian type or bought type or matrices from elsewhere as they did with other Oriental types.17(Moran 1968) During World War I Stephen Austin had difficulty obtaining Oriental types from Europe and entered into the type founding business to begin making their own types. After this point they had the ability to create their own matrices and could have easily made their own Cambodian types. Moran points out that “care was taken to see that no new Oriental face was designed without the advice of leading Orientalists.” (Moran 1968) The 18pt Cambodian type is not seen in the Stephen Austin specimen book of 1932, but is included in their 1953 specimen, albeit poorly laid out with broken sorts (Fig 53). The type was used in 1968 and 1974 to set Judith Jacob’s Introduction to Cambodian and A Concise Cambodian English Dictionary. Whether or not it was used elsewhere is unknown at the moment, but notes by Judith Jacob on the production of Introduction to Cambodian indicate that the type was not quite ready for an actual print job in 1967. In a letter to Oxford University Press18 she writes that she “sent list of Cambodian typed characters with the Stephen Austin Matrix number beside each character and the various possible ‘transliterations’ given as well. Some characters are lacking, as Mr. Groves thought might be the case; a few are incorrectly formed. I have pointed those out on pp.5-6 and marked them in the accompanying two books.” This implies that Stephen Austin & Sons would have been required to cut new matrices. Unfortunately, Judith Jacob’s notes are not in the archive so it is unknown which letters she had in mind. Later, during the production of the dictionary, there is an indication that, again, not all of the type was ready for printing. In a letter to OUP dated 23 March 1973 Stephen Austin & Sons says “we hold all the sorts for this job now.” In this instance perhaps they only needed to cast new type, but no further information is available to clarify. In any case, the type now exists at St Bride Library in 17  According to James Moran, Stephen Austin & Sons dealt with two foundries in London who cast Oriental types: Fann Street Foundry and Vincent and James Figgins. For the printing of a catalogue for the British Museum in 1877 Chinese type was acquired from Shanghai specifically for the job. 18  Oxford University Press Archives for Introduction to Cambodian (7137556-0)





upside down


Fig 53. Stephen Austin & Sons Specimen from 1953. Some sorts are broken or upside down.

18pt 12pt 6pt Fig 54. The same letter cast on different sized bodies to allow for above and below base vowels, diacritics and subscripts when needed.


18pt sorts

Fig 55. Exercise from Introduction to Cambodian. All lines are set at 24pt for the RO.sub and embracing vowels even though the majority of sorts are 18pt.


London where it was taken after Stephen Austin cleared out their old materials. The price charged by Stephen Austin & Sons for hand setting Khmer was almost 20 times that for English.19 This is easy to understand after hand-setting a specimen using the Stephen Austin type. The different vertical levels for vowels, diacritics and subscripts make for very difficult setting when the sorts do not align well. Also, the vowels and RO.sub are set on 24pt so that even to make a simple line of text that includes one of these letters requires the whole line to be filled out to 24pt (Fig 55, Fig 56). The economic incentive to produce such a type would not have been very high and there were already acceptable typefaces in use for years so why Stephen Austin would make or acquire this particular type might come down to difficulty in obtaining better types like Deberny’s. One possible motivation could have been for wartime propaganda for which the company already had experience with other languages. Cambodian was added to the specimen the same year that Cambodia gained independence in 1953, however, whether or not these events are related remains to be seen. Further research is needed to understand the motivation and history behind this type, but a thorough look at the actual type will provide a better understanding of possible uses as well as the issues encountered in the creation and setting of Khmer cold metal type.


Fig 56. This line must be set at 24pt with padding for the smaller sorts. (150%)

Fig 57. Early stage of hand-setting.

4.8.2 Design and Casting The 18pt Cambodian is spread across four type cases that include all of the Khmer consonants, subscripts, vowels, diacritics, ligatures, Sanskrit vowels, and a few composite sorts. There are approximately 390 sorts in four cases. The letterforms are fairly monolinear and follow the traditional chrieng slanted style. Each consonant is cast on three different body sizes to accommodate above and below base forms: 18pt, 12pt, and 6pt (Fig 54). One inconsistency in the 12pt castings is that some letters are cast on the bottom half and other are cast on the top half. Casting both ways would have been useful in some situations, but would greatly increase the number of sorts, adding to the already large number. The choice (or mistake) to cast some letters on the bottom and others on the top seems arbitrary just as the overall casting seems arbitrary with many letters cast upside down. With a long history of handling foreign types it is surprising that their Cambodian type would be cast so poorly. Nigel Roche at St Bride Library says that the type appears to be cast on a Monotype caster, which one way Stephen Austin & Sons was able to cast. Unfortunately, only the type itself remains so no more information can be gathered from matrices or other materials.

Composite sort from Stephen Austin & Sons cases.

19  Oxford University Press Archives for A Concise Cambodian English Dictionary (713574-9).


Fig 59. Many subscripts are large and do not sit well in the space available

Fig 58. The Stephen Austin RO.sub (top) crashes into other subscripts because there is no 2nd level alternate form for as seen in other typefaces like Deberny & Cie (bottom).


4.8.3 Composite Sorts Included among the usual sorts required for setting Khmer are a few composite sorts made up from three separate elements. Two of them are for use in Sanskrit, but the others must have been created for a specific printing purpose. However, what exactly was intended is not entirely clear. Probably the most unusual composite sort is made up from ខ, ​ ្ញ, and . With an added vowel sign below it would create the personal pronoun ,“I” yet the KHA (ខ) is not the same as the what is found in the rest of the typeface in ខ​, ខា​, and the subscript form ្ខ. For general printing the word “I” might not be needed much, but in a grammar book like Introduction to Cambodian this word occurs repeatedly. This composite sort does not appear in either of Judith Jacob’s books where it would have been extremely useful if formed correctly, but it may have been used elsewhere. Three of the other composite sorts are all elements that may be used in real words such as minister, roof tile, and decree (or order).20 At least one, minister21, is not used in the place where it could have been used in Judith Jacob’s dictionary, yet in Introduction to Cambodian it was used for the same word (Fig 60). It is shown here alongside two settings of the Deberny chrieng for comparison, one using only the first level RO.sub, but the other using the correct second level form to embrace both the subscript consonant and the vowel sign. The next composite sort can be used in the word kboeung, “roof tile” which seems a rather random composite to be included unless the intended purpose of the type was for something like urban planning or housing development projects which works well along with “minster/official” and “decree/order”. This sort is used in Introduction to Cambodian at least one time (Fig 61). The final composite is made up from two elements that may be found in the word “order” or “decree.” This one is not as space-saving as the other composites and could be used in a few words, but does not appear to be used in Introduction to Cambodian anywhere. Yet another oddity in the Stephen Austin type is the appearance of two versions of RO.sub with different angles. In the Deberny chrieng there are two versions to accommodate the two levels of below base forms (Fig 58). Two levels makes sense, but the inclusion of two different angles in the Stephen Austin type is very strange. With one of the versions the angle of slant is not consistent between RO.sub, the base letters, and the vowels (Fig 62). The variation is not as noticeable in some instances, but in other places it becomes more apparent and the overall balance of the words and sentences can be thrown off (Fig 58). If they had created a second level form then it would only have added to the already difficult task of working with four different point sizes, but it would have made more sense than two different angles. Either angle has problems clashing with subscripts (Fig 58).

a. b.



Fig 60. a. DC2 from Guesdon’s dictionary. b. DC2 from Campuchéa Sauriya c. Composite sort used in Introduction to Cambodian. d. Without composite in Judith Jacob’s dictionary. (200%)



Fig 61. a. Composite sort for the word “roof tile” used in Introduction to Cambodian. b. The same vowel element as a separate sort for comparison. The gap has enough room for a whole letter.

16° 10.5°

Fig 62. The general slant is around 10.5°, but this version of RO.sub is slanted at 16°.

20  Thanks to Phok Moeng for quickly pointing out possible words that contain these elements. 21  The word means minister or government official as well as religious minister.


Fig 63. Early stage of handsetting a sample of the Stephen Austin & Sons 18pt Cambodian. The various sizes of vowels, diacritics, and subscripts in addition to some poor casting make it extremely difficult to create an even line of type.

Fig 64. Introduction to Cambodian. It is fairly easy to spot uneven areas in the setting due to difficulty in setting from poor casting.


4.8.4 Hand-setting with the Stephen Austin Cambodian type Setting a straight line of text using the Stephen Austin type is a difficult task. Dealing with the various sizes of the different elements it like fitting together a puzzle with missing or poorly cut pieces. A straight line of 18pt consonants with no above or below marks is even enough, but the introduction of real words and sentences quickly becomes hard to handle (Fig 63). Judging from the more even appearance and straighter lines of other types like Deberny, it would be logical to assume that they were cast in a way more conducive to the puzzle-like assembly of Khmer metal type. Looking closely at the Stephen Austin type, it is hard to see how the pieces could have possibly been meant to fit together well. Small amounts of overhang on many sorts keep them from sitting flush with one another (Fig 65). Many thin spaces and paper were needed to attempt to keep the lines straight. The inconsistent sizing of the various elements also caused difficulties in keeping the line height even (Fig 59). Although vowels/diacritics will always be placed above or below a consonant in a 6pt space, they do not always fit well into this space and often require uneven spaces on either side. The slanted nature of the chrieng style means that above and below base marks are set at an angle as well (Fig 65b). Adding the English text to this sample was extremely simple in comparison to the Khmer. The Latin letters, from the Golden Cockerel typeface, are cast properly and sit flush next to one another with no adjustment required.


b. Overhang keeps the type from sitting flush with a subscript. When the subscript also has overhang it will not sit evenly.


d. Fig 65. Overhang on many sorts keeps them from sitting flush with one another.

Detail of early stages of hand-setting. Fig 66. The vowel marker á&#x; ​is high on the body and the sides are not always flat (top). Used in Introduction to Cambodian (bottom).


Shift Red Keys do not move the carriage Caps lock

Fig 67. Cambodian typewriter keyboard designed by Keng Vannsak. (translation help by Mony, coloring based on Derek Tonkin’s diagram in Modern Cambodian Writing.

Fig 69. Typewritten sample text from Modern Cambodian Writing.

Fig 68. Cambodian typewriter typing order to build elements into letters, vowels, and diacritics. From Modern Cambodian Writing.


5 Typewritten Khmer 5.1 The Cambodian Typewriter Setting Khmer type by hand was extremely time-consuming and costly. With the invention of the Cambodian typewriter keyboard by Keng Vansak in 1953, it was possible for the first time to set text in one place, although it was still not particularly easy. Two models of Cambodian typewriter were created, both using the keyboard designed by Vansak.22 Unlike some non-Latin keyboard layouts, the layout designed by Keng Vansak was not phonetic. Instead it was laid out in a way to build letters out of shared elements. The major question was how to fit the Khmer script onto a standard typewriter. Fortunately, Khmer contains many elements that can be used in more than one letter or vowel. One standalone consonant, ឡ, is actually made up from two other letters and the vowels ឩ,ឪ, and ឳ share a common base form. Based on this fact, Vansak broke down the common elements to be able to use them in more than one place by building up letters. The results were not always aesthetically pleasing, but they were readable and usable (Fig 69). A few letters like ណ and ឃ are much wider than others, but had to be cramped to fit into the same space as the narrower letters. For technical reasons an upright style is used as chrieng would have been extremely difficult due to the slant. The keyboard was designed with two types of keys: those that advance the carriage and those that do not. The typing sequence is reversed from what would normally be done. Instead of typing a base consonant and adding vowels, diacritics, or subscripts to it, subscripts and vowels are typed first followed by the base consonant which is the only key in the sequence that advances the carriage (Fig 67). Derek Tonkin mentions the difficulties of the typewriter in his book Modern Cambodian Writing which he typed using the typewriter.23 He first typed the English text on a standard typewriter and then put the pages into the Cambodian typewriter to add the Khmer text.24 Typing speed could never be comparable to languages using the Latin script because with Khmer it is a matter of building up words and sounds rather than stringing ready-made letters together. Many letters and words can be typed with no real problem but soon enough a vowel, diacritic, or subscript is required and slows down the speed of composition.

Fig 70. Cover page of manual for the Cambodian typewriter designed by Keng Vannsak. (scan provided by Perom Uch from a personal copy given by Keng Vansak)

22  Derek Tonkin writes Remington and Adler, but Franklin Huffman says Olympia and Adler. 23  Another book using the typewriter is Franklin Huffman and Im Proum’s English-Khmer Dictionary. In the preface the co-author thanks his wife “for her patient typing of parts of the Khmer text.” 24  Conversation with the author June 8, 2010.


Fig 71. Varityper Cambodian keyboard layout from US Army Technical Manual TM 10-603.

Fig 72. Varityper machine.

Fig 73. Number coding Khmer example for the Varityper.

Fig 74. Varityper type plate.


5.2 Varityper The next step in typesetting technology for Khmer came with the Varityper. A US Department of the Army Technical Manual from 1963 shows the keyboard layouts for many different scripts including Cambodian (Fig 71). Unlike the Cambodian typewriter which had to create certain letters out of elements, the Varityper had the capacity of 90 elements per type plate (Fig 74). For complex scripts like Khmer this was split into a primary and secondary plate for a total of 180 elements. Each of the 30 keys on the keyboard could be used for 3 different elements per plate. The characters were on interchangeable plates that could be switched out in the middle of typing to insert text in other scripts. The Varityper was used for the typesetting of the Catholic University Press Modern Cambodian-English Dictionary in 1977. In the introduction the Editor Robert Headley writes that the font “inexplicably lacked certain letters such as ឋ, ឧ, and the subscript ​្ឍ, all of which had to be filled in by hand.” (Headley 1977) (Fig 76) The reason for this could be attributed to a lack of understanding of the script and the vocabulary requiring these particular letters, but with 180 spaces across two type plates there does not seem to be any logical explanation for these omissions. The RO.sub is similar to the Deberny upright, but sits to the side of the base letters to avoid hitting subscripts, vowels, or diacritics (Fig 78). Like the typewriter, the Varityper was a more useful tool than hand-setting for easily and quickly providing information, but it was not particularly aesthetically pleasing. The Varityper letters are monolinear and cramped to fit in a narrow space. In comparison to the high cost of hand-setting or the less desirable layout of the typewriter, the Varityper was the best choice for setting the dictionary. Robert Headley says the “Khmer characters were much too small, but they were all we had.”25 Even after the introduction of the Cambodian keyboard typewriter and the Varityper, although a number of books were typewritten, most books continued to be set by hand into the 1970s.

Fig 75. Each key could type three letters per type plate for a total of six options per key.

Fig 76. Letters missing from the Varityper had to be filled in by hand.

Fig 78. Varityper RO.sub follows the full-arching form, but sits to the side to keep from hitting subscripts, vowels, and diacritics.

6 The Transition of Khmer Script Styles to Printing Types With the introduction of print for Khmer, the Khmer script brought a unique feature to printing types with its combination of the two major script styles mul and chrieng. Mul shifted from being the only script suitable for religious works to being used as a bold or headline style in print, while chrieng was soon paired with upright styles to mimic the Latin paradigm of regular/italic. The lack of styles like bold, italic, or small caps led to the mixing of mul and chrieng instead. Mul was used early on as a sort of headline or bold style as there was nothing else to use for differentiation (Fig 77). Eventually upright types were created which were then used to pair with chrieng in the same way as Latin regular and italic. However, although chrieng is a slanted style it originally did not serve the

Fig 77. Deberny Mul used as a header with 26pt chrieng for body text. Kambujà Suriyà, 1965.

25  Email to the author July 14, 2010


Fig 79. This 1957 English-Cambodian dictionary uses chrieng for the English pronunciation and upright for the definition.

Fig 80. In this Khmer-French dictionary mul is used for the Khmer words with definitions in upright.

Fig 81. Only upright style is used in this French-Khmer dictionary. Fig 82. This Khmer dictionary follows the Latin model more closely with a larger (bold?) upright for the words.


same purpose as the use of Latin italic for emphasis. It has more in common with the original Latin italics which were based on handwritten forms and used to print entire texts rather than for emphasis. Seen this way, the visual styles were originally almost the reverse of Latin regular and italic, but as more printers set the two together in the Western way the upright style and chrieng began to change roles. The experimentation and explorations seen during the evolution of the Latin script are absent in Khmer. Coming to print over four hundred years after the first Latin movable types were created, the first Khmer types were created and used by the French who already had a long history of different Latin type styles in print. The Khmer first types cut were mul and then chrieng, but why did no one cut a bold or italic version of either? If anything ever was created then it was not used as much as the Deberny types. Perhaps for administrative matters there was no real need for bold or italic, but a missionary like Joseph Guesdon would have been used to seeing different styles in use in bibles printed with Latin types so in his Khmer translations of the scriptures it is conceivable that he required different styles for emphasis. Further research is needed to determine the first use of an upright together with a chrieng in the same way as Latin regular and italic. Dictionaries were some of the first books to be printed for Khmer and and they were the kind of book where emphasis and differentiation were required. Over time a variety of uses were made of the Khmer type styles. In an English-Cambodian dictionary from 1957 chrieng is used for the English pronunciation while upright is used for the definition (Fig 79). In another dictionary for Khmer-French the words are in mul with definitions in upright (Fig 80). Other dictionaries only used one style like this French-Khmer dictionary which only uses the upright (Fig 81). A Khmer dictionary from 1968 follows the Latin model more closely with a larger and darker upright for the main word with a mix of upright and chrieng for the definitions (Fig 82). Some books used up to four or five different types on a single page, mixing upright, chrieng, and mul (Fig 85 and Fig 86). Using available resources at SOAS and British Library provides only a small subset of examples, but looking at some of the differences provides a general view of how Khmer type styles were put to use over the years. Further study with help from native speakers is required to fully understand the use and choices made in the mix of styles.

Fig 83. Upright is used for captions with chrieng as body text. Cambodian learner, 1952. (50%)

Fig 84. Deberny Mul and upright used together. KambujĂ SuriyĂ , 1941. (80%)


Fig 85. Five different Deberny types on one page. Lok NitĂŠk - Instruction Civique, 1960


Fig 86. Body text is in chrieng with 40pt upright for headers and 26pt upright for footnotes. Small amounts of 26pt mul are also used. Buddhist education book Lami de l’Êcole de pali, 1950. (60%)



7 Conclusion This aim of this dissertation has been to establish a general understanding of the history of Khmer printing types and their use. Knowledge of the social structure in Cambodia at the time of the first Khmer printing types gives an important perspective on the reception of print. After the introduction of print through the French Protectorate there was some resistance to print by traditionalist Buddhist monks tied to a long history of hand-written palm-leaf manuscripts. The failed romanisation attempt in the 1940s made clear the importance of the Khmer script to the Cambodian people. Only a small number of typefoundries ever attempted a Khmer typeface, most likely due to low economic incentive. Although this dissertation is not an exhaustive study, a number of typefaces have been shown including the most important Khmer types ever cut by Deberny & Cie at the end of the nineteenth century. A more detailed look at the Stephen Austin & Sons Cambodian type has given a point of reference for looking at the other typefaces and Khmer type design in general. A selection of printed samples of type in use has given an idea of how the roles of the two main script styles, mul and chrieng, were altered in the transition to print. Mul shifted from being the only script suitable for religious works to being used as a bold or headline style in print while chrieng was soon paired with upright styles to mimic the Latin paradigm of regular/italic. This dissertation only covers up to the 1970s when phototypesetting largely replaced cold metal typesetting in other parts of the world. No phototypesetting for Khmer is known to have ever been created and during this time Cambodia was caught in the middle of surrounding wars. With the rise of the Khmer Rouge regime any more technological progress within the country was halted. In the years following this, digital type was underway in the rest of the world and soon a number of Khmer digital fonts were created. However, a new set of technical difficulties had to be worked out and with a low demand for Khmer typefaces the major foundries did not include Khmer in their output. More research is required in France and Cambodia to document the printing types discussed in this dissertation as well as to search for more documentation on the printers and typefounders involved in their creation. It is the author’s hope that this paper will be a starting point for further discussion and study of Khmer type design in its historical context.



Resources Type Specimens 1844-47. Wien. Sprachenhalle. Die erste Abtheilung: Das Vater Unser in 608 Sprachen und Mundarten ... Die zweite Abtheilung: Das Vater Unser in 206 Sprachen und Mundarten ... in den den Völkern eigenthümlichen Schriftzügen, mit der betreffenden Aussprache und wörtlichen Uebersetzung. [Edited by A. Auer.] 1880. Wien. Faulmann, K. Das Buch der Schrift: enthaltend die Schriftzeichen und Alphabete aller Zeiten und aller Völker des Erdkreises. Wien, K. K. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei. 1906. Paris. Caractères Quôc-Ngù (Annamites). Caractères Khmêr (Cambodgiens). Deberny & Cie. 1910. Wien. Schriftproben der K. K. Hof- und Staatsdruckerei in Wien: Vierter Teil. Typen für Fremde Sprachen. 1925. Frankfurt a. Main. D. Stempel. Hauptprobe der Schriftgiesserei und Messinglinienfabrik D. Stempel Akt.-Ges. 1948. Paris. Fossey, C. (1948). Notices sur les caractères étrangers, anciens et modernes. Imprimerie nationale de France. 1952. Paris. Specimen général des fonderies Deberny et Peignot. Deberny et Peignot. 1953. Hertford. Continental and Oriental Types. Stephen Austin & Sons, Ltd. 1963?. Paris. Typographie. Deberny et Peignot.

Manuscripts BL. IO Pali 207. TEN BIRTH TALES. Folding book, 60 x 9 cm, 71 folds. 5 lines per page. Thick Cambodian Script in black ink. 15 pairs of illustrations. Text in Pali (extract from Abhidhamma). Handwritten inscription on f. 71 ‘Presented by Ltt Coll Clifford by the hands of W. Wigram Es[gen] 9th Dec 1823’. Ca. late 18th century. See also: Ginsburg, Henry: Thai Art and Culture / London : 2000, p. 63. SOAS 142130. Abhidamma-Pitaka. [Tikkapatthana, book 13. A Pali text written in Cambodian script, on palm leaves. 19th century? SOAS 142131. Abhidamma-Pitaka. A Tikkapatthana text, with title-leaf illegible. Written in Cambodian script, on palm leaves. 19th century? SOAS 142132. Palimutta. [Brapalimutta, book 12. Palimutta, with Vinaya commentary. Written in Cambodian script on palm leaves. 19th century?

Websites Entire books and articles as PDF scans are available through these sites including the entire collection of the Bulletin de l’École française d’Extrême-Orient Persée. Bibliothèque Nationale de France: Gallica Bibliothèque Numerique



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Appendix Deberny & Cie Specimen from Exposition coloniale de Marseille, 1906










Khmer Printing Types and the Introduction of Print in Cambodia: 1877–1977  

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