The type foundry of Stephenson, Blake and Co (situated in Sheffield) supplied many superb typefaces over the years, some even migrating to the age of the PC – like Impact (which was launched in 1965). I am interested in the styles termed ‘grotesque’ which were launched from the tail end of the nineteenth century. The grotesques were characterised by a lack of serif, and a lack of decoration (which surely is where the term comes from), yet it is a solid, sincere font which communicates its message in a direct manner. The majority of these fonts would have been used for advertising, harnessing that truthfulness and fresh-faced clarity of diction. But as tastes changed in the twentieth century, Grotesques were seen to represent the new, the revolutionary, and the democratic. For example, Stephenson, Blake Grotesque No 9 of 1907 was chosen by Wyndham Lewis for the manifesto pages of BLAST. (See featured image for a picture of two of the pages from this). BLAST was urging a complete change in taste and styles, away from the traditional Victorian, to a more modern, abstract form in art, illustration, poetry and writing. It appeared in 1914, and it was one of the main controversies in 1914 London, which was unfortunately brought to a temporary close by the start of the First World War that August.
So the early pre-First World War Grotesques – some produced by Monotype and some by Stephenson, Blake, are now hugely important styles. They represent the first move towards a cleaner, simpler non serif, and were used for inspiration by the new generation post-war font designers like Eric Gill and Pierpoint. The Gill faces were a remove from Grotesque, with its consistent stroke width, but Pierpoint stuck with variable stroke and produced the Monotype 215.
The following is a summary of when the first Grotesques appeared from Stephenson, Blake:
|Grotesque No. 6||1880|
|Grotesque No. 7||1890|
|Grotesque No. 8||1920||Appears in catalogues out of sequence in the 1920’s but originally designed pre-war?|
|Grotesque No. 9||1907||Chosen by Wyndham Lewis for the manifesto pages of BLAST at Leveridge & Co (printers) at Harlesden in 1914|
Acknowledgements: Thanks to devroye.org.