Hesse Antiqua – Typeface release at 100

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Gudrun Zapf von Hesse, born January 2 in 1918, is a woman of many talents: She would emphasize that she is a trained bookbinder first, but she was also active as a lettering artist, she has produced work in the graphic arts – and she is a typeface designer. As she turns 100 on this day, her first alphabet design is finally released after 70 years. Ferdinand Ulrich tells the story of its origin and recent digitization.

Unable to return to her family’s home in Potsdam, in the turmoil of post-war Germany, Gudrun von Hesse moved to a small Hessian town in late 1945.* Equipped with a portfolio, she introduced herself at the Bauer Type Foundry, based in Frankfurt am Main. It was foundry director Georg Hartmann himself who gave her the opportunity to maintain an in-house hand bookbindery, with permission to work for other clients as well. At Bauer, GZvH met art director Heinrich Jost and type designer Konrad F. Bauer and learned much about the manufacturing process of metal type. Her kind nature was much appreciated and her skills were highly valued. Jost praised her as “a perfect hand-bookbinder” (in a letter of recommendation, 24 February 1947).

Eventually, GZvH was brave enough to approach the punch cutters at Bauer. Punch cutting was not practiced by women until that time – if there were exceptions, they are remarkable. Engraving the mirror image of a letter in a steel punch (up to six centimeters long) was the first step in the production of metal type. This was a meticulous process requiring skilled hands that carefully carved out the face of the type using gravers, files and sometimes counter punches. The final punch could be used to make an impression in a softer metal block (usually copper or iron), then known as a matrix or mat.** Essentially the matrix is the mold from which a type founder casts metal sorts.***

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