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Ullstein Fraktur, the unknown geometric blackletter

9 April, 2013

While I was digging through the Fraktur stuff at the Monotype archive last week, I stumbled upon this rather nice fraktur typeface called Ullstein Schrift, series number 482, marked ‘To be held in abeyance’ in the specimen.

Proof

 I wondered why such an interesting blackletter had to be abandoned and wanted to see what remains in the pattern drawing box. To my surprise, Ullstein was a geometrically constructed typeface!

M

Looks like all characters are at least drawn on a grid paper, but not all were made into pattern drawing. I haven’t checked the production note* yet so I do not know what actually happened, but soon after I saw the drawings I understood the reason why it was cancelled, if it was because of design. First of all, the grid is very fine, and the designer even subdivided it wherever necessary, so much so that it was pointless. Secondly, the pattern drawing, the production drawing from which the Monotype matrices would be made, incorporates so many optical correction. For example, the sausage-shaped counter of lowercase letters is not a mere combination of circle and rectangle; it was carefully softened by the drawing office (it’s not a bad decision at all, in fact it’s a pretty basic stuff even today). So, the designer(s) might have realised that there was no point in continuing the process.

* Production note: written record of typeface production kept by the drawing office. Typically it notes which character was drawn at which time, what was approved and rejected.

Blackletter faces for Monotype machine were usually done at Monotype German office (Weimar?), of which whereabout of the drawings is unknown. Ullstein Fraktur was among the exceptions that were produced at Salfords. Curiously, Berthord Wolpe’s Sachsenwald, series 457, was made almost at the same time (1936–37), and its proofs and approval letters mentioned Mr Ullstein, as well as Wolpe and Stanley Morison. I do not know anything about Ullstein (not even his given name), but at least he was involved in two Monotype blackletter projects in UK. He might have been a blackletter specialist at Monotype or just a customer.

Update 14 April 2013: The Monotype Continental office was located in Frankfurt though I randomly said Weimar (I shouldn’t have done it). Also I confirm that the Ullstein project was indeed cancelled (the last note ends with something like ‘Sent proof to the customer. Do not continue until we have an approval’). I also discovered that there was another Rotunda project commissioned by Ullstein being developed at the same time, which was completed (series 483). So, Ullstein was involved in at least three blackletter projects. While it is interesting to find out why, but I am more interested in that Rotunda project whose capital in particular looks like Wolpe’s, although there’s no written connection between him and the face.

I rest my case. Now, feast your eyes!

Designer’s drawings

Cap1

Cap2

lc1

lc2

lc3

lc4
Pattern drawings

(Just a few so that you can see how the original drawings were translated. Of course they were drawn in reverse.)

Pattern3 Pattern2 Pattern1

9 comments

  • Ralf H. says:

    Ullstein is the name of a large publishing house (Ullstein Verlag) in Germany, which exists since 1877. So the name in those typefaces could also relate to that publishing house, and not a certain type designer.

    • Toshi Omagari says:

      He was not even a person? Now I wonder why a publisher wanted a geometric face that would certainly be useless for text.

  • Indra? says:

    Most definitely not Weimar.

  • Dan Reynolds says:

    Toshi,

    Thanks for posting this. The images are indeed interesting. Unfortunately, I can only hope that this typeface never saw the light of day. It could not have been Monotype of any help at the time. Really, I think that it is an ugly design. And for 1937, particularly inappropriate. Maybe in 1887, a design like this could have been successful on the German market, but not in 1937. By the 1930s, almost all type designers in Germany were ‘writing’ their blackletter typefaces, a là Johnstion/Simons/Larisch/Koch etc, and not geometrically constructing them. Even the Schaftstiefelgrotesks are more pen-based than geometry-based than they might appear at first glance. Berthold Wolpe, who you mention, was certain part of the writing-school, being a pupil and associate of Rudolf Koch’s in the late 1920s/early 1930s. This is quite visible in Albertus, I think, and also Sachsenwald-Gotisch, which you mention.

    Anyway, the drawings are cool from a historic perspective, and of course they are type designer porn for us today! But I just can’t fathom how anyone could have thought that a design like this could have flown in 1937. Maybe that was why the work on it was halted?

    One more thing: I don’t know where Monotype’s pre-war German facilities were, but it seems to me to be quite unlikely that they would have been in Weimar. Weimar is a very small town, and – although Walbaum was active there in the early 1800s – it wasn’t particularly known as a centre in the printing or type founding industries. It was also not a prominent industrial centre. Monotype’s facilities would more likely have been in Frankfurt or Berlin. As Indra mentioned on Twitter, the person who you and Dan Rhatigan should really contact is Eckehart SchumacherGebler.

    • Toshi Omagari says:

      Whether this is ugly or beautiful is just a matter of opinion, but I do agree with you. I believe that this does not deserve revival and anyone who attempts to digitise these images should think more than twice. I think it’s okay to show a bad example, although I personally think this is rather good for what geometric approach usually ends up (as I said, its grid is small though). It’s not so great in its right, but interests me to investigate the history behind it, which I know next to nothing. I’ll check the production note this Friday.
      ‘Weimar’ came from my fragile memory. When I asked Robin Nicholas in person about the pre-war German office, he mentioned whereabouts, which sounded something like Weimar as I remember. Probably a complete miss.
      Thanks for the info on Eckehart!

  • Amy says:

    Curious to know more about this typeface, did you ever get to the bottom of the matter of the designer?

    • Toshi Omagari says:

      I only know the customer, but I can check other sources where I will hopefully find the name of the designer. Please wait until next week.

  • […] Omagari for sharing the archive with me and helping to interpreting the Sachsenwald documents. He’s written about another Ullstein typeface here. Any mistakes in this post are mine. Thank you, Monotype, for making it possible to visit.  Thanks […]

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