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Striking contrast and exquisite curves make Sybarite a powerful tool for attracting attention. The key to a fat face is dramatic contrast between thick and thin strokes that turns letters into arresting silhouettes. Most fat face fonts were drawn to be used at one size, causing thin strokes to disappear at small sizes and thicken at large sizes. But Sybarite’s four optical weights provide striking contrast at any size.
Adept draughtsmanship makes Sybarite as exquisite as it is striking. Every ample stroke, graceful curve, and pointed serif received careful attention. Alternate versions of a, F, R, and T prevent gaps caused by white space in traditional fat faces. Italic fonts have a steep slant, sweeping pothook serifs, and seven alternate swash capitals. Contrast and craft make Sybarite stand out in headlines, covers, posters and packages.
Origins of the Fat Face
The first Industrial Revolution led to a boom in the production and sale of manufactured goods in Europe. A consequent boom in advertising created demand for new advertising typefaces that could stand out in a world suddenly crowded with advertisements.
London type founders responded to the surge in advertising by taking high-contrast modern types to a new extreme. They produced the ”fat face”; type with vertical stems more than half as thick as they were tall. The origin of these types cannot be credited with certainty. Robert Thorne, proprietor of the Fann St. Foundry, is often credited as the creator of the fat face that popularized the style. Thorne’s fat face was appropriately named “Elephant” and appeared around 1810 (1), the same year as a similar design from Bower & Bacon (2). In 1820 Thorne sold his business, the Fann Street Foundry, to William Thorowgood. Thorowgood’s name was associated with the fat face over a century later when Elephant was reissued as “Thorowgood” by Stephenson Blake.
The Franklin Letter Foundry
Sybarite is James Puckett’s interpretation of the fat face designs that appear in the 1829 specimen of Alonzo W. Kinsley’s Franklin Letter Foundry. Kinsley’s was a very short-lived and unprofitable business. It opened in 1825 (some sources say 1829) and ended in 1832 upon Kinsley’s death. An 1828 advertisement in The American Masonick Record (3) claims that “An artist of the highest celebrity is engaged in casting new founts of letter.” But it seems unlikely that much new type was cast at Kinsley’s foundry. David Bruce, Jr. wrote that the Kinsley matrices were purchased from Richard Starr and George Bruce (4). Bruce may have been the artist mentioned, he was employed as superintendent in the Franklin Letter Foundry where he took up punchcutting (5).
High-contrast typefaces have thin hairlines that translate poorly to scalable digital type. A hairline thin enough to remain a hairline at large sizes disappears at smaller sizes. And a hairline serif drawn for small sizes turns into a slab serif at large sizes. Solving this problem requires the creation of optical weights; fonts tuned for a certain size range, just as they existed in the era of metal type.
Italic With Swash Characters
Sybarite has a companion italic with generous pothook serifs that sweep into and out of the letters. As with the roman, Kinsley’s italic provided a baseline for the Sybarite italic, but the many letters were drawn fresh. Swash capital forms found in Kinsely’s specimen were implemented in Sybarite with the same wide-ranging language support as their unadorned brethren.
Contextual Alternate Characters
OpenType substitutions were used to bring a few old letters into the twenty-first century. To provide contemporary spacing some letters have contextual alternate forms that address gaps created by the intersection of overhanging serifs, upturned pothooks, and massive ball terminals.
Unlike Thorne’s English-only fonts, Sybarite has an extended character set that supports over 130 languages.
1. Tschichold, Treasury of Alphabets and Lettering. New York: Norton, 1992. p. 233
2. Millington, Stephenson Blake: the Last of the Old English Typefounders. New Castle: Oak Knoll, 2002. p. 49
3. The American Masonick Record, and Albany Saturday Magazine. Nov. 8. 1828. Albany: E. B. Child. p. 328, vol. II, 1828–9.
4. Bruce, History of Type Founding in the United States. New York: The Typohphiles, 1981. p. 42
5. Bullen, The Inland Printer, Chicago: The Inland Printer Company, April 1922 p. 6
James Puckett extends his thanks to the Butler Library at Columbia University, the New York Public Library, and James Mosely of the St. Bride Printing Museum for their help with research related to A. W. Kinsley’s Franklin Letter Foundry and the origins of the fat face style of type.
Thanks are also due to James Montalbano, who advised on the design of the Roman during a class at the School of Visual Arts.