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|Classification||Old style serif|
|Designer(s)||Frank Hinman Pierpont|
Plantin is an old-style serif typeface named after the sixteenth-century printer Christophe Plantin. It was created in 1913 by the British Monotype Corporation for their hot metal typesetting system, and is loosely based on a Gros Cicero face cut in the 16th century by Robert Granjon and held in the collection of the Plantin-Moretus Museum of Antwerp.
The intention behind the design of Plantin was to create a font with thicker letterforms than were often used at the time: previous type designers had reduced the weight of their fonts to make up for the effect of ink spread or to achieve a more elegant image, but by 1913 innovations in smoothing and coating paper had led to reduced ink spread. In preparing the design Monotype engineering manager Frank Hinman Pierpont visited the Plantin-Moretus Museum, which provided him with a printed specimen.
Plantin was one of the first Monotype Corporation revivals that was not simply a copy of a typeface already popular in British printing; it has proved popular since its release and has been digitised. It can in retrospect be seen to have paved the way for the many Monotype revivals of classic typefaces that followed in the 1920s and 30s. Plantin would later also be used as one of the main models for the creation of Times New Roman in the 1930s. The Plantin family includes regular, light and bold weights, along with corresponding italics.
At the time Plantin was released, Monotype's hot metal typesetting system, which cast new type for each printing job, was developing a reputation for practicality in trade and mass-market printing, but the designs offered by Monotype were relatively basic choices, such as a "modern" face, an "old style" and a Clarendon. It was suggested by James Moran and John Dreyfus that the existence of a c. 1910 family from the Shanks foundry known as "Plantin Old Style" may have been an inspiration. This was actually a Caslon revival with no connection to Plantin but it was also a design advertised as being highly legible, so Dreyfus suggests it may have prompted the choice of design and name. The Plantin-Moretus Museum, created in 1876 from Plantin's collection which had been preserved and added to by his successors, is notable as the world's largest collection of sixteenth century typefaces, leading Pierpont to visit it to research the topic. The Granjon font on which Pierpont's design was based was listed as one of the types used by the Plantin-Moretus Press beginning in the 17th century, long after Plantin had died and his press had been inherited by the Moretus family.[a]
Plantin was designed and engraved into metal at the Monotype factory in Salfords, Surrey, which was led by Pierpont and draughtsman Fritz Stelzer. Both were recruits to Monotype from the German printing industry. The choice to revive a French renaissance design was unusual for the time, since most British fine printers of the period preferred either Caslon or revivals of the fifteenth-century style of Nicolas Jenson (recognisable from the tilted 'e'), following the lead of William Morris's Golden Type, both of which Monotype would also develop revivals of. However, other revivals of Aldine/French renaissance typefaces followed from several hot metal typesetting companies in the following decades, including Monotype's own Poliphilus, Bembo and Garamond, Linotype's Granjon and Estienne and others, becoming very popular in book printing for body text.
The design for Plantin preserved the large x-height of Granjon's designs, but shortened the ascenders and descenders and enlarged the counters of the lowercase 'a' and 'e'. Not all the letters were Granjon's: the letters 'J', 'U' and 'W', not used in French in the sixteenth century, were not his, and a different 'a' in an eighteenth-century style had been substituted into the font by the time the specimen sheet was printed.
The 1742 specimen of Claude Lamesle (notable for its printing quality) provides a specimen of the Granjon type in its original state. Mosley has close-up images of some characters of the face.[b]
With its relatively robust, solid design compared to the Didone and "Modernised Old Style" faces popular in the early twentieth century (which Monotype already had made versions of), Plantin proved popular and was often particularly used by trade and newspaper printers using poor-quality paper in the metal type period and beyond.[c] As the basic font is relatively dark on the page, Monotype offered a 'light' version as well as a bold, which Williamson describes as "particularly suitable for bookwork."
During the interwar period the face was adopted and popularized by Francis Meynell's Pelican Press and by C. W. Hobson's Cloister press, and also used occasionally by Cambridge University Press. A custom version, "Nonesuch Plantin" was also cut for Meynell's Nonesuch Press, one of the first fine printers to use Monotype machines, with extended ascenders and descenders on the lower-case. Type designer Walter Tracy noted that this changed the type's appearance to a surprising extent: "it look[s] not only more refined but as if it derived from another period: Fournier's, say [in the eighteenth century], not Granjon's." It was appropriately used by the Bodley Head to print Meynell's autobiography. Monotype also created a condensed version, News Plantin, for The Observer in the late 1970s. An infant variety of the typeface also exists, with single-story versions of the letters 'a' and 'g' and a 'y' with two straight sides.
Plantin was the basis for the general layout of Monotype's most successful typeface of all, Times New Roman. Times is similar to Plantin but "sharpened" or "modernised", with increased contrast (particularly resembling designs from the eighteenth and nineteenth century) and greater "sparkle". Allan Haley commented that Times New Roman "looks like Plantin on a diet."
Plantin was a recreation of one of the old types held at the Plantin-Moretus Museum in Antwerp, of which a specimen, printed in 1905, had been acquired by Pierpont on a visit. The type from which the specimen was printed was not only centuries old and worn almost beyond use, but it was contaminated with wrong-font letters (notably the letter ‘a’) and the italic did not even belong to the roman. The revival, derived by Monotype from an indirect and confused original, is as sound a piece of type-making as was ever created in the 20th century…behind the foggy image of the roman type lies the...'Gros Cicero' Roman of Robert Granjon, acquired by the Plantin printing office after the death of its founder.
The consensus appears to be that not only the wrong-fount a in the cases at Antwerp but also the italic that Monotype adapted for their Plantin (which can be seen on that first page of the 1905 specimen) may be the work of Johann Michael Schmidt (died 1750), also known as J. M. Smit or Smid.
The first national to install a Lasercomp, it overcame the lack of suitable text faces by commissioning its own, a slightly condensed version of Plantin.