The Process of Creating Sprig

1. Your dinner plans, solved.
In 2019, Maxime and I visited Sicily to eat pasta alla norma,1 cannolis, and attend my cousin’s wedding. Our return flight to New York was out of Rome, so we spent our last day of the trip wandering in and out of Rome’s small, overflowing antique book stores. In one of the stores I found a pocket-sized book with a green hardcover, and knew I had found a treasure. The book’s round, offbeat serif typeface immediately charmed me and I needed to know more. So 15€ later I left the store with my book, Collecting Lustre Ware by W. Bosanko, a book about Metallic British Pottery from the turn of the century, and I got to work.
Video of Maxime paging through Collecting Old Lustre Ware by W. Bosanko.
Scan from a spread of Collecting Old Lustre Ware
2. Later I learned this pervasive r was more likely a printing error.

The alternate form of r, with its arm raised above x-height, has also been criticized, but this is mostly the result of misuse. It is disturbing within a word, but adds a bit of grace at the end of a word. Oddly, original fonts had only this form, with the more regular r added later; most fonts for handsetting include both forms of r, but those for machine setting include only the normal form or in a few cases only the more exotic form.
—Excerpt from American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century by Mac McGrew, pg. 85

The press that printed Collecting Lustre Ware likely had an early, original cut of the font and therefore only had the raised r.

The book was printed in 1916, and the typeface it was set in was Cheltenham or one of Cheltenham’s many knockoffs. There are so many strange and idiosyncratic details in the typeface, but somehow when the letters come together it just works.

Some highlights: there’s a trill r that rises above the x-height to hug its neighbor,2 and a g with an open bottom counter. The dots on the i and the j soar for miles above their stems matching the other extremely tall ascenders, while the descenders are short and stubby. The A and G have extruding strokes out of the top and bottom, respectively. The W looks like two overlapping Vs. The x-height is so low that in text the capital letters appear to be several sizes larger than the lowercase.

Everything — the serifs, the ball terminals, the punctuation — is extremely round.

Scan from Collecting Lustre Ware by W. Bosanko. You can see some interesting details here: the i dots that are so far from the stem, the raised r, low x-height/XL capital letters, and a really fun ‘ff’ ligature.
4. Even more specifically, to me these letterforms have always felt like one of the defining typefaces of New York City. Originially designed for a NYC based printing press, and later picked up by the New York Times, where it has been the iconic typeface for the newspaper since 2003, you see these sturdy but quirky familiar shapes all over the city. As a native Brooklynite, this NYC-feeling I get from these letterforms was a major part of why I wanted to pursue this revival.
5. McGrew, Mac. American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century. Oak Knoll Books, 1993.

Cheltenham was originally designed between 1896-1902 by Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue. The typeface was sketched and commissioned by Ingalls Kimball for Cheltenham Press, a New York City-based printing press. The typeface was a huge hit and an immediate success.

Despite having the name Cheltenham, named after the printing press who commissioned it (who called themselves Cheltenham after the distinctive town in Gloucestershire England, because it was characterized as a “town apart”),3 the typeface was a uniquely American project.4 And the project’s Americaness included its enterprising future: it was patented by Kimball in 1904, and bought by American Type Founders (ATF), where it would become the world’s first full-fledged large type family.

Between 1904-1913, Morris Fuller Benton, chief type designer at ATF, expanded Goodhue’s original design to a large number of weights, widths, italics, styles, ornaments and more.5 It was so widely used from its conception through the entire 20th century (although its use was much heavier during the first half of the 20th century), that it became a household name. Even today where typesetting text is such a common activity, there still aren’t that many fonts that are in the public lexicon. So imagine how impressive the feat of a font becoming a household name is in a pre-personal-computer world.

In his 1990 book, Anatomy of a Typeface, Alexander Lawson writes: “Of this vast output over a period of 180 years, one type seems to stand above all the rest as the embodiment of type design that is thoroughly American: Cheltenham. (Its very English name was of course far too rich for the practicing typos, who simply called it Chelt […]) Cheltenham is, in all probability, the most widely known type designed in the United States.”

Scans from Cheltenham specimen pages in the American Line Type Book by ATF, 1923.

Its popularity also led to it being imported or copied by many foundries locally and globally both at the time of its creation and in the years since. I am definitely not the first type designer who wanted to take a crack at remaking the letterforms Goodhue and Kimballs designed. And so like many type designers before me, I started by trying to reproduce the type from my source material as faithfully as possible.

But my commitment to being faithful to the source material didn’t last very long. One of my biggest initial challenges was determining what was the right amount of roundness the font should have. The font, as I mentioned, is very round — there are no sharp corners anywhere — but this was mostly because of how the ink spread on the paper. It looks great in my source material, Collecting Lustre Ware, where it was printed around 10pt type size, but reproducing this ink spread roundness effect on a retina computer screen gave me a goopy looking blob font. Not cute! So using some calligraphic logic, I started making decisions about what to keep round and what to sharpen.

Sorbonne by German Foundry, Berthold, 1905
Veneciana by Spanish type foundry, Richard Gans, approximately 1922
Winchester by English Type Foundry, Stephenson Blake, 1908
Gloucester Old Style by Monotype, 1911
Sharpening the type in some places left me with a nice looking, well drawn fairly faithful representation of the Cheltenham as it was printed in Collecting Lustre Ware. Goal acheived! But over the years I worked on Sprig, I would always try to use it in client projects or in personal design work and each time I would use it, I would make small edits and adjustments. And over time those edits became more substantial — major updates to letter widths and proportions, updates to the x-height, simplifying some of the more distracting features — until I no longer felt a responsibility to the source material; the project had evolved.
FAIRE Sprig, named for the plant-like way the letters seem to grow out of their stems, reached a level where I would use it in graphic design work and no longer need or want to make edits. It felt friendly, modern, and extremely versatile. And maybe it’s something that’s written in my American type designer DNA, or maybe it’s something about those Cheltenham letterforms, but just like Morris Fuller Benton and the ATF team before me, I felt the need to expand this typeface as much as possible. How bold could it go before it blobs together? How light could it be before it becomes invisible? I wanted to find out.
I expanded the type into 8 styles ranging from Hairline to Super. As a foundry we decided we wanted to be as inclusive as possible for the latin script, so I added accented characters to support 92 languages, and included a wide range of global currencies. Features inspired from my source material that were interesting to me but didn’t feel versatile enough to be used as the default characters, like the raised trill r at the end of a word, the W that overlaps itself, and the capital J that descends below the baseline, are included and accessible in the font’s opentype features.
FAIRE Sprig Italic started after the roman version had been more or less completed. So I referred back to my source Collecting Lustre Ware for formal inspiration, but this time I was armed with the lessons I learned from designing the roman. The italic design was a much more straightforward process and from the very first glyph I was making design decisions. Much like the roman, my goal with the italic was to extract the spirit and quirkiness of my source material but leave anything that didn’t feel modern or flexible.
Scan from Collecting Lustre Ware by W. Bosanko, 1913
FAIRE Sprig Regular Italic
While working on FAIRE Sprig, I was researching the history of Cheltenham and looking at all the reference material I could find. I was also taking inspiration from the type I was encountering in my daily life. Drawing from historical references and outside inspiration, I added a series of swash characters, mostly caps, to Sprig Italic. And then I thought what the heck, let’s make roman versions and add them in Sprig too. Who doesn’t love an (optional) decorative swash? And finally, I couldn’t consider the typeface finished without including a custom set of emojis. 🌿 💘 ✨
Outside inspiration: Maxwell House Haggadah. These books have been in my family since the 1960s.
Outside inpsiration: ubiquitous plastic shopping bag.
Scans from Cheltenham specimen, featuring italic and some swash characters, in the American Line Type Book by ATF, 1923.
The decision to then create an accompanying sans was an easy one. I loved the idea of taking this long, storied typeface to a place it’s never been before. And in my graphic design work I was feeling the need to have a really steady, flexible sans serif typeface that still had some friendly character and personality to it. So FAIRE Sprig Sans was born. I tried to keep all of the wonderful quirks present in FAIRE Sprig in the sans-serif version. The g has the same open bottom counter, and while the typeface is much less round because of its nature as a grotesk, I did sneak a bunch of round shapes in places like the i and j dots, punctuation, and accented characters.

To make FAIRE Sprig Sans as flexible as possible, I added a more classic single story g into the opentype features for instances where the type might need to be a little more quiet. To match the single story g (and take the type to a cuter level) a single story a opentype feature was added.

I also wanted to translate all the features and special glyphs in FAIRE Sprig to FAIRE Sprig Sans. So if you access the opentype features in FAIRE Sprig Sans, there are sans-serif swashes and fun ligatures to play with (all parallel to the versions in FAIRE Sprig). The same set of emojis is available in Sprig Sans, but like all the other glyphs that came from the serif version, they underwent a little transformation to get to their sans form.

Thanks for reading! ✨

Like a true New Yorker, the Sprig Collection is a mix of a lot of different origins and histories. Spanning time and space—from a 1916 British book about metallic pottery, to Rome where I found the book, to Brooklyn where the typeface came to life—the Sprig Collection is both a revival and something brand new.

But I am hoping we can repeat history and give these letterforms a new heyday, a little over a hundred years after their first.

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