The Process of Creating Sprig
—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.
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.”
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.
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.
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.