If you work with type, you no doubt know the name of Zapf. Whether you’re a type and design aficionado or merely dabble with type on your computer, the name should be familiar. The man behind the ubiquitous namesake, Hermann Zapf, passed away last week in his native Germany at the age of 96. Starting out as an apprentice doing photo retouching in Germany, he later discovered and taught himself calligraphy. His apprenticeship provided contacts in the type world, and he soon designed his first typeface, Gilgengart for the type foundry Linotype GmbH in 1938.
World War II could have been the end of his artistic career, but he ended up working as a cartographer for the German army, and even spent time as a prisoner of war by the French. It was during the war that he began keeping sketchbooks that included hand lettering that rivaled anything set in lead type and showcased his talents with watercolors. [NOTE: I recently wrote about a current Kickstarter project that he was involved with to reproduce those sketchbooks.] After the war, he taught calligraphy and worked as a graphic designer in the publishing industry.
His most well-known typefaces—and Zapf created nearly 200 of them—are Palatino and Optima (created in the late 40s and early 50s), Zapfino (created from his own calligraphy) and ITC Zapf Chancery. Zapf was the creator of Marconi, the first typeface made specifically for digital typesetting, in 1971. His typefaces were created not only for Latin and Cyrillic alphabets, but also Arabic and even Cherokee! Zapf’s wonderful typefaces encompass trends and innovations across three distinct eras of type: metal typesetting, phototypesetting, and finally digital typesetting. His passion for lettering and letterforms led to a vast body of work in the modern age of type, and I doubt we will see another master of type of his caliber again in our lifetime.