dot-font: A Type Champion Medals in Leipzig

Editor’s Note: This week we let John D. Berry slip his shackles for a trip overseas, but only so he can bring you firsthand reports from the annual ATypI conference, which is being held this year in Cophenhagen from Sept. 20 through Sept. 23. John will be back next week to begin filling you in. In the meantime, here’s a look at last year’s TDC Medal winner, originally published on October 20, 2000. Readers who want a head start on the news from Denmark can try the ATypI conference Web site here.


In a moment of mischievous surprise, the old lion was awarded the quick brown fox.

The occasion was the award ceremony, held at Leipzig’s Hochschule für Grafik und Buchkunst on Friday evening of the ATypI conference, where the Type Directors Club made two official presentations: One to a deserving student at the Hochschule, who received the TDC’s only non-U.S. scholarship this year, and the other to Günter Gerhard Lange, who received the TDC Medal. Shuttle buses had ferried most of the conference attendees from the event’s two daytime venues to the school, where the presentation would be followed by a reception and then the ATypI auction. The room was packed.

A School with a Past
As we made our way through the impressive entrance hall of the Hochschule, we typophiles kept halting and swirling in eddies to get a good look at the typographic rarities on display in a series of glass cases set up on either side of the hall. There was no time to do them justice, but we gazed down briefly and appreciatively at examples of books, design sketches, and printed ephemera by some of the best-known typographic designers of the 20th century.

The typographer and teacher Albert Kapr(d. 1995) had founded the Institut für Buchgestaltung here in the 1950s and presided over it and the school for decades. As we walked in, London typographer Colin Banks, reflecting on this and Leipzig’s long typographic history, looked around at the displays and the school and mused, “We stand on hallowed ground.”

Before-Dinner Speeches
Like all award ceremonies, this one was extensively prefaced and introduced and preluded and prologued. This being a German school, the longest intro — Günter Karl Bose’s survey of the school’s typographic history — was delivered in German (with occasional English asides). Judging by how much I enjoyed talking and listening to Bose later that night at the “type is sexy” bar, I expect that his speech would have been insightful and apt, if I spoke enough German to understand it; since I don’t, however, it seemed frustratingly long. This being an American organization that was giving the awards, the rest of the various speeches were delivered in English — to the selfish relief of us non-German-speakers.

The TDC scholarship was given to Philipp Arnold, a student chosen by the Hochschule; his own acceptance remarks were somewhat bashful, but he saved his best for later, at the very end of the ceremony.

aka GGL
Günter Gerhard Lange is richly deserving of the TDC Medal; indeed, some said it was an honor that was long overdue. (Again, language plays its role. Erik Spiekermann has lamented that, because Lange doesn’t speak fluent English, he is less well known in the English-speaking world than he ought to be. In the German-speaking world, GGL is so dominant with his forceful, intelligent, impassioned speaking — not to mention his achievements — that, as Spiekermann noted, he always has to invite Lange to speak at any design event in Germany: “If he’s not there,” said Spiekermann, “it’s not a conference.”)

Lange was artistic director at H Berthold AG for nearly 30 years, until he retired in 1990 and Berthold foundered on the rocks of the PostScript revolution. In his long tenure, he made Berthold synonymous with quality and precision in type design; he began his career there by declaring that he aspired to make Berthold’s quality “better than Monotype,” the acknowledged leader at the time. Lange presided over a huge program of typographic revivals and interpretations, and he was personally responsible for versions of the well-known typefaces of Caslon, Garamond, and Baskerville, among others; he also designed original typefaces, such as Concorde, Imago, Franklin-Antiqua, and the highly original semi-revival Bodoni Old Face. The people who worked for him — including the young Erik Spiekermann — could attest to his intense attention to detail, and his insistence on revising designs again and again until you got them right.

The fate of Berthold’s type library and the rights to its designs have been a matter of some argument in the type business over the past decade, but currently, digital versions of the fonts are being marketed by Berthold Types Ltd. of Chicago, a successor of H Berthold AG. Lange agreed last year to act as a consultant to the new company.

But Wait, There’s More
The ceremony ended with the actual presentation of the medal to Lange, and his short acceptance speech (delivered, to the surprise of many of us, in English).

Or at least we thought it was over. In fact, there was one final act. TDC executive director Carol Wahler explained that Philipp Arnold, the student who had won the TDC scholarship, had a special presentation to make to Herr Lange.

To Lange’s visible amazement, Arnold presented him with a typographic catchphrase incarnate: the quick brown fox that so famously jumps over the lazy dog. (This phrase — yes, in English — actually adorns a wall of the Hochschule, and as it displays all letters of the alphabet, it was used in innumerable Berthold type specimens. Such a phrase is called a pangram by the way. In this case, the fox was not so much quick as dead — stuffed, in fact, and mounted. The red fox had adorned a shelf in the school for quite some time, apparently, and the students felt that it was time it went to live with Herr Lange. Getting into the spirit of the thing, Lange draped the fox’s bushy tail over the shoulder of red-haired Carol Wahler as she made a concluding remark and urged the audience to stick around for some Saxon red wine and snacks before the upcoming ATypI auction.

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Posted on: September 21, 2001

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