A Note on the Type

From the archives.

This column was written in a font called “New Lou”, which is based on the Kraftenshasser typeface from the 18th century. Kraftenshasser was known for the way it gently caressed the pupil and its surprisingly good taste when licked. Despite the typeface’s subtle elegance and gentleness on the readers’ eyes, Kraftenshasser and its derivatives have a troubled history.

Kraftenshasser was designed in 1765 by Winchester Dubner, a printer and typeface designer in Virginia. Dubner was known as rather quarrelsome and the annals of typography are studded with stories of Dubner’s feuds with his peers. His most famous feud was with the famed British printer, John Baskerville. During Benjamin Franklin’s stay in England throughout the Revolutionary War, Franklin became so enamored with Baskerville’s eponymous typeface that he brought it back to America for use and it eventually became the typeface in which most government publications were printed. Dubner’s quarrel with Baskerville stemmed from Dubner’s jealously of Baskerville’s fuller head of hair and his contention that serif fonts were suitable only for atheists, mama’s boys and British tax collectors.

The stress of having to come up with new fonts for the political tracts of the day took its toll on Dubner. By the start of the American Revolution, Dubner had suffered a mental breakdown and was convinced he was a Garramond italic letter Q and that the King George III was trying to tax his nose. After the Revolution, Dubner began to toy with Dingbat typefaces, hoping this would revolutionize communication in the young nation and complete the break from the British Empire. However, revolutionary spirit in the new nation began to wane after the war and the use of Dingbats never caught on. Descending further into madness and despair, Dubner spoke only in Dingbats for the remaining five years of his life.

Trent Kipper rescued Kraftenshasser from dust bin of typography in 1983. While typeface designers would not go near the Kraftenshasser for many years, Kipper had no fear. He sensed Kraftenshasser would appeal to the sensibilities of modern-day readers. The updated Kraftenshasser embodied in today’s New Lou font, as you can see, has clean lines, sensuous curves, and, what is a little harder to see, is not afraid to buy the first round of drinks. New Lou enjoyed much popularity after its creation and was favored by graphic designers on both sides of the Atlantic. In the height of the New Lou craze, New Lou could often be found partying at Studio 54 with David Lee Roth with a bevy of scantily clad models and font groupies.

Despite the New Lou’s success, its designer did not fare as well. After his update of Kraftenshasser, Kipper began to experience frequent bouts of depression, racked up gambling debts to the Mafia and was attacked by a rabid hippopotamus in Mid-Town Manhattan in 1985. No one knows what finally happened to Kipper or far he sank. He was last seen as an extra in a Pauley Shore movie.

Interestingly, Kipper is also known for designing the second ever typeface that was banned by use by a government. The first typeface to be banned was Fraktur lettering, which was commissioned by Holy Roman Emperor Maximilian I between 1493 and 1519. In 1941 the Nazi government banned the use of Fraktur lettering as not being “Aryan enough.” Kipper’s innovative font Sir Fontsalot was banned by the Reagan and both Bush Administrations as being “too liberal” and having “too much back.” Not surprising, Sir Fontsalot was a favorite of the Clinton Administration and was used in all of Clinton’s personal correspondence.

While Kipper is generally well regarded in the graphic design community, he always belittled himself for not being able to get his fonts to taste better when licked. If you lick this sentence on your computer screen you will see what I mean.

Requests for columns about other obscure topics can be sent to 40footbuffet@gmail.com or in the comment section.

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