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Making the Visible Visible – Open Access to Berlin’s Typographical Legacy

Printed matter is too often overlooked in its everyday contexts. This joint project of several collections in Berlin seeks to lend typography more visibility. To this end, historical typefaces in various manifestations, including typeface specimen books and galley proofs from lead, wood and plastic type, are now being catalogued, digitised and made available via open access.

Whereas Leipzig was considered the undisputed centre of the German book industry in the 19th century, the focus shifted to Berlin with the founding of the German Empire. Of particular importance was the company, H. Berthold AG, which was founded in Berlin-Kreuzberg in 1858 and continued operations until 1993. Through its acquisition of competitors, the firm grew to become one of the world’s largest type foundries during the Weimar Republic. It was involved in designing the influential International Typographic Style – not least through its cooperation with the state-run Bauhaus.

Around four hundred type specimens from Berlin foundries for commercial and book printing from before 1951 are being catalogued. In addition, a selection of galley proofs of wood, plastic and, above all, lead type from Berlin foundries will be digitised. A total of 120 proofs from five of H. Berthold AG’s most successful typeface families (Akzidenz-Grotesk, Berliner Grotesk, Block, Lo-Schrift and Fanfare) will be made available. The digitalisation will also make the typefaces usable for further development in the form of freely accessible computer fonts. Numerous typefaces have been inspired by historical models. An example is car manufacturer Volvo’s in-house font, which was designed by Berlin-Schöneberg design studio LucasFonts in 2018 on the basis of Berthold’s Akzidenz-Grotesk from 1898. This project to “visualising the visible” represents research on materiality and creative work with Berlin’s historical typeface heritage.


Research team: Peter Schwirkmann, Kerstin Wallbach, Prof. Dr h.c. Erik Spiekermann, Dr Christian Mathieu, Dr Michael Lailach
Cooperation partners: Stiftung Deutsches Technikmuseum Berlin; Erik Spiekermann Foundation; Staatsbibliothek zu Berlin – Preußischer Kulturbesitz, Kunstbibliothek – Staatliche Museen zu Berlin; Hermann von Helmholtz-Zentrum für Kulturtechnik der Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin
Funded by: digiS
Duration: 2021
Project website: www.digis-berlin.de