Some notes on the history of Akzidenz-Grotesk

A letter I once wrote to Paul Shaw regarding the history of Akzidenz-Grotesk by Berthold.

Günther Gerhard Lange was convinced that Akzidenz-Grotesk doesn’t have its origin at Berthold but goes back to Ferdinand Theinhardt’s foundry in Berlin. Theinhardt, said Lange, cut one of the first later AG-styles, Royal-Grotesk, in 1880. Those fonts came to Berthold via their acquisition of the Theinhardt foundry in 1908. Berthold combined them with other fonts acquired from other foundries and some of their own to form the Accidenz-Grotesk family (early spelling with double-c).

Thus, AG was not designed as a coherent type family but is a collection of fonts from different sources and foundries Berthold bought over the years. However, supposedly for marketing reasons, they were not so keen on displaying that fact everywhere. They rather stated the typeface being a “house cut” from 1898 in all their material, as also widely found in type publications. Both, Royal as well as Accidenz-Grotesk were sold under their respective names until 1926. Later Royal became AG mager (light), Steinschrift became AG schmal (narrow), Bücher-Grotesk from 1896 became AG schmal fett etc. (see GGL in tm 2, 2003). This “combining” of formerly solitary fonts and the idea of a type family, a series of stylistically connected fonts, may be regarded as Berthold’s biggest contribution to AG and future typeface releases.

According to Eckehard SchumacherGebler though, Theinhardt cannot be the creator of Royal nor AG. ESG researched in Friedrich Bauer’s Chronik der Schriftgießereien as well as in Theinhardt’s own Erinnerungsblätter (journal/diary) from 1899. The Chronik states that Theinhardt, born 1820, sold his foundry to the Mosig brothers and Oskar Mammen in 1885 and stopped working shortly after that. He died in 1906.

There is no Royal or AG to be found in Friedrich Bauer’s chronicle nor in Theinhardt’s specimen of 1905. Only in the edition of 1908/09 an Accidenz-Grotesk is shown. Berthold bought Theinhardt shortly before the specimen was published and obviously added typefaces from their program (this according to a note in Chronik der Schriftgießereien).

However, the Theinhardt specimen of 1905 (or 1895 as Wolfgang Homola states, they obviously worked on it for many years) does show a Breite Grotesque. Maybe a precursor of it all. There has also been a Schmale magere Grotesk, Enge fette Grotesk and Fette Grotesk by Theinhardt. Breite Grotesque looks similar to Halbfette Accidenz-Grotesk in a later specimen (as Andreas Seidel claims) but might stem from a different source altogether.

Images by Wolfgang Homola posted on Typophile, now on Luc Devroye’s site

Berthold published this ad below in the Deutscher Buchdrucker in 1899. Thus there must have been an Accidenz-Grotesk at Berthold long before the acquisition of Theinhardt’s foundry in 1908. For a while I suspected those fonts came from Bauer & Co in Stuttgart, which Berthold bought in 1897 (see Schwemer-Scheddin/Klein Types and Typographers), but I didn’t find any in their specimens, alas (apart from a shaded grotesk).

The Seemann Handbuch der Schriftarten from 1926 lists the following as from H. Berthold AG:
Akzidenz Grotesk, 1898
Royal Grotesk, 1902
Akzidenz Grotesk, breit, 1908
Akzidenz Grotesk, halbfett, 1909
Akzidenz Grotesk, fett, 1909
Akzidenz Grotesk, breit mager, 1911
Akzidenz Grotesk, eng, 1912

From the Berthold Chronik, 1921:

Image posted by Spiekermann on Typophile

Still quite muddy, the water, but I hope I could clear up some things a tiny bit.

Read also Part Two of Some notes on AG with things we found since 2012

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