At the Franciscan Basilica di Santa Croce in Florence on 3 October 1950, one visitor was looking at the 276 gravestones through quite different eyes than the other tourists. The great names of Michelangelo, Rossini, Galilei and Machiavelli held less fascination for him than the great variety of lettering carved in the stone. Because he had left his notebook behind at the hotel, Hermann Zapf sketched a few characters on a 1000 lire note.
Hermann Zapf sketched his basic idea for Optima on a 1000 lire note in Florence in 1950 (Image: Linotype)
Back home in Frankfurt, the sketches became the breakthrough in a type project with which Zapf had been commissioned by the Stempel foundry: the design of a functional typeface somewhere between a sans-serif and a Renaissance Roman font. After thorough readability tests, the final drawings were completed in 1952 and August Rosenberger cut the type, which was released two years later under the name Optima
Its appearance – both delicate and clear – was a novelty, and made it a favourite in advertising design, particularly in connection with perfumes and luxury goods. 50 years after its premiere, the font was comprehensively reworked under the name of Optima Nova. Without technical limitations or compromises, Hermann Zapf and Akira Kobayashi created an extended font family which finally included a true italic font, small capitals, text figures and a titling font with elaborate ligatures.