The great German corporate designer Anton Stankowski
(1906–1998) announced in an advertisement in 1989: “I only accept functional typefaces. The one you are reading right now is the one I preferred for 60 years now. It is Akzidenz-Grotesk
.” What makes a font so desirable that a confident designer would restrict himself to it for his entire career?
Akzidenz-Grotesk has no known date of birth. In fact, several people can claim to be the father of “AG”, as insiders like to call it. As early as 1880, the German typographer and hieroglyphics expert Ferdinand Theinhardt
(1820–1909) designed four sans-serif fonts which he called “Royal Grotesk
” for the publications of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin
. In 1908, Hermann Berthold
took over the Theinhardt Type Foundry
and integrated “Royal”, which by then had gained considerable popularity, into his Akzidenz-Grotesk
family, giving it the name “AG Mager”.
Günter Gerhard Lange
, a later patron of Akzidenz-Grotesk, refers to sources which suggest that its regular font originated at Bauer & Co.
in Stuttgart in 1899, a short time after which Bauer was bought by H. Berthold AG
. Berthold itself had presented an Accidenz-Grotesk
typeface in an advertisement not long before.
The signage for the New York subway system was designed by Massimo Vignelli in 1972 using a typeface called “Standard”, a follower of Akzidenz-Grotesk available in the USA at the time. (Helvetica is currently used.)
It was a great achievement of GG Lange that, during his time as artistic director at H. Berthold AG between 1966 and 1972, he managed to bring the differing branches of Akzidenz-Grotesk together into one harmonious family for use in phototypesetting. This brought AG enthusiastic new devotees. And for many it remains their one true typographical love, against which no other typeface stands a chance.
Günter Gerhard Lange at TYPO Berlin in 1999 (Photo: Marc Eckardt)