Rudolf Koch

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Fraktur fonts by Rudolf Koch

Rudolf Koch (20 November 1876 – 9 April 1934) was one of the first German type designers in the 20th Century. He was also a master in lettering, calligraphy, typography and illustration. Commonly known for his typefaces created for the Klingspor Type Foundry, his most widely used typefaces include Neuland and Kabel.


Koch spent his teenage years working in Hanau as an apprentice in a metal goods workshop, whilst also attending art school where he learned to draw, and soon after went to the Academy of Fine Arts, Nuremberg. Koch spent the few years around 1897-1906 working in the book trade in Leipzig for various businesses, illustrating and designing book covers which were highly reminiscent of the Art Nouveau or "Jugendstil" style that was popular at the time.[1] In 1906 Koch began working for the Rudhard Type foundry in Offenbach, later known as the Klingspor Type foundry. Designers Otto Eckmann and Peter Behrens were among a few other important names to do work with the foundry also.[2] Koch was a devout Catholic and deeply spiritual, devoting much of his time working on religious publications and manuscripts, he completed nearly 100 during his lifetime. Koch viewed the alphabet as the ultimate attainment of humanity.[3] He died prematurely of a heart attack in 1934, aged 59.

Career and Influences[edit]

Koch had a great admiration for William Morris. He once expressed his disbelief that he was not of German descent, whilst speaking at a publishing committee meeting in London;

“I feel such a closeness to him that I always have the feeling that he cannot be an Englishman, he must be a German.”[4]

The teachings of Morris and the Arts and Crafts Movement can be recognised in Koch’s earnest efforts to use hand-lettered, wood-cut processes in his work, and equally his book illustrations were evocative of Art Nouveau, a style that sought to resist the negative effects of industrialisation. Koch worked to maintain craftsmanship in his type design and printing methods, a principle the Arts & Crafts practitioners took great care to stay faithful to.[5] Koch was working in a period of rapid development in printing technology, with the invention of the first Linotype machine in 1886, The Monotype in 1887, and the first offset press 1907, which would have challenged his craft-based creative process.

Koch lectured at the Arts and Crafts School in Offenbach and in 1918 after World War I he opened a workshop, training pupils in typography, calligraphy, wood-cutting and other craft based skills.[6] Best known for his calligraphic talent[7] he tried to build upon the calligraphic tradition by creating an original, simple expression from his gestures and materials.[8]

Known also for his nationalistic attitude, many of Koch’s earlier black-letter typefaces such as Kochschrift and Willhelm Klingspor, were greatly influenced by handmade manuscripts and gothic letterforms,[9][10] a style that originated in Germany. He once wrote in Der Deutsche,

‘Even as a boy I wanted to become a proper real German. I hatred anything that was foreign, and even as I was growing up I felt this was a sign of true loyalty’[11]

Koch defended Germanic black-letter script in the journals and publications he made frequent contributions to. He also held exhibitions with his group Offenbach Schreiber, which promoted hand lettering and calligraphy, and in these he expressed the revival of traditional lettering. It has been said that it was due to his faithfulness to gothic script that he failed to be recognised in English-speaking countries.[12]

Koch wrote a book containing 493 old-world symbols, monograms and runes entitled The Book of Signs (reprinted in 1955, in the Dover Pictorial Archive Series).


Koch’s typeface Neuland was designed in 1923 when he began experimenting with styles. it maintains a balance between his preferred traditional styles, with a more contemporary feel. Ironically, Dr Klingsor called it “unbearably ugly,” despite its’ great success.[13] He then introduced his first sans-serif, Kabel in 1927 which has been compared to Paul Renner’s Futura,[14] designed in the same year. There are slight discrepancies between the two which can be seen most noticeably in the far-reaching terminal on the ‘a’ the ‘e’ and the slanted crossbar and the loop of the ‘g’.

Other typefaces designed by Koch include:

  • Deutsche Schrift (1908-1921)
  • Maximilian Antiqua (1913–17)
  • Wilhelm Klingspor-Schrift (1920-1926)
  • Deutsche Zierschrift (1921)
  • Koch Antiqua / Locarno (1922), sold by Continental Type in the United States as Eve
  • Neuland (1922-1923)
  • Deutsche Anzeigenschrift (1923-1924)
  • Jessen (1924-1930)
  • Wallau (1925-1934)
  • Kabel (1927-1929)
  • Offenbach (1928)
  • Zeppelin / Kabel Inline (1929)
  • Marathon (1930-1938)
  • Prisma (1931)
  • Claudius (1931-1934)
  • Holla (1932)
  • Grotesk-Initialen (1933)
  • Koch Current (1933)
  • Neufraktur (1933-1934)

Notable Publications[edit]

Some of Koch’s most well known works include:

  • Klassiche Schriften (Classic Lettering)
  • Das Schreiben als Kunstfertigkeit (Writing as a Skill)
  • Das Zeichenbuch (The Book of Signs)
  • Das Blumenbuch (The Flower Book)
  • Das ABC-Büchlein (The Little ABC Book)

Hermann Zapf was a huge admirer of Koch, and took great inspiration from his work after acquiring a copy of Das Schreiben als Kunstfertigkeit.[15]


  1. ^ Masini, Lara-Vinca (1984). Art Nouveau. London, UK: Thames and Hudson. p. 172. ISBN 0-500-23395-0. 
  2. ^ Fabian, Nicholas. "Rudolf Koch. Calligrapher, Type Designer, Punch Cutter, Teacher". Type Design, Typography & Graphic Images. Retrieved 14 October 2014. 
  3. ^ Purvis, Alston W.,. Type: A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles. Cologne, Germany: TASCHEN. p. 19. ISBN 978-3-8365-4480-1. 
  4. ^ Cinamon, Gerald (2000). Rudolf Koch. Letterer, Type Designer, Teacher (1st Edition ed.). London, UK: The British Library. p. 136. ISBN 0-7123-4659-7. 
  5. ^ Purvis, Alston W. (2003). Graphic Design 20th Century. Amsterdam, The Netherlands: BIS Publishers. p. 13. ISBN 9789063690519. 
  6. ^ Meggs, Philips B. (2006). Meggs' History of Graphic Design (4th ed.). New York, USA: John Wiley & Sons. p. 173. ISBN 0-471-69902-0. 
  7. ^ Raizmann, David (2010). History of Modern Design (2nd ed.). Laurence King Publishing Ltd. p. 208. ISBN 978-0131842663. 
  8. ^ Meggs, Philips B. (2006). Meggs' History of Graphic Design (4th ed.). New York, USA: John Wiley & Sons. p. 173. ISBN 0-471-69902-0. 
  9. ^ Purvis, Alston W. Type. A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles vol.2. Cologne, Germany: TASCHEN. p. 19. ISBN 978-3-8365-4480-1. 
  10. ^ Meggs, Philip B. (2006). Meggs' History of Graphic Design (4th ed.). John Wiley & Sons. p. 173. ISBN 0-470-16873-0. 
  11. ^ Cinamon, Gerald (2000). Rudolf Koch. Letterer. Type Designer, Teacher (1st ed.). London, UK: The British Library. p. 125. ISBN 0-7123-4659-7. 
  12. ^ Cinamon, Gerald (2000). Rudolf Koch. Letterer, Type Designer, Teacher (1st ed.). London, UK: The British Library. p. 30. ISBN 0-7123-4659-7. 
  13. ^ Cinamon, Gerald (2000). Rudolf Koch. Letterer, Type Designer, Teacher (1st ed.). London, UK: The British Library. p. 92. ISBN 0-7123-4659-7. 
  14. ^ Raizman, David (2010). History of Modern Design. London, UK: Laurence King Publishing Ltd. p. 208. ISBN 9781856696944. 
  15. ^ Meggs, Philip B. (2011). History of Graphic Design. New York, USA: John Wiley & Sons. p. 325. ISBN 0-471-69902-0. 

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