Clarendon (typeface)

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Category Serif
Classification Slab serif
Designer(s) Robert Besley

Fann Street

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Clarendon is a slab-serif typeface that was created by Robert Besley for Thorowgood and Co. (or Thorowgood and Besley) of London, a letter foundry often known as the Fann Street Foundry.[1] It was apparently named after the Clarendon Press in Oxford.

The typeface was published in 1845 after Besley, an employee of the foundry since 1826, was made a partner in the firm.[2] Due to its popularity, Besley registered the typeface under Britain's Ornamental Designs Act of 1842. The patent expired three years later, and other foundries were quick to copy it.[3][4] Besley was nonetheless successful in business, and became the Lord Mayor of London in 1869.[5] Clarendon is considered the first registered typeface.

Clarendon types proved extremely popular in many parts of the world, in particular for display applications such as posters printed with wood type. They are therefore often associated with wanted posters of the American Old West.[6][7]


Clarendon on a John Coltrane album from 1960, at a period when it was fashionable for record cover art
Clarendon-style type on the body text of an 1890 poster.

A variety of Clarendon revivals have been made since the original design, often adapting the design to different widths and weights. The original Clarendon design did not feature an italic, and many early Clarendon designs, being intended for headings, have capitals only with no lower-case letters, leaving many options for individual adaptation. Some designs have attempted to create Clarendons better adapted to use in body text. As body text requires italic type, which early Clarendons as display types often did not have, designs have variously attempted to create an italic or offered obliques instead, a less conventional option for serif typefaces in which the characters are simply slanted.[8] The original Clarendon became the property of Stephenson Blake in 1906, who marketed a release named Consort, cutting some additional weights (a bold and italics) in the 1950s. The original matrices and punches were transferred to the Type Museum collection when Stephenson Blake left the printing business in 1996.[9]

Designs for wood type were made from the mid-1840s on. The typeface was reworked by Monotype in 1935.[10] Hermann Eidenbenz and Edouard Hoffmann cut a version, based on Besley's original design, in 1953.[11][12] Freeman Craw drew the Craw Clarendon family, a once popular American version, released by American Type Founders, in 1955, with light, bold and condensed variants.[13][14][15] Volta, sold as Fortune in the U.S., was a very modern view of Clarendon, designed by Konrad Friedrich Bauer and Walter Baum for the Bauer Type Foundry, also in 1955. It features an italic in the medium weight.[16][17] Aldo Novarese drew the Egizio family for Nebiolo, in Turin, Italy in 1958. The design included (somewhat eccentric) matching italics.[8] David Berlow, of the Font Bureau, expanded that same family and released it as Belizio in 1998.[18][19]

The Clarendon Text family, also with italics, was made by Patrick Griffin, of Canada Type, that same year.[20] Sentinel, from Hoefler & Co., another typeface family based on Clarendon with italics added, was designed in 2009.[21] It has been featured heavily in President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign website advertisements.[22] Canada Type's Patrick Griffin came back to expand his Clarendon family with Clarendon Wide in 2010.[23] Ray Larabie, of Typodermic, released the Superclarendon family in 2007, using obliques instead of italics. It is bundled with OS X.[24]

French Clarendon[edit]

French Clarendon type (top)
On a 1960 jazz album
A document printed in 1836, showing early 'Italian' type on the word 'proceedings'. Later versions were more toned-down.

In the late nineteenth century the basic Clarendon face was radically altered by foundries in the United States, resulting in the production of the French Clarendon type with enlarged block serifs. This development is generally associated with wild-west printing; it is commonly seen on circus posters and wanted notices in western movies.[25][26]

The concept, now called as reverse-contrast or reverse-stress type, predated Clarendon altogether. It began, possibly around 1821 in Britain, as a parody of the elegant Didone types of the period. It was created by inverting the contrast of these designs, making the thin strokes thick and the thick strokes thin.[27][28][29] The result was a slab serif design because of the serifs becoming thick. (In the 19th century, these designs were called Italian because of their exotic appearance, but this name is problematic since the designs have no clear connection with Italy; for similar reasons they were also called Egyptian or Reversed Egyptian, Egyptian being used to describe other slab serifs of the period.)[30][31]

Intended as attention-grabbing novelty display designs rather than as serious choices for body text, within four years of their introduction the printer Thomas Curson Hansard had described them as 'typographic monstrosities'.[32] Derivatives of this style persisted, and the concept of very thick serifs ultimately merged with the Clarendon genre of type. DeVinne commented in 1902 that "To be hated, it needs but to be seen."[33] The advantage of French-Clarendon type was that it allowed very large, eye-catching serifs while the letters remained narrow, suiting the desire of poster-makers for condensed but very bold type.[5]

Because of their quirky, hand-made design, lighter versions of the style were popular for uses such as film posters in the 1950s and 60s.[34] A variety of digital adaptations have been made of the style, including URW++'s Circus and Bitstream's P. T. Barnum.[35] A radically different approach is Trilby by David Jonathan Ross, who has written on the history of the genre.[36] Released by Font Bureau, it is a modernisation reminiscent of Clarendon revivals from the 1950s. It attempts to adapt the style to use in a much wider range of settings, going so far as to be usable for body text.[37][38][39] Bigfish is also inspired by French Clarendon-style lettering.[40] Some other adaptations have preserved the concept but changed genre, presenting sans-serif or script typefaces in the same style.[26][36][34]


Craw Clarendon Bold on a U.S. National Park Service sign

Craw Clarendon Bold was used by the United States National Park Service on traffic signs,[41] but has been replaced by NPS Rawlinson Roadway. In 2008, the typeface was utilized extensively by the Ruby Tuesday restaurant chain in the re-launch of their corporate identity.[42] Via, the travel magazine of the American Automobile Association, uses the typeface for its logo and headline copy.[43]

A heavy bold Clarendon was used for the cast brass locomotive nameplates of the Great Western Railway.[44]

Versions of Clarendon can also be seen in the logotypes of corporations such as Sony, Pitchfork Media, Wells Fargo, the Spanish newspaper El País and the Swedish house manufacturer Älvsbyhus. The American game show Wheel of Fortune uses a modified bold version of Clarendon on its eponymous Wheel.[45] The American rock band Switchfoot also utilizes a slightly distressed and altered version of the font for the band name on all of their albums and publications since the release of The Beautiful Letdown in 2003.[46]

On television, Clarendon was used in the early seasons of the original The Electric Company on PBS, and Craw Clarendon Bold Condensed was used for the titles on NBC's Little House on the Prairie (TV series), which aired from 1974 to 1983.[47]

Signs in neighborhoods within Vancouver city limits once used Clarendon on white on blue signs.


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  22. ^ "Ad with Vice President Joe Biden from". 
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  38. ^ Shaw, Paul. "Slab Happy: Trilby Reviewed". Print. Retrieved 15 August 2015. 
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  40. ^ Braden, Felix. "Floodfonts - Bigfish". Floodfonts. Retrieved 25 August 2015. 
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  43. ^ "VIA-Cover-JA11175x230.gif". VIA Magazine. Retrieved 2013-11-11. 
  44. ^ Burridge, Frank (1975). Nameplates of the Big Four. Oxford Publishing Company. pp. 12–13. ISBN 0-902888-43-9. 
  45. ^ Pang, Kevin (6 March 2008). "Meet The 'Wheel'". The Chicago Tribune. Retrieved 11 November 2013. 
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