Adriatic letters: The story of the Adriatic Journal’s headline fontAdriatic Journal 26 July 2018
The Adriatic is a region overflowing with history. Many contemporary problems have deep roots in the past so in order to understand the present, at ISR we are often found pouring over old newspapers. More often than not, we are just skimming over digitised pages, far away from brittle paper and dusty depots, and safely guided by keyword searches. But every now and then, something catches our eye. Such as the graphic design elements in Jutro, a popular liberal daily newspaper of the roaring 1920s and the nasty 1930s. Printed in Ljubljana.
This charming example of Art Deco hand-lettering was in use between 16 November 1924 and 23 April 1925. Unfortunately, we still haven’t identified the artist. The graphic ran as a masthead to a serialised novel in Jutro.
The title is written in low-contrast letterforms with discrete, engraver-like serifs. The author and the original French title are rendered in a smaller sans serif.
Notice how the letter R in the sans serif comes in two flavours (in “Aleksander ” and in “Monsoreau”). The first form, with an exaggerated bowl, is more representative of its time. The second form works better when paired with its serif counterpart.
The letter R also contains a give-away as to the lettering technique. The first draft was apparently executed in pen on paper, using a redis nib.
We decided these were the letterforms we wanted to use for the Adriatic Journal logo. No other font would do. Obviously, this meant we had to create a font from scratch, carefully redrawing magnified photos of each letter with vector lines. And completing all the missing characters, numerals, accents, punctuation marks … there’s a lot more to a font than a mere alphabet. Choices had to be made.
It is impossible to know just how the anonymous designer would have intended the letters to look like on digital devices.
For instance, are the rough edges rough by accident or by design? After all, straight lines come easily on a computer. They’re much harder to achieve when first drawn in ink on paper, then photographed and finally cast in lead.
This is why the digitalization of historic typefaces is, to a large degree, an interpretation.
To make decisions harder, newspaper designers in the 1920s loved the look and feel of handcrafted lettering. Type foundries catered to this taste with typefaces that shifted away from the polished perfection of classical fonts. The word “ROUGH EDGES” is set in Bernhard. Designed in 1912, it became a popular advertising font in the 1920s, including in the Adriatic region.
Was this the look Jutro’s draughtsman was aiming for? Probably not.
Usually, Slovenian art-deco letters were smooth to the degree the technology allowed it. Also popular in lettering of the time, line segments with rounded joints (as seen in the logotype for Narodni dnevnik, a left-leaning newspaper published in Ljubljana from 1924 to 1928).
This hand-drawn ad for Jugoslovenska tiskarna (Yugoslav printers) reinforces the case for smooth edges. It was printed in 1931 on much better presses than the 1924 newspaper. But the lettering style is similar. Note the exaggerated proportions of R and K, popular in the early- to-mid-twentieth-century Slovenia.
The final product: the Adriatic Journal font. Actually, it’s more like two separate caps-only fonts rolled into one (to make the webfont load faster, we put the serif letters on the uppercase position and the sans as lowercase). As an added bonus, this makes it easer to change between the styles on the keyboard. No clicking around!
It is a faithful interpretation of the Jutro artwork. With one difference: we set the horizontal bar in E and F to the optical midpoint of the letter (rather than bellow the midpoint as in the original). This makes the design more consistent, easier to read on smaller screens and, besides, we felt that having already three very retro letterforms (G, M and S) is more than enough if the font is to be useful in the 21st century.