Clarendon (typeface)

Source: Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.
ClassificationSlab serif
Designer(s)Robert Besley
FoundryFann Street (Show all characters)
Date released1845

Clarendon is the name of a slab serif typeface that was released in 1845 by Thorowgood and Co. (or Thorowgood and Besley) of London, a letter foundry often known as the Fann Street Foundry. The original Clarendon design is credited to Robert Besley, a partner in the foundry, and was originally engraved by punchcutter Benjamin Fox, who may also have contributed to its design.[1][2] Many copies, adaptations and revivals have been released, becoming almost an entire genre of type design.

Clarendon has a bold, solid structure, similar in letter structure to the "modern" serif typefaces popular in the nineteenth century for body text (for instance showing an 'R' with a curled leg, and ball terminals on the 'a' and 'c'), but bolder and with less contrast in stroke weight.[3][4][5][6] Clarendon designs generally have a structure with bracketed serifs, which become larger as they reach the main stroke of the letter. Mitja Miklavčič describes the basic features of Clarendon designs (and ones labelled Ionic, often quite similar) as: "plain and sturdy nature, strong bracketed serifs, vertical stress, large x-height, short ascenders and descenders, typeface with little contrast" and supports Nicolete Gray's description of them as a "cross between the roman [general-purpose body text type] and slab serif model". Gray notes that nineteenth-century Ionic and Clarendon faces have "a definite differentiation between the thick and the thin strokes", unlike some other more geometric slab-serifs.[7]

Slab serif typefaces had become popular in British

American Old West.[9][10] A revival of interest took place in the post-war period: Jonathan Hoefler comments that "some of the best and most significant Clarendons are twentieth century designs" and highlights the Haas and Stempel foundry's bold, wide Clarendon display face as "a classic that for many people is the epitome of the Clarendon style."[4][1]


Antique by Vincent Figgins, one of the first slab serifs
Clarendon in a Fann Street Foundry specimen book c. 1874, showing its use for emphasis within body text

Slab serif lettering and typefaces originated in Britain in the early nineteenth century, at a time of rapid development of new, bolder typefaces for posters and commercial printing. Probably the first slab-serif to appear in print was created by the foundry of Vincent Figgins, and given the name "antique".[4] Others rapidly appeared, using names such as "Ionic" and "Egyptian", which had also been used as a name for sans-serifs. (At the time typeface names were often adjectives, often with little purpose to their name, although they may have been in this case reference to the "blocky", geometric structure of ancient architecture. There was limited separation between the name of typefaces and genres; if a font proved popular it would often be pirated and reissued by other foundries under the same name.[11])

Compared to Figgins' "antique", the Clarendon design uses somewhat less emphatic serifs, which are bracketed rather than solid blocks, that widen as they reach the main stroke of the letter.

handlettered capitals used by copper-plate engravers.[7]

Monotype Modern, a nineteenth-century text face, next to Haas Clarendon Bold, a display face. Both fonts show classic nineteenth-century design features, for instance on the 'Q', 'R', 'r', 'a' and 'c'. However, the Clarendon is much wider with a higher x-height, and contrast between thick and thin strokes has been reduced.

Besley's original Clarendon design was quite compressed, unlike most later 'Clarendons' intended for display setting, which are often quite wide. One of the original target markets for Besley's Clarendon design was to act as a bold face within body text, providing a stronger

Caslon Foundry in the same style more effective than Besley's: "[Besley's] became the normal, but it was certainly not the first…in 1842 Caslon have an upper and in 1843 a lower case with the characteristics fully developed, but of a normal width…Besley's [more compressed] Clarendon is much less pleasing, it has lost emphasis and confidence, and gains only in plausibility."[8][13]

Clarendon-style type on the body text of an 1890 poster

Besley registered the typeface in 1845 under Britain's Ornamental Designs Act of 1842.

Clarendon Press in Oxford (now part of Oxford University Press), who he claimed immediately used it for dictionaries, although later authors have expressed doubt about this.[1]

With its growing popularity for display use, new versions often changed these proportions. By around 1874, the Fann Street Foundry (now Reed and Fox) could offer in its specimen book Clarendon designs that were condensed, "thin-faced" (light weight), extended, "distended" (extra-wide) and shaded.[17] Revivals continued in the twentieth century, particularly in the 1950s.

Monotype Modern with three fonts inspired by this style of design. At the bottom, Haas Clarendon shows reduced contrast and a wide, display-oriented structure. The text faces Century Schoolbook and especially Linotype Excelsior, a variant on Linotype Ionic, have text-oriented structures with narrower letterforms and smaller serifs than the Clarendon, but they show reduced contrast and more open letterforms to increase legibility compared to the Modern, particularly visible on Excelsior's 'e', 'c' and 'a'.[a]

The label "Ionic", originally also used for display faces, has become associated with typefaces with some Clarendon/slab-serif features but intended for body text, following the success of several faces with this name from first

Century model".[21][4] A decline of interest in Clarendons for display use did, however, take place in the early twentieth century: by 1923, American Type Founders, which specialised in creating demand for new designs of display face, could argue "Who remembers the Clarendons[?]" in its specimen book, and did not show them (aside from some numerals) in its 1,148 pages.[22] In addition, the market of slab serifs was disrupted by the arrival of new "geometric" slab-serifs inspired by the sans-serifs of the period, such as Beton and Memphis.[23] However, a revival of interest did appear after the war both in America and Europe: Vivian Ridler commented that "What seemed pestiferous thirty years ago is now regarded as rugged, virile and essential for an advertising agency's self-respect."[24]


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, a quite condensed design, did not feature an italic, and many early Clarendon designs, such as wood type headline faces, have capitals only with no lower-case letters, leaving many options for individual adaptation.[4]

The original Clarendon became the property of

Type Museum collection when Stephenson Blake left the printing business in 1996.[25]
Designs for wood type copying Clarendon were made from the mid-1840s onwards.

Most hot metal typesetting companies offered some kind of slab serif; Linotype offered it duplexed to a Roman type so that it could be easily switched in for emphasis. The typeface was reworked by

Monotype, with a redesigned release as "New Clarendon" in 1960.[26][27] Hermann Eidenbenz cut a version, in the early 1950s, issued by Haas and Stempel, and later, Linotype.[28][29][30] 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.[31][32]

The italic of Egizio, intended to complement the pre-existing Clarendon design concept

Aldo Novarese drew the Egizio family for Nebiolo, in Turin, Italy. The design included matching italics.[4] David Berlow, of the Font Bureau, released a revival as Belizio in 1998.[33][34] The Clarendon Text family, with italics inspired by Egizio, was released by Patrick Griffin of Canada Type.[35]

Volta, sold as Fortune in the U.S., a modern view of Clarendon, was designed by

Bauer Type Foundry in 1955.[36][37]

Ray Larabie, of Typodermic, released the Superclarendon family in 2007, using obliques instead of italics. A wide, display-oriented design with small caps and Greek and Cyrillic support, it is bundled with macOS.[38]

Sentinel, from

Hoefler & Frere-Jones, another typeface family based on Clarendon with italics added, was released in 2009.[39] Intended to have less eccentric italics suitable for body text use, it was featured heavily in President Barack Obama's 2012 campaign website advertisements.[40]

Besley* from Indestructible Type is an open-source revival with variable font versions.[41]

French Clarendon

French Clarendon type (top)
French Clarendon wood type at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum, Wisconsin
A document printed in 1836, showing early 'Italian' type on the word 'proceedings'. Later versions were more toned-down.
French Clarendon type on a 1914 poster from Ljubljana

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 style, which had enlarged block serifs at top and bottom. This style is also traditionally associated with wild-west printing; it is commonly seen on circus posters and wanted notices in western movies.[42][43] However, it was actually used in many parts of the world at the time.

The concept, now called as

capitalis rustica Roman writing, but this may be a coincidence. For similar reasons they were also called Egyptian or Reversed Egyptian, Egyptian being an equally arbitrary name for slab serifs of the period.)[47][48]

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'.[49] Derivatives of this style persisted, and the concept of very thick serifs ultimately merged with the Clarendon genre of type. 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.[16] Fine printers were less impressed by it: DeVinne commented in 1902 that "To be hated, it needs but to be seen."[48]

Because of their quirky, unusual design, lighter and hand-drawn versions of the style were popular for uses such as film posters in the 1950s and 60s.

URW++'s Zirkus and Bitstream's P. T. Barnum.[51]

A radically different approach has been that of Trilby by David Jonathan Ross, who has written on the history of the genre.[52] 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.[53][54][55][56]


The following terms have been used for Clarendons and related slab serifs. Common meanings have been added, but they have often not been consistently applied. Many modern writers as a result ignore them and prefer the term slab-serif, providing individual descriptions of the features of specific designs.

  • Clarendon - often particularly used to refer to slab-serifs with 'bracketed' serifs.[7]
  • Antique - the first name used for slab-serifs, but in France often used for sans-serifs. Sometimes taken to mean slab-serifs in the nineteenth-century style with Didone letterforms and thick, square slab-serifs.[4]
  • Egyptian/Egyptienne - mostly used for slab-serifs generally, although first used by the Caslon Foundry in naming their sans-serif, the first made. Continued to be used as a name for "geometric" slab-serifs appearing in the twentieth century, and so several geometric slab-serifs had Egyptian-themed names, including Memphis, Cairo and Karnak.[23]
  • Ionic - in the nineteenth century used as a name for slab-serifs. In the twentieth century this term became used to mean text faces with some Clarendon-style features, because of an influential body text face of this name from Linotype - this followed from previous faces of the same name only slightly bolder than text proportions from Miller & Richard.[18]


Craw Clarendon Bold on a U.S. National Park Service sign
Bradley Manor
Fleet number of a tram in Poznań, with the city's coat of arms above
Clarendon on the route number display on the roof of a Moderus Beta tram, and as the fleet number on its body
Clarendon used for the fleet number on a MAN NL263 Lion's City bus in Poznań

Craw Clarendon Bold was used by the United States National Park Service on traffic signs,[57] but has been replaced by NPS Rawlinson Roadway. A heavy bold Clarendon variant was used for the cast brass locomotive nameplates of the Great Western Railway.[58] This was however drawn within the Swindon drawing office, not by a type foundry, and this 'Swindon Egyptian' differed in some aspects, most obviously the numerals used for the cabside numberplates. The typeface is currently used by Public Transport Company (Polish: Miejskie Przedsiębiorstwo Komunikacyjne, abbreviated MPK) in Poznań (Poland) as the typeface of fleet vehicles' numbering, and on trams for displaying the route number.

A custom variation of the typeface is used to display dollar amounts and other lettering on Wheel of Fortune's wheel.[59]

In logos

Versions of Clarendon can be seen in the logotypes of brands such as:


  1. ^ The Modern face would not have seemed so high in contrast in print at small sizes. (For specimen images of these faces in metal type, see Hutt.)
  2. Century Schoolbook.[20]


  1. ^ .
  2. ^ Twyman, Michael. "The Bold Idea: The Use of Bold-looking Types in the Nineteenth Century". Journal of the Printing Historical Society. 22 (107–143).
  3. ^ a b c Mosley, James. "Comments on Typophile thread "Where do bold typefaces come from?"". Typophile. Archived from the original on 20 December 2016. Retrieved 16 December 2016. For the record, the Clarendon type of the Besley foundry is indeed the first type actually designed as a 'related bold' – that is, made to harmonize in design and align with the roman types it was set with. It was registered in Britain in 1845...but the idea of a 'bold face' goes back much further. Before the launch of Clarendon type printers picked out words in slab-serifs or any other heavy type. In the 18th century they used 'English' or 'Old English' types, which is why they became known as 'black letter'. John Smith says in his Printer's grammar (London, 1755). 'Black Letter … is sometimes used … to serve for matter which the Author would particularly enforce to the reader.'
  4. ^ a b c d e f g "Sentinel's Ancestors". Hoefler & Frere-Jones. Archived from the original on 17 January 2014. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  5. .
  6. .
  7. ^ a b c d e f Miklavčič, Mitja (2006). "Three chapters in the development of clarendon/ionic typefaces" (PDF). MA Thesis (University of Reading). Archived from the original (PDF) on November 25, 2011. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  8. ^ a b Gray, Nicolete (1976). Nineteenth-century Ornamented Typefaces.
  9. ^ Dennis Ichiyama. "2004 Friends of St Bride conference proceedings: How wood type tamed the west". Retrieved 2013-11-11.
  10. ^ "Old West Reward Posters". Retrieved 2013-11-11.
  11. ^ Frere-Jones, Tobias. "Scrambled Eggs & Serifs". Frere-Jones Type. Retrieved 23 October 2015.
  12. ^ Tracy, Walter. Letters of Credit. pp. 65–6. The other kind of secondary type, the related bold face, is a twentieth-century creation. Although the use of bold type for emphasis in text began when display advertising became a feature of the family magazines of the mid-nineteenth century, the bold types themselves were Clarendons, Ionics and Antiques quite unrelated to the old styles and moderns used for the text. As late as 1938 the Monotype Recorder, a distinguished British journal of typography, could say, "The 'related bold' is a comparatively new phenomenon in the history of type cutting."
  13. ^ Reynolds, Dan. "Job Clarendon". Fontstand News. Retrieved 15 September 2022.
  14. .
  15. .
  16. ^ a b Challand, Skylar. "Know your type: Clarendon". IDSGN. Retrieved 13 August 2015.
  17. ^ Selections from the Specimen Book of the Fann Street Foundry. Aldersgate Street, London: Reed & Fox. c. 1874. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  18. ^ .
  19. ^ Hutt, Allen (1972). The Changing Newspaper. pp. 101–2.
  20. .
  21. .
  22. ^ 1923 American Type Founders Specimen Book & Catalogue. Elizabeth, New Jersey: American Type Founders. 1923. p. 6.
  23. ^ a b Horn, Frederic A. (1936). "Type Tactics: The Egyptians". Commercial Art & Industry: 20–27. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  24. ^ Ridler, Vivian. "Two Egyptians". Motif: 82–3. The zeal that brought in reformed roman types and elegant sans serifs swept out the Cheltenhams and Clarendons from many a progressive composing room, and one felt at the time that the reformation would be permanent. But the inevitable counter-reformation now shows that unprogressive printers who held on to their old-fashioned repertoire were doing the right thing, if for the wrong reasons.
  25. ^ Mosley, James. "The materials of typefounding". Type Foundry. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  26. ^ "New Clarendon". Monotype Newsletter. 1960.
  27. ^ "A Clarendon from Monotype". Book Design and Production: 42–3. 1961.
  28. ^ Heller, Steven (21 May 2013). "The Faces of Clarendon". Print. Retrieved 30 August 2017.
  29. ^ "Hermann Eidenbenz - Linotype Font Designer Gallery". Retrieved 2013-11-11.
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  32. ^ "Monotype Craw Clarendon type specimen broadsheet | Flickr - Photo Sharing!". Flickr. 2012-12-01. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
  33. ^ "Font Bureau Fonts | Belizio". Retrieved 2013-11-11.
  34. ^ "Aldogizio". MyFonts. TeGeType. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  35. ^ "Clarendon Text - Webfont & Desktop font « MyFonts". 2007-07-18. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
  36. ^ "Volta® EF - Webfont & Desktop font « MyFonts". 2001-07-25. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
  37. ^ "URW Volta". MyFonts. URW. Retrieved 14 August 2015.
  38. ^ "Superclarendon - Webfont & Desktop font « MyFonts". 2007-10-11. Retrieved 2013-11-11.
  39. ^ "Sentinel Fonts | H&FJ". Retrieved 2013-11-11.
  40. ^ "Ad with Vice President Joe Biden".
  41. ^ "Besley*". Indestructible Type. Retrieved 18 September 2021.
  42. ^ Provan, Archie, and Alexander S. Lawson, 100 Type Histories (volume 1), National Composition Association, Arlington, Virginia, 1983, pp. 20-21.
  43. ^ Peters, Yves. "Fontlists: reverse contrast". Fontshop. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  44. ^ Barnes & Schwarz. "Type Tuesday". Eye. Retrieved 10 August 2015.
  45. ^ Devroye, Luc. "Henry Caslon". Retrieved 10 August 2015.
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  48. ^ a b De Vinne, Theodore Low, The Practice of Typography, Plain Printing Types, The Century Co., N.Y.C., 1902, p. 333.
  49. .
  50. ^ Ross, David Jonathan. "Backasswards! (presentation)" (PDF). Archived from the original (PDF) on 10 September 2015. Retrieved 15 August 2015.
  51. ^ "P.T. Barnum". MyFonts.
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  59. ^ Pang, Kevin (March 6, 2008). "Meet the 'Wheel'". Chicago Tribune. Retrieved June 29, 2019.