Big Jump Press

Adventures in the Monotype Archive: The Sad Story of Sachsenwald

The archive buried in a small office complex in Salfords, Surrey is the last onsite stronghold of what was once Monotype’s enormous factory complex. The Salfords railway station was built solely for the purpose of importing an enormous workforce and exporting the vast infrastructure of the printed word: casting equipment, matrices, and the rest of the weighty and industrious accoutrements of hot metal typecasting.

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Inside that office, deep inside a set of sliding shelves, there is a box labeled 457.

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Sachsenwald. A typeface doomed to obscurity by a war.

I first heard the tale of Berthold Wolpe‘s Sachsenwald several years ago on a visit to Michael and Winnie Bixler at the Bixler Press and Letterfoundry in Skaneateles, NY. It was so compelling that, years later, my first impulse in a room full Monotype history was to pull out this box and rediscover the story through original documents and drawings.

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Every typeface in the archive has an abbreviated life story recorded on pink index cards. Here is how #457 began:

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Sachsenwald began its life as “Bismarck Schrift” in 1936. Toshi Omagari, the Monotype designer who was kind enough to take me through the shelves yesterday, explained that given how this card begins, Bismarck was likely commissioned by the Ullstein publishing house in Germany. Bismarck was a blackletter typeface, a design with its origins in a manuscript hand that was widely used in western Europe for centuries and was still heavily in use in print in Germany.

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From looking through the notes on Bismarck, it becomes clear that Monotype was hoping that this type would be appealing to English readers and/or clients. See  a note here on May 4, 1937:

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and an approved proof from August of the same year showing a new and improved “H” for English customers.

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As you and I read this many decades later, we can see the unfortunate fate of this new typeface laid out clearly before us. This is 1937, and a market in England for a German-style typeface would certainly not last for long. A name change in July of 1937 could have been be the first outward sign that the Monotype team sensed trouble. “Sachsenwald,” a forest near Hamburg, was much less nationalistic a name than “Bismarck” and potentially more marketable.

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What follows is the painstaking, detailed work of type design and production, executed by an English team working on a German design on the eve of a devastating war. Sifting through the drawings and proofs, one cannot help but feel for those who labored to create something beautiful in turbulent times that could not support it. Below, a kerning diagram and a drawing for the lower case “m.”

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drawings.Sachsenwald.SalfordsMonotpye

Sustained work continued well into 1938

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Two sets of matrices for casting Sachsenwald were finally produced, but by then, demand for such a typeface simply didn’t exist. It remained on the books for several years until 1967, when we find the most melancholy document of the bunch:

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Scrapped. Proofs wrapped up in spare monotype ribbon and boxed. And that was the end of Sachsenwald.

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Apart from the brief correspondence in 1971 that you can see below, this is the last we see of Sachsenwald.

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Berthold Wolpe emigrated to the UK where moved he on to new designs, and worked at Faber and Faber until his retirement in 1975. The Monotype corporation continued to produce designs for hot metal, then phototypesetting, and now exists as a foundry for digital type. And Sachsenwald was forgotten.

But I have an optimistic epilogue for you. Decades later, one of only two sets of Sachsenwald matrices that were ever produced found its way into the the hands of Michael Bixler. He is casting Sachsenwald in metal in nine sizes at his foundry in Upstate New York.

Enthusiastic thanks are due to Toshi Omagari for sharing the archive with me and for his help with interpreting the Sachsenwald documents. He’s written about another Ullstein typeface here. Any mistakes in this post are mine. Thank you, Monotype, for making it possible to visit.  Thanks Ben Mitchell for letting me tag along on a type designer field day, and thank you Michael Bixler for telling me a sad story in 2006. For more information about the Bixlers and how they cast metal type from monotype casting equipment, have a look here.

Every box at the Monotype Archive tells a story, and I have another one to tell you. So stay tuned for next weeks episode! Same Monotype Time, Same Monotype Channel!

 

 

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13 comments on “Adventures in the Monotype Archive: The Sad Story of Sachsenwald

  1. Ellen Slade
    April 17, 2014

    what a story! I read it like I was reading a novel. This should be a movie. fascinating!

  2. bobblesse
    April 17, 2014

    Sarah, this is absolutely fascinating! What an interesting piece of typographic history. I’ve enjoyed following your posts on the Monotype archive, wonderful stuff, thanks!

    • Big Jump Press
      April 17, 2014

      Thanks so much, Bob! I can’t tell you how much fun I had at the archive. Stay tuned for next week, the correspondence between Stanley Morison and Jan van Krimpen regarding Spectrum. Van Krimpen in 1953: “I do not want to be taken for the man who designed something so ridiculously poor as the sloped Romulus bold produced by the works during the war.” Yow!

  3. Tubby Muffin
    April 17, 2014

    Enjoyed every word of your tale. Takes me back to my step-father’s letterpress works in Liverpool and watching the type setters at work (1960’s). The print works did go digital and finally closed last year. All that lovely metal type was sold many moons ago before I learnt to appreciate it.

    • Big Jump Press
      April 17, 2014

      Hi Jen! Another sad story! I hope the type is somewhere out there being used now! Thanks so much for reading. Best wishes!

  4. Glenn House Sr.
    April 17, 2014

    Danke Schoen.

  5. moji29
    April 17, 2014

    These images reminded me of the Helvetica movie…I look forward to seeing more of your research!

    • Big Jump Press
      April 18, 2014

      Thanks Moji! I am glad you enjoyed it. Did you see the linotype film, by chance? It was absolutely amazing. If not, you can find it here.

  6. metalandmettle
    June 26, 2014

    Fascinating! Thank you for this post.

  7. Florian
    May 29, 2016

    Hi Sarah, thanks for sharing this intriguing piece of type history!

    I wonder whether you came across any evidence of additional weights for Sachsenwald? Please see my comment on Fonts In Use:
    fontsinuse.com/uses/12844/atf-keepsake-2012-psalm-51#comments

    The handwritten notes on the inner cover of the file in your third image indeed suggest that Sachsenwald-Gotisch was made by request of Ullstein (and others).
    The publishing house was founded by Leopold Ullstein (1826–1899) in 1878. By the 1930s, it was the largest distributor of newspaper, magazines and books. In 1934, Leopold’s sons were forced to sell off the company below price. It ended up in the hands of Zentralverlag der NSDAP Franz Eher Nachf. (partly owned by Hitler personally). In 1937, Ullstein became Deutscher Verlag, see http://www.polunbi.de/inst/ullstein.html#dv Deutscher Verlag is the name that appears as the commissioner of the initial 24D and several other sizes, suggesting that the work started after the expropriation of the former Jewish owners. It seems cynical that Bismarck-Schrift was chosen as the working title. After all, Ullstein was the primary liberal voice in the 1880s and critical of Bismarck’s politics. https://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Leopold_Ullstein
    Stähle & Friedel, for whom three smaller sizes were derived, was a major printer in Stuttgart. I don’t know about Aschaffenburg (name of a city) and National Verlag (there were several publishers with this generic name).

    • Big Jump Press
      May 31, 2016

      Thank you so much for this additional information, Florian! I do not recall anything about additional weights, but I’ve sent you an email with some additional photos that I took while I was at the archive, I hope there is something included that can help you! If you don’t receive anything from me, let me know a better email address to use. I know that Toshi Omagari at Monotype was also very interested in the story of this typeface, perhaps he has more information.

      Best wishes and thanks!
      Sarah Bryant

  8. Stephen Coles
    May 29, 2016

    Thanks so much for posting this history, Sarah. Here is a list of Sachsenwald resources and an example of Bixler’s Sachsenwald in use: http://fontsinuse.com/typefaces/42090/sachsenwald-gotisch

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This entry was posted on April 17, 2014 by in Letterpress, Other People and Things, type, Visits and tagged , , , , .
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