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.
Inside that office, deep inside a set of sliding shelves, there is a box labeled 457.
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.
Every typeface in the archive has an abbreviated life story recorded on pink index cards. Here is how #457 began:
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.
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:
and an approved proof from August of the same year showing a new and improved “H” for English customers.
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.
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.”
Sustained work continued well into 1938
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:
Scrapped. Proofs wrapped up in spare monotype ribbon and boxed. And that was the end of Sachsenwald.
Apart from the brief correspondence in 1971 that you can see below, this is the last we see of Sachsenwald.
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!