An Exemplary Quintet
The Becker Gothics pay homage to the nineteenth century American lettering master George Becker. Designer James Puckett has given new life to the ingenious gothic alphabets found in Becker’s 1854 lettering manual Ornamental Penmanship. Use this quintet of typographic voices to evoke vintage engraving, lithography, signs, and wood type.
George Becker was the Professor of drawing, writing, and bookkeeping at Girard College in Philadelphia. Becker’s study and teaching led to the publication of a collection of lettering manuals in 1842. Those manuals were popular enough to warrant a sequel and Becker followed up with his magnum opus: the 1854 book Becker’s Ornamental Penmanship and Draughtsman’s Letter Book. Ornamental Penmanship covered a wide breadth of styles: didone, slab, sans serif, blackletter, and script.
Becker’s sans serif alphabets, titled “Egyptian or Unfinished Block Letters”, deserve special attention. These letters are heavy, with medium contrast, and octagons in place of curves. Forms that would now be considered unorthodox or anachronistic make up nearly half of the alphabet and numbers.
Becker’s sans letters provide a window into a wildly innovative period in the history of letters. Sans serif type was strictly codified in the 1900s, when designers smoothed out the rough edges of sans serif type, and many ideas were lost in the process. Becker’s antediluvian forms are unexpected delights in today’s typography. His two pages of sans serif forms present three variations: the relatively simple octic, the bifurcated tuscan shown only as numbers, and the spiked concave forms. All three styles have been adapted as digital fonts that carefully preserve the essential qualities of the original forms.
Two new designs were adapted from Becker’s alphabets. A stencil alphabet was designed to lighten up the dark Egyptian. And a rounded version was designed for use in layouts that require a softer touch. And George Becker’s letters have been supplemented with support for over 140 languages.