The genius of fifteenth-century master printer and designer Nicholas Jenson served as the inspiration for Centaur, itself a classic of twentieth-century type design. In Monotype’s digital version, the beauty and communicative power of this classic typeface by Bruce Rogers is brilliantly preserved.
Were it not for the typeface Centaur, Bruce Rogers would be remembered as one of America’s great book designers. Consider Centaur, however, and Rogers earns his place in the ranks of America’s great typeface designers as well.
While in Boston, Rogers saw a copy of Nicholas Jenson’s 1470 Eusebius in an exhibition at the Boston Public Library. This prized incunable is generally regarded as one of the best examples of Jenson’s type in use. Rogers was so fascinated with the design that he hunted down the owner of the book to see if he could get a better look. The owner agreed, and even invited Rogers to his home to photograph a page from the book. (Rogers eventually acquired a copy of the Eusebius for himself.)
Rogers’ first typeface design (a font for Houghton Mifflin) was based on this photograph, but he wasn’t entirely pleased with the results. “The first proofs of the type were faintly disappointing to me,” he wrote, “...but Mr. Mifflin was delighted with the new type, and after several of the least successful letters were recut I decided it would have to do – for the time, at least – until I could have another try for my ideal type.”
A Second Attempt
Ten years later, Rogers finally had “another try.” By this time he had moved to New York and was working as a freelance designer.
For his second attempt at drawing a typeface based on the Eusebius types, he used enlarged copies of his photo prints as the basis for the design. Rogers wrote over the large lowercase characters repeatedly with a broad pen until he was satisfied that his hand, eye, and brain were familiar with the forms. Only then did he draw the letters on white paper.
These, and the capitals which he rendered more carefully, were the drawings Rogers sent to Robert Wiebking, the Chicago engraver and type designer (Rogers trusted Wiebking to craft the forms based on the intent of his drawings, without needing exact renderings).
Both of Rogers’ earlier versions of Centaur were roman-only designs, but at Rogers’ request, the Monotype version added an italic based on drawings by Frederic Warde. Warde’s italic is an interpretation of the work of the 16th century printer and calligrapher, Ludovico degli Arrighi.
In the 1990s, Monotype produced digital fonts based on the original drawings of Rogers and Warde, adding new bold and bold italic weights and a suite of alternate and swash characters. The Centaur type continues to be generally acclaimed as the best revival of Nicolas Jenson’s original design – a true Monotype masterwork.
The original completed fonts from Rogers were cast in 14 point by The American Type Founders Company and were first used to set a translation of De Guerin’s Le Centaure. Following typographic tradition, Rogers named his typeface after the book in which it first appeared.
Centaur was later issued in several other sizes and used exclusively for the New York Metropolitan Museum Press. Soon, fine printers made so many requests for the Centaur types that Rogers considered developing a commercial version of the face.
In 1928, Rogers finally decided to take on the project. He provided Monotype with new drawings specifically for the company’s typesetting machines. The process took almost a year, and the new fonts were first used to set The Trained Printer and Amateur in 1929. The most famous use for the type, however, came six years later when a special 22-point size was cast to set the 1,238-page Oxford Lecturn Bible.