Columbus is a modern interpretation of the typefaces used in early Spanish printing. Columbus contains traces of antique letterforms but stops short of being a novelty face, allowing Columbus to remain usable for more than just display treatments.
The year 1992 marked two events that, together, sparked the idea for a new typeface based on early Spanish printing: the quincentenary of Christopher Columbus' epic voyage across the Atlantic, and the 1992 Olympics, held in Barcelona. (Of course, Columbus was not Spanish, but he set sail from Spain and was largely sponsored by the Spanish monarchy.)
The type family, called Columbus, was drawn by Patricia Saunders under the design direction of Robin Nicholas in Monotype’s UK office. Ornaments were researched and designed by Saunders’ husband, David Saunders.
With the help of type historians John Dreyfus and James Mosely, two books were selected as representative of the finest late-fifteenth-century or early-sixteenth-century Spanish printing. The first of these was by Jorge Coci, a printer working in Saragossa. The book was a collection of Virgil’s works, and the types used are thought to have originated in Italy. The second book was printed by Coci’s son-in-law, Bartolome de Najera. It was a writing manual by the famous Spanish calligrapher, Juan de Yciar. The types used in this book were cut by Robert Granjon, and served as inspiration for the italic of Saunders’ Columbus.
Based on these historical sources, Saunders drew a fresh and lively typeface perfectly suited to contemporary tastes and needs. She retained a few pleasingly archaic letters, such as ‘h’, but avoided other quirky forms that might jar present-day readers.
Instead of making a facsimile of a typically irregular fifteenth-century or sixteenth-century font, Saunders applied her broad expertise, skill and judgment to the task, with invaluable guidance from Robin Nicholas. The result was the creation of a beautiful and versatile new typeface.