Clarendon IT as we know it today is the result of a redesign and reissue of a historical typeface so seminal that its name came to be used for all bracketed slab serifs of its era.
In London in the 1840s, the commercial applications of printing were increasing dramatically as the Industrial Revolution entered its second stage of expansion. In order to take advantage of this growing market, Robert Besley, a typographer for the Fann Street Foundry, set about finding a solution for one particular commercial printing problem that had arisen—how to pull out, or highlight, certain elements in editorial text and signage. Up until that point, italics had been used to focus a reader’s attention on particular words or phrases. Besley wanted to create a bold typeface that would work cohesively with standard text.
The result was Besley’s Clarendon. As the first related bold typeface, its applications were myriad and the typeface was a tremendous success. Besley quickly took advantage of legislation recently established under the Ornamental Designs Act of 1842 and patented the typeface. It was the first registered typeface in the history of typography; however, knock-offs soon appeared across London and in the U.S. The entire genre of slab serifs created in this period came to be known as “Clarendons”, or “Egyptians” in some parts.
After this commercial success, Besley would go on to become the mayor of London in 1869. Clarendon went on to do nothing less than set the tone for commercial and editorial printing for the remainder of the century. It also created the related bold standard that still exists today for emphasizing text. After a brief lapse in popularity, Clarendon made a comeback when Monotype Imaging released a version in 1935, then had Hermann Eidenbenz repurpose the typeface for modern usage in 1953.
Clarendon was often used as a wood type in the Old West in what is now iconic poster art—Wanted posters, Reward signs, and the like. In the 20th century, Clarendon was employed by the U.S. National Park Service for its traffic and mileage signs. It has since been replaced by a specially commissioned typeface, the NPS Rawlinson Roadway™ font family.
Clarendon is also prominent in many famous logos, including the Sony logo, the Starbucks logo, and the Wells Fargo logo.