The Monotype Grotesque design was originally based upon sans-serif design by the H Berthold AG foundry and William Thorogood‘s original “Grotesque” typeface. The name “grotesque” has a slightly hazy origin; some believed that typesetters who came across the original sans serif typeface of William Thorogood nicknamed it Grotesque because they considered it an ugly typeface. In those days, printers had only used sans serif fonts in upper case and as headlines/large print. The introduction of the lower case grotesque character set was a new direction in typeface design.
It was developed at a time when the development of printing machinery had been accelerated by the industrial revolution. New ways of manufacturing and working metals made it possible for engineers to design some very impressive and complex machines capable of high speed print. Newspaper circulation was high and despite the 1st World war making resources scarce, the swinging twenties saw high demand for high quality print, particularly in the rapidly growing leisure market where advertising was also becoming more common. Monotype Grotesque was introduced to address the need for a typeface with an Avant-Garde appearance to fit in with the design concepts of the day.
Although it never reached the heights of popularity that Akzidenz Grotesk® has over the years, Monotype Grotesque has been used by many and is surprisingly good screen font as some of the extended and condensed versions are is legible in lower point sizes and overall it has excellent readability characteristics.
In the early 20th century Monotype Grotesque fonts were commonly used in newspapers and large print up to 72 point. In more recent times it has been used on a number of album covers and is suitable for use on computer displays as it has simple clean lines and is easy to read even at small point sizes.
Monotype Grotesque uppercase characters are of almost even width with the non-condensed version “M” being square. Notably the “g” in some weights bears a spur. A number of the lower cases are simply roman styles.
Monotype Grotesque was one of the earliest sans-serif typefaces to be cut for hot-metal machine typesetting and so became a favorite for a number of typesetters and page designers. This new method of printing gave publishers a new way to reduce the cost of the typefaces which wore out quickly on high speed printing presses of the day. The solution was to have the fonts available as new when each print run was typeset. A printing machinery developer of the day came up with the idea of casting the typefaces in a molten lead/tin alloy, meant that a usable font with clear outlines and strokes could be printed every time. This prevented their printed newspapers from starting to look a bit “fuzzy” as the old style of liquid tin/antimony forged type would tend to do after being used a few times.
Hot metal typesetting, although a very popular way to produce high speed quality printing, was a dangerous process with a crucible of molten lead filling the font molds under pressure, there was scope for all sorts of injuries and there were many. The resulting typefaces were all monospaced due to the mold shapes they used.
Monotype, the company who released Monotype Grotesque, took the design even further by automating the typesetting process to make it quicker (and safer) to load up the press with the content to be printed. This greatly speeded up the typesetting process further adding to the volume of publishing that the printing industry was able to produce. The resulting print was more regular and lined properly. The process was efficient too although some tin was oxidized in the process, most of the metal used could be melted down and used again for the next edition.
Monotype Grotesque was released by the Monotype Corporation specifically for this machine and it became widely used as a result, although restricted to presses using Monotype machines. Fonts such as Gill Sans® were very similar and gained more popularity because of other machinery of the day and possibly the range of typefaces was wider too making it a more popular choice. Modern digitization has changed all that as all the older font families are now digitized and versions published by many foundries. The Monotype Grotesque family remains a relatively small font family so its characteristics are easy to see in the 12 available weights and styles.