A careful restoration of 200-year-old typeface Walbaum, this modern serif blends charm and warmth together – offering a range of impressively sculpted display forms, and hard-working text weights.
History of the typeface
Originally designed in Germany in the early 1800s, Justus Erich Walbaum’s modern typefaces never garnered the audience or acclaim they deserved. The calamity of the Napoleonic Wars and the tragic death of Walbaum's son and typefounding heir, Theodor, combined to remove his faces from any widespread use for nearly one hundred years.
About the designer
Two centuries later, Monotype designers, Carl Crossgrove and Charles Nix discovered their mutual admiration for Walbaum and set out to give it the contemporary facelift it deserved. With the mantra “What Would Justus Do?” always in mind, they set out to expand and update the family for today's varied print and digital environments. They split the work into three parts: Crossgrove taking on the workhorse text weights; Nix tackling the dramatic display range; and Monotype designer Juan Villanueva developing the rich trove of ornaments found in Walbaum’s original specimens.
Justus Walbaum’s original display sizes were relatively limited. But given the time, the tools, and the array of type uses of today, what would Justus have made? Nix's display designs dramatically expand the scope, preserving the fluid transition from small to large, but adding a striking array of thin to black weights.
Some inspiration for the darker weights came from the work of Walbaum’s son, Theodor, who pushed his father’s modern style far more into the arena of the corpulent. Nix looked to push it even further, taking cues from Noguchi’s sculpture, revealing form by carefully subtracting from a solid mass. The lowercase in the fattest, blackest weights are like slabs of basalt subtly sculpted to yield letters.
Crossgrove, a master of text type, focused on what originally drew him to Walbaum’s work—the combination of legibility and warmth lacking in so many other modern families. Like a deft conservator, he carefully preserved the original spacing, contrast, and proportions, while introducing details that allow the designs to fully function in the 21st century. A range of weights; a much more robust character set; and the ability to move seamlessly between the micro and macro of the text range are just a few of the future-proofing steps Crossgrove introduced.
For Villanueva, the inspiration was to capture the beauty that was so evident in the ornaments that Nix found while researching original specimens in New York, Leipzig, and Berlin. He took hundreds of detailed photos giving Juan a nearly microscopic view of Walbaum’s work. Villanueva found inspiration in the idea that ornaments are a rare commodity in today’s typographic market. He felt that these are not only an important part of the Walbaum legacy, but that they’re exciting and relevant to today’s typographic designer.
With 32 weights including italics, ornaments, and two decorative cuts, Walbaum has it all. There isn't a place where Walbaum can’t work. From massive billboards, to micro-type on e-readers, this family has it covered. Ornaments and decorative cuts aren’t just uncommon, they’re a creative treasure trove that help make this a truly unique family.
Grotesques, like Applied Sans and Helvetica, borrow their skeletons from Walbaum and make for natural pairings. The number of possible sans pairings is huge. Mundo Sans, Slate, Futura, Univers, DIN, Classic Grotesque, and FF Good are natural pairings whose large families will find logical companions in the equally large Walbaum family.