Presenting 50 years of type design was not an easy task. Albert Boton’s career was indeed long and very prolific. He was born in 1932 in Paris. His father was a carpenter so he grew up in the smell of glue and wood chips. Nothing predisposed him to become a type designer and yet that’s when he joined his father’s workshop that he discovered type design. Indeed, in 1952 while he was installing new windows in a building in Paris, he discovered an agency a the last floor of this building. Albert was already interested in drawing but to see these designers working on some projects confirmed his idea to move to graphic design. This very evening, he gave back his tools to his father and told him he was leaving the workshop.

Original drawing of the title of the movie Bilitis by David Hamilton (1977).

Then, he attended evening classes at the École Estienne in Paris, following Adrian Frutiger’s calligraphy lessons and work. Again, between 1955 and 1957 at Deberny & Peignot Foundry with Adrian Frutiger and Ladislas Mandel. In 1957, he began to work at Albert Hollenstein’s studio where he designed phototype typefaces during 7 years. After a moment of freelancing, he joined the Delpire agency a few years later in 1968, then Carré Noir in 1981 where he developed the field of bespoke typefaces and logotypes. In addition to these jobs, he developed typefaces which were published at Hollenstein, Mecanorma, Typogabor, Tygra, Purup, Berthold and later digitized for ITC, Monotype and FontFont. Between 1968 and 1997, he taught calligraphy and type design at ENSAD (École Nationale Supérieure des Arts Décoratifs) and ANCT-ANRT (Atelier National de Recherches Typographiques) between 1988 and 1998. In 1992, he left the agencies to return to freelancing and continued to develop typefaces and personal projects like Kakéboton kind of kakemonos decorated with Albert’s letters and calligraphy.

The number of typefaces he designed is impressive (around 70). We can name among others: Adler, Black Boton, Boton, Brazilia, Carré Noir, Cellini, Chadking, District, Elan, Elegie, Eras, Frackt, Kit, Linex, Pampam, Memo, Navy Cut, Nino, Page, Paloma, Pampam, Pompeï, Praxitel, Rialto, Scherzo, Takano, Tibère, Lipton, Maif, Pyrénées… Some of these fonts are available in ITC, Monotype and FontFont collections.

Some personnal typefaces or custom fonts designed by Albert Boton.

Some calligraphic logotypes designed by Albert.

Original drawings of Eras (1961).

Eras is one of the most used and known typeface of Albert Boton. The idea of these shapes came to Albert when he performed his military service in Algeria and observed Roman lapidary capitals. Back in France, he began his work in 1961 helped by Albert Hollenstein. At first, he designed capitals, then, at Gérard Blanchard’s request, lowercases. Eras is published by ITC in 6 weights. So, this design is a reinterpretation by memory of the Roman capital. Its shapes are characterized by the following elements: concave stems like an incise without serif, a slight slope of 2 degrees, the opening of some bowl in the a, R, P, 6, 9 and quite shorts ascender and descender. Eras was used in numerous cases as typeface or logotype for the football world cup 1998, The Cincinnati Insurance Companies…

Original drawings of Pampam (1974).

Pampam was designed in 1974 for Albert Hollenstein’s collection; it is characterized by its generosity formed by its weight and its rounded shapes. Contextual alternates and ligatures were designed to imitate handwriting. This typeface was used as a basis to design the logotype of Catimini (a children clothing brand). Pampam was digitized in 2011 by Olivier Nineuil and is still being develop by Albert Boton.

Calligraphic trials and drawings of Élégie (2002).

The first drawings of Élégie appeared in 1993 and were inspired by illustrations and typefaces from Arts and Crafts. This typeface is drawn in the same way as Auriol but with a calligraphy quill and more humanistic shapes. It shows a light, airy, almost dancing drawing. Published in 2002 by Fontshop, it includes a Roman, an italic, swashes and ornaments.

Layout test with Navy Cut typeface (1971).

After seeing a stenciled lettering on a life buoy, Albert Boton decided in 1971 to create a typeface in the same style for Hollenstein. The strength of this typeface lies in the mass and contrast created by the white gaps in uncommon places for a stencil typeface.

Inked drawings of Tibère (1996).

After a visit to the Herculanum site, Albert Boton started working on a text typeface inspired by the proportions of the Roman Capitals. There is a big contrast between the width of the stems and the finesse of the serifs. Digitized by Mills for AgfaMonotype, Pompeï has been available since 2004 at Fontshop; it was completed in 2010.

However, the passions of this man does not stop there. Albert is one of those people who are interested in everything, he is insatiable. Beyond his interest in letters, he draws and practices watercolor, painting and photography. He is fascinated by the nature and by “the mechanics of things”, tools, motors… It is difficult to define this man and his career with a single word other than “diversity”.

So this is the point of this exhibition: an attempt to show to the public both professional and personal creations of Albert and sometimes explain how these two fields can be linked. For example, while he had his camera in hand, he found a piece of tape folded on itself on the ground. This angular shape interested him and it became later a basis for a blackletter.

Olivier Nineuil presenting the exhibition to ÉSAD students.

For this exhibition, quite opaque kakemonos in polyester have been installed, they show all typographic styles explored by Albert Boton. And when we go behind these kakemonos, we discover the backstage of his typographic creations: his sketches on a tablecloth of a restaurant, calligraphic sketches and drawings on polymat sheets with a precision that has nothing to envy to Bézier curves. This is a great opportunity to have in front of us the originals which are the link between the idea and the final typeface.

Annotated corrections on Mémo typeface by Günter Gerhard Lange (Berthold, 1990).

Around these originals, his other passions are displayed, evidences of the curiosity and the artistic sense of this man. In addition to all these pictures and drawings, there are words from Albert, quotations chosen by Olivier Nineuil, beautiful formulas sometimes poetic, sometimes funny that you may be lucky enough to discover. Here is one of them: One must be a little crazy to do this job. Being linked to its art to this point, it’s like a priesthood. As a priest. Type design is my religion.

This exhibition reflects the personality of Albert Boton. It is like his career: impressive, diverse and inspiring for anyone interested in type design. If, as Albert says, the type design is a religion, then, we have invite you to go on a pilgrimage into his colorful world of black and white.

By Thierry Fétiveau, January 2013, All rights reserved.

About, Credits

Thierry Fétiveau study under Typography and langage at ÉSAD Amiens. He was intern at Typofonderie in 2012. Photos by Michel Sabbagh and Thierry Fétiveau. All rights reserved. Students of post-diploma Typography and langage from ÉSAD Amiens have the honor to meet Albert Boton, and helped to install the exhibition dedicated to his career. Albert Boton retrospective exhibition was held at ÉSAD Amiens from 27 November 2012 to 4 January 4 2013. With the participation of Rencontres Internationales de Lure. Curator: Olivier Nineuil, working on a book about Albert Boton.


Visit of the ÉSAD in Amiens
Opening of the Albert Boton exhibition at vimeo
Post-diploma Typography and langage
Albert Boton fonts at Monotype
Albert Boton fonts at FontShop
Albert Boton