Altesse is a typographic adaptation of the formal scripts engraved by French copperplate masters from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. Freed from the constraints of metal type, Altesse designed in 5 optical sizes allows you to rediscover the pleasure of automated calligraphy. With its thirty-eight OpenType features and 1557 glyphs, the possibilities are endless or almost. Let’s go back for a moment to the birth and evolution of the formal scripts.
The development of typefaces imitating writings
With the arrival of copperplate engraving and printing, which is gradually replacing the usual calligraphic method, typographic styles that imitate writing are developing — separately from italics. While reproducing the links between letters, typographical forms are somewhat more standardized than pure handwriting.
The chapter on_ the Art of Writing_ published in the Encyclopédie des sciences, des arts et des métiers (1751–72) by Denis Diderot and Jean Le Rond d’Alembert was written and designed by Charles Paillasson. The latter explains to the reader how to hold a pen, follow writing models and their craziest arabesques: “Three writings are in use; the French or the “Ronde”, the Italian or the “Batarde”, “Coulée” or “Permission.” He describes the Batarde Coulée in these terms: “It necessarily takes to flatter the eyes, a sustained feather position, a fair slope, simple & correct majors, delicate bonds, lightness in curves, tender & softness in touch.”
Over the years, foundries tried to adapt typographically these copperplate scripts: each letter must be engraved separately but linked to the next. A complex operation, because the formal script is naturally slanted while the punches and metal type shot are perpendicular, which leaves no room to draw the shapes and their connections as well as the flourished endings.
It’s Firmin Didot who, by dedicating in 1806 the preface of Les Bucoliques de Virgile to his brother Pierre Didot, presents “sa typographie pour la poésie” – with a typeface that imitates formal scripts. His hallmarks will be designed slanted down the slope of writing, which allows the letters to be connected to each other.
In his Recueil des divers caractères, vignettes et ornemens, Joseph Gaspard Gillé (1808) dedicates the chapter Épreuves des Caractères d‘écriture in which he presents “Trente-huit Caractères d’Écriture Financières, Anglaise et Civilité, depuis le Cicéro jusqu’aux Grosses de Fonte.” Several formal scripts appear, accompanied by various variants of glyphs, ornaments, etc. Since the beginning of the 19th century, the use of formal script became the standard for the announcements copperplate of the French aristocracy. Object of commercial covetousness, French foundries will offer formal scripts in their catalogs, each time announced to advantageously replace letter-to-letter copperplate made by hand and therefore more expensive.
From photocomposition to digital
It is necessary to wait for photocomposition, which foreshadows the transition to digital typography, to be completely freed from the metal type. Matthew Carter drew the Snell Roundhand in 1966, an adaptation of Charles Snell’s style, published in The Art Of Writing (1712). The drawings of the Snell Roundhand reproduce at best the attached effect (except for the beginnings and ends of words). Photocomposition does not yet provide the many necessary variants and the technology for contextualizing letters according to their position in the word did not exist at that time.
In 1990, trained at the Scriptorium in Toulouse, designer of the Stilla (1973) and excellent calligrapher, François Boltana drew Champion in 3 fonts, as well as a tool usable under Quark Xpress that allows automatic glyphs switch by alternates and ligatures. François Boltana, who was inspired by the models of Joseph Champion (1754–1759), explained me at that time “wishing to get free from the material support, which allows to rediscover the pleasure of calligraphy and its infinite variants, thanks to computer science.” A few years later, Richard Lipton went further by adding a quantity of contextual OpenType glyphs and features to his Bickham Script originally designed in 2000.
The references of this formal script
With Altesse, I wanted to pay tribute to our predecessors. This script imitating formal writing is not the revival of a particular reference. Altesse is a contemporary interpretation of various engraved sources from the nineteenth century. The drawings are directly influenced by French copperplate engravings in use over the centuries. The idea was to identify a style based on daily practices and not the search for the work of a writing master from a given period. In this, Altesse is a “Bâtarde” in the tradition of calligraphic vocabulary, because it comes from a mixture of different sources.
The design of Altesse
At Typofonderie, we have designed versions for use in large and smaller sizes. The 96 pt version is drawn with a small x-height featuring a high contrast while on the other side of the spectrum, the 16 pt version offers a large x-height in low contrast. Of course, the proposed sizes ar compatible, i.e. the thinner part is unified over the different sizes. This is a principle of proportionality: it’s up to you to set the 96 pt version in 120 pt, or the 46 pt version in 64 pt depending on your art direction, your constraints related to analog or digital medium.
One of the six series of Altesse in figures: 1957 glyphs, 47101 points build in Béziers, 363 673 kerning pairs, 7 scripts in Python for a total of 745 lines. An export from one of the fonts in TTX represents 6 691 256 lines of code. OpenType tables represent 1066 lines of code divided into 38 OpenType features, 70 lookups, 233 classes.
Schematically, the Altesse glyphs are distributed as follows: two sets of capitals, two sets of numerals and lowercases, punctuation, ornaments and vignettes. Lowercases are drawn in many variants, with loops, short ascenders, begin, middle, end, individual, all embellished with various final endings. The various final endings, as well as ascenders and descenders of lowercases add-ons can embellish automatically your design. All orchestrated by OpenType features that allow nuanced use.
Having started the creation of Altesse 10 years ago, this project would not have come about without a solid team bringing essential skills to the development of the project. I salute Mathieu Réguer and Joachim Vu for their countless contributions, as well as Élodie Tourbier and Léo Guibert for the finalization of some optical sizes. Such a project requires a strong team that knows how to work closely together.
In conclusion, typography must remain a game: I enjoyed imagining uses of Altesse presented for you. Do wonders with Altesse and tell us your own stories. Altesse is at the service of your typographical excellence!
By Jean François Porchez, April 2021. All rights reserved.
Altesse: Availability of the new typeface family
Altesse digital exclusive PRO fonts includes 1557 glyphs, extended language support, numerious swashes, alternates, ligatures, loops, etc. The new Altesse fonts in OpenType format are available in Web and ePub format. Download the specimen pdf for all the details about advanced typography features.
How to use Altesse?
Altesse will accompany your invitation cards, wedding invitations, restaurant and hotel menus, wine labels, stationery, business cards, thank you cards and much more… See our Fonts in use section for more.