New release: Successor by Tim Ripper
Slab serifs don’t occur in nature. We might be forgiven for thinking they do, having grown up surrounded by them, but, like everything else in culture, they are constructs—and they forever changed the course of typography. With Successor, Tim Ripper revisits the often bumpy and disjointed trajectory of the bracketless subset of slab serifs known as the Egyptian, arriving at a focused contemporary type family that is both speculative and intensely loyal to the original types’ character and warmth.
Creatures of the Industrial Revolution and of high capitalism, the Egyptians’ primary impetus was to capture attention and generate profit. The name had nothing to do with the square serifs’ formal characteristics and everything to do with politics and marketing: Napoleon had invaded Egypt and Syria at the end of the eighteenth century, establishing a blueprint for colonialism and paving the way for a massive extraction of the region’s artifacts, resulting in a general fetishization of all things Egyptian.
These boxy forms probably originated, loudly, in the street, in the first decade of the nineteenth century; like other glyphic innovations, they likely initially emerged as public lettering on posters, signs, and storefronts (and, eventually, lottery tickets). Vincent Figgins offered the first commercial Egyptians in 1817 under the name “Antique”: bracketless, unprecedented types that were clearly modeled on Moderns and so-called “fat faces,” but whose overall color was even darker and denser than the latter’s because of their lack of modulation. Industrial and tectonic, the new typefaces bore no trace of the human hand and offered a lesson in how to add weight and impact to letterforms—where fat faces pushed outward horizontally from the Modern skeleton, Egyptians also padded the forms vertically to produce a surprising overall boldness.
Historian Nicolete Gray called Egyptians “the most brilliant typographical invention of the [nineteenth] century.” Others, like Hansard and Updike, were less enthusiastic about letters they referred to as “typographical monstrosities” and “swollen type-forms.” What was undeniable, though, was that slabs represented a breakthrough in what letters could look like and what they could do, and they proved immensely popular. Foundries scrambled to bring their own versions to market. Perhaps because of this keen pressure to ship, the results were often uneven, particularly in the lowercase and italics. And so the Egyptian’s story is one of fits and starts, presences and absences, promises and dead ends. Successor attempts to plug the gaps and fulfill the style’s early promise, remaining faithful to the Egyptians’ most successful strategies while hypothesizing about what a complete, cohesive family might have looked like if it had been drawn by the same designer.
Successor began as the Egyptian itself began: big and heavy. Ripper started with the refinement and self-assuredness of Figgins’s display cuts, paying special attention to their lowercase forms, whose flat terminals jibe with the uppercase. For the italic, Ripper tapped Caslon’s crisp Egyptian italics, particularly the foundry’s 2-line English Antique Italic from 1825, which meshed well with Successor’s upright styles.