Ansprache im Goethejahr 1949

I stopped into Argosy Books last week for the first time in several decades. In the $10 bin near the cash register I came across a dog-eared copy of Toward Balzac by Harry Levin (New York: New Directions, 1947) with a cover design by Alvin Lustig (in blue rather than the beige usually seen). Before I could decide whether to buy it or not, my attention was distracted by the next item in the bin: Ansprache im Goethejahr 1949 by Thomas Mann (Frankfurt am Main: Suhrkamp Verlag, 1949).

The cover looked to be set in Palatino but something about the letters seemed odd. So I picked up the booklet and turned to the back page to look for some credits. Just as I suspected, the booklet was designed by Hermann Zapf. And the cover, instead of being set in type, was handlettered. What makes the calligraphy of interest—beyond its innate beauty—is its relationship to Palatino, Zapf’s groundbreaking typeface, and Michelangelo and Sistina, its display companions.

Ansprache im Goethejahr 1949 cover. Designed and letterered by Hermann Zapf

Ansprache im Goethejahr by Thomas Mann (1949) cover. Designed and lettered by Hermann Zapf.

Palatino (designed in 1948, released in 1950) must not yet have been ready for use since the Mann booklet is set in Cornelia (a knock-off of Caledonia). The cover letters may have been part of the process of developing Michelangelo (designed in 1949–1950, released in 1950) and Sistina (designed in 1950, released in 1951). The wide M and the R with an extended leg are reminiscent of Michelangelo while the A, C, E, G, J, N, P and S are reminiscent of Sistina. But the Mann letters are heavier than Michelangelo and lighter than Sistina. They would have made an agreeable titling typeface, one that would have fitted a niche midway between Michelangelo and Sistina.

Michelangelo. Proof courtesy of Michael Babcock, Intterrobang Press.

Michelangelo. Proof courtesy of Michael Babcock, Interrobang Press.

Sistina. Proof courtesy of Michael Babcock, Interrobang Press.

Sistina. Proof courtesy of Michael Babcock, Interrobang Press.