Barbou, the Font that Monotype Forgot

Fournier: Manuel Typographique
It’s hard to believe that Monotype, a successful company and a great font house with a history of brilliant design behind it, could cut two slightly different versions of a distinctive eighteenth-century font, and choose the wrong one to preserve; but such happened in the 1920s to “Fournier” — attractive enough, if a little plain — and its more beautiful sister “Barbou”. The great typographic historian Stanley Morison described what happened. (In his account below, the “typographical adviser” who was absent abroad was in fact Mr Morison himself.) One can well imaging the trembling teacups and curt conversations when he returned to find that Monotype had preserved the wrong font. Mr Morison was largely responsible for the design of the ubiquitous “Times New Roman” in the early 1930s.



These 3 posts are about Fournier: 1. Barbou  2. Corundum  3. New Fournier BP


To these biographical notes a few paragraphs may be added about the book-faces originated by Fournier, which were recut by the Monotype Corporation and immediately acquired for use at Cambridge [the University Press in Cambridge, UK]. Although it was decided in 1922 to proceed with the recutting of one of the roman and italics characteristic of Fournier’s early period, work was not begun until the autumn of 1924. When the Corporation made its decision, there remained some doubt as to the best model, and two designs were cut, which are here compared for the first time. They are numbered 185 and 178 respectively.

Owing to some confusion (due to the typographical adviser’s absence abroad), series 185 was approved. This, therefore, is the face that, after a highly successful career of over twenty-five years, appears here and in the Corporation’s specimen. It is a reproduction of Nos. xlvi (roman) and xlvii (italic) named in the «Manuel Typographique» as ‘St Augustin Ordinaire’. The great seven-volume «Shakespeare» printed at Cambridge for Francis Meynell between 1929 and 1933 is, according to the considered judgement of its designer, the ‘chef d’oeuvre of the Nonesuch Press’. As a use of series 185, it is no less a monument to Fournier le jeune [Fournier the younger], although the capitals were specially reduced in height. The first size of the Monotype recutting was completed in 1925.

The second and, surely, preferable design (shown in this paragraph) is numbered series 178, only one size of which, in one set of matrices, was struck. They were acquired by Cambridge, where they are known as ‘Barbou’, and were first used for the composition of «The Fleuron», vol. V, printed at Cambridge in 1926. The Barbou type was used for the composition in 1926 on a type-facsimile of «Traité historique et critique sur l’origine et les progrès des caractères de font, pour l’impression de la musique» which Fournier wrote and Barbou published in 1765. The facsimile was duly proofed, but pressure of work of a different kind having first delayed the writing of the necessary introduction and finally postponed it to the Greek Kalends, Lewis after fifteen years dissed the type (‘It had whiskers on it’), and the project was abandoned. The Barbou type has had occasional use since «The Fleuron» came to its appointed end with volume VII (Cambridge, 1930). This paragraph enables comparison to be made with the standard Fournier shown in those preceding it. Both designs were cut by Fournier le jeune before 1742. They are both un­mistakably eighteenth-century in cut; neither is conspicuously French, or even markedly continental. Both series provide for a persistent need in the trade: a bookish type which is narrow in the body without looking starved, an effect better reached by series 178 than by 185.
— From: Stanley Morison, «A Tally of Types», pages 79-80. Cambridge UK: Cambridge University Press, 1973.

Attached is a scan of part of page 80 of Morison’s book, which gives examples of Fournier at the head of the page, and Barbou in the centre. Notice the size of the italic type: it was designed smaller than the roman, in a time when italic and roman were seldom used in the same line of type.

From page 80 of ‘A Tally of Types’ by Stanley Morison
From page 80 of ‘A Tally of Types’ by Stanley Morison

The phrased “dissed the type” does not mean “disrespected the type”, as it might in the suburbs of New York City today, but refers to a much older practice going back to Gutenberg and the 1450s: “distributing” the type, breaking up all the typeset galleys and putting the letters back into the correct boxes in the composing case, once the printing job was done. Printing with metal type was slow, and very expensive.

The phrase “postponed to the Greek Kalends” is an arch euphemism for “postponed indefinitely”.

I like my digital version of Fournier (designed by the elusive skier and typographer Carol Twombly at Adobe), but I agree with most commentators that at sizes less than 16 point, it gives a spindly and anaemic effect. And you might note that when Fournier designed the font, before the French Revolution, he decided to cut the italic face to a smaller height than the roman, assuming that no gentleman would mix the two fonts in the same paragraph of type. They were the days! And for the first two centuries of movable metal type, bold had not been invented! Marvellous! But how I long to hear that Barbou has been revived as a digital face…


These 3 posts are about Fournier: 1. Barbou  2. Corundum  3. New Fournier BP