SHOW INFO – type history research on
Akzidenz-Grotesk in a brief history of sans-serifs
The Nymph and the Grot, James Mosley
Elements of Typographic Style, Robert Bringhurst
Modern Typography, Robin Kinross
Unjustified Texts, Robin Kinross
Type design in the age of the machine, Wolfgang Homola

Akzidenz-Grotesk is a late 19th century sans-serif typeface, issued by the Berthold foundry of Berlin.

The Akzidenz-Grotesk family was originally made up of similar grotesk fonts collected from the foundries bought by Berthold at that time. Fonts of different weights, such as Breite Grotesque and Royal Grotesk, were collected and renamed to help form a functionnal font family. There are therefore several inconsistencies between the weights.

According to Martin Majoor, the mono-line forms would have been derived from the then popular classicistic typefaces such as Walbaum or Didot.

When it was first released it was intended to be a display face. The name comes from Akzidenzschrift, german for jobbing or display type.

Throughout the years, Akzidenz-Grotesk has been widely used by De Stijl, Bauhaus and Dada, but it was most influentially used by the International typographic style, of the Swiss designers in the 50’s.

— ±500 BC

Etruscan mono-line engraving
the linear form of sans-serif letters are derived from greek letters

— ±200 BC

Old Roman letters
like the Greek letters, the first Roman stone carved letters
were mono-line (equal stroke thickness) and sans-serifs

— ±100 AD

In Rome, mono-line forms give way to thick and thin strokes, drawn on stone with a flat brush or square-cut tool, mimicking calligraphy

— 1723

First known use of Etruscan sans-serif typeface

Thomas Dempster’s

De Etruria regali libri VII

— 1745

Calson Etruscan
greek letterforms cut for the Oxford University Press

— ±1748

An inscription close to the sleeping nymph in the grotto at Stourhead in Wiltshire, uses letter forms with thick and thin strokes but no serifs

— 1753

Abbé Laugier

Essai sur l’architecture

“Tenons-nous au simple et au naturel”

— 1779

John Soane

detail from a ‘Design for a British Senate House’
continued to use sans-serif letters on his drawings and architectural designs

James Mosley


“It has been suggested that this letter was the origin of all the sanserifs of the 19th and 20th centuries, from the Caslon ‘Egyptian’ to Futura, Univers and their descendents.”

— 1784

Valetin Haüy

Haüy system
embossed form of sans-serif type to aide the education of blind children

— 1792

James Playfair’s Egyptian room of Cairness House, Aberdeenshire
earliest sans-serif in Great Britain

— ±1800 onwards

First designed at the beginning of the century by Robert Thorne, they were used to catch attention on advertisements

— 1807

Robert Southey

Letters from England

“They are simply the common characters, deprived of all beauty and all proportion by having all strokes of equal thickness, so that those which should be thin look as if they had the elephantiasis.”

— 1808

William Wood

proposal for a memorial to Nelson and commander Stuart.
The sans-serif lettering is described as

“the earliest Roman character”

which was recommended because it was the least

“susceptible to decay”

— 1816

Two Lines English Egyptian by

William Calson IV

First sans-serif printing type to be sold commercially, however only an uppercase was available.

— 1828

Jobbing printers like Bower & Bacon began making more bold sans-serif types to match the demand.

— 1832

Two line great primer sans-serif by

Vincent Figgins

The term sans-serif is here used for the first time.

— 1834

Five line Pica sans-serif by

Vincent Figgins

Seven line Grotesk by First lower case type available for printing


, here the term grotesk appears for the first time.

— 1838

English two line Sans-Surryphs
Two Lines English Egyptian relaunched by

Blake, Garnett foundry

in Sheffield

— 1880

Royal Grotesk

Ferdinand Theinhardt (1820—†1909)

four sans-serif fonts for the publications of the Royal Prussian Academy of Sciences in Berlin
Later reissued as Akzidenz-Grotesk Mager

— 1881

Halbfette Kursiv Grotesk
first typeface released by

J. G. Schelter & Giesecke foundry

after shifting their type production to the american system

— 1882

Schlanke Grotesk

  J. G. Schelter & Giesecke foundry

later reused as Akzidenz-Grotesk schmal fett

— 1886

Schmale Buecher-Grotesk
later reused in the Akzidenz-Grotesk family

— 1887

After adopting the american typefounding system

J. G. Schelter & Giesecke foundry

show redesigned and refined cuts of several sans-serif typefaces which they had already released in the 1860s in similar form. They were the Schmale Steinschrift, the Fette Steinschrift and the Schmale fette Steinschrift

— 1888

Encyclopaedia Britannica

“Sanserifs or grotesques; which have no serifs”

— 1890

Breite Grotesk

Ferdinand Theinhardt


J. G. Schelter & Giesecke foundry

— 1898

First appears as Accidenz-Grotesk, in an advertisement by

H Berthold Berlin & Bauer & Co Stuttgart

This first typeface, originates from the Royal Grotesk Light that had been cut by

Ferdinand Theinhardt

— 1908

Hermann Berthold

takes over the

Theinhardt Type Foundry

and integrates

Royal Grotesk

into the Akzidenz-Grotesk family, giving it the name

Akzidenz-Grotesk Mager

— 1912

The Haas Foundry of Switzerland release their Haas Grotesk, based on the Akzidenz-Grotesk. This typeface in turn inspired the Neue Haas-Grotesk.

— 1931

Harry Carter

explains the dislike of sans-serif typefaces:

“Its earlier monumental associations were discarded as it came to be increasingly used for the humblest purposes. Its legibility and durability in wear fitted it for the printing of cartons, wrappers, labels, and similar trade purposes, and thus it earned a certain discredit among those who cared for fine printing and fine types”

— 1950s

Günter Gerard Lange (1921—†2008)

, the artistic director of Berthold foundry, starts a project to enlarge the typeface family, adding a larger character set, but retaining all of the idiosyncrasies of the 1898 face.

— 1957

Max Miedinger, with the help of Eduard Hoffmann, designs the Neue Haas Grotesk, for the Haas Type foundy in Switzeland. It was based on Grotesk faces from the early 20th century, such as the Schelter-Grotesk and Haas-Grotesk. The aim was to create a clean and refined version of these typefaces with a wide variety of uses.

Univers, a sans-serif typeface designed by Adrian Frutiger, is released by Deberny & Peignot foundry.

This same year, under the direction of Günter Gerald Lange, Berthold cut Series 57 (and the following year Series 58) of Akzidenz-Grotesk, which unified the differernt fonts into a more coherant type family.

— 1960

The Neue Haas Grotesk is renamed Helvetica, for marketing reasons.

— 1960s

Under the direction of Günter Gerard Lange, Berthorld added AG Medium Italic, AG ExtraBold, AG Italic, AG ExtraBold Condensed & Italic and AG Super to the family.

— 1966

Akzidenz-Grotesk was also marketed under the name Standard by Letraset, and in 1966 it was chosen tu be used in the redesigning of the signage of the New York City Subway.

— 1993

Bankruptcy of the Berthold foundry.

— 2001

Lange helps Berthold complete the Akzidenz-Grotesk series with the additions of AG light italic, Super Italic, light condensed, condensed, medium condensed, extrabold italic, light extended italic, extended italic and medium extended italic.

— 2006



Akzidenz-Grotesk Pro

in open-type format