Century Roman was designed by Linn Boyd Benton in 1894 in collaboration with Theodore L. DeVinne, typographic scholar, printing craftsman and publisher of the Century Magazine.
DeVinne was not satisfied with the Caslon-derivative types in his magazine, he considered them thin and weak and wanted a more legible font, which would also enable the production of really black print on small sizes, not the apparent gray which was a common problem in press work of modernized old-style type. DeVinne was aware of Professor Louis Emile Javal’s studies on typographic legibility, whose results were published in 1879. Javal’s work suggested that x-height is an important component of legibility.
According to Patricia Cost, DeVinne and Benton started with “some Scotch roman of the middle 1800s, possibly from the Miller & Richards foundry of Edinburgh.” Century Roman got a larger x-height than most faces, thicker hair-lines than was common and the proportions of a condensed face. It was available as a foundry type in sizes 8-, 9- and 10-pt and it first appeared in the Century Magazine’s November 1895 issue.
Century Roman No.2/ Broadface
Shortly after Century Roman made its debut in the Century Magazine, DeVinne collaborated with Benton again to make a wider version for the DeVinne Press. This new type, Century Broadface, was meant for the longer line lengths used in book printing. (P. Cost)
Century Expanded (& Italic, Bold, Bold Italic, Bold Condensed, Bold Condensed Italic, Bold Extra Condensed, Bold Extended)
With the merging of 23 smaller foundries into the American Type Founders in 1892, Linn Boyd Benton’s son, Morris Fuller Benton received the task of consolidating and purging the faces of these manufacturers into a coherent selection which met the Typographical Union standards.
According to Shaw, M.F. Benton redesigned his father’s typeface with reference to #16 Roman of the Bruce Type Foundry which A.T.F. had recently acquired. The result was Century Expanded, released in 1900, which proved hugely successful over the years and could be found in newspapers up into the 1980s.
Century Expanded and Italic were made in an unusual number of sizes, including 4-, 4½-, 5-, 5½-, 6-, 7-, 8-, 9-, 10-, 11-point, and all the usual sizes to 72-point. The two smaller sizes were identical as to face except for length of descenders, likewise 5½- and 6-point. (McGrew, pp.77) Century Expanded was easy to read, and had good wearing qualities. According to a 1927 article in the Inland Printer, the type proved to be a “great success, especially in newspaper offices in the smaller towns; it also found much favour in commercial printing offices.” (P. Cost)
Some printers were not happy with Century Expanded. Frazier wrote:
“Its chief drawback is a commonplace, mechanical, rather severe appearance esthetic considerations appear to have had little influence in its design. Century Expanded, in effect, is a busy, efficient workman dressed in denims. It is a typeface for common ‘ads’ and booklets on common subjects. Lacking in style and grace, it is wholly unsuited for job work.” (P. Cost)
Century Bold and Century Bold Italic were designed in 1904 and released in 1905, the former going on to become a major display face. Century Bold Condensed, designed in 1906 and introduced in 1909, rapidly became, according to the Font Bureau, “one of the most popular headline typefaces for American newspapers and magazines of our time”. Century Bold Extended, designed by Benton in 1906, was released in 1910.
Century Bold Condensed Italic was the only Century design by an “outsider” during Benton’s life. It was designed by Sol Hess for Monotype in 1938.
Century Bold Extra Condensed was cut by Linotype as a newspaper headline face to fit the limits of its standard magazines.
Century Expanded and its variations were copied extensively by Monotype, Linotype, Intertype and Ludlow, under the same names. (McGrew, pp.77, 81)
Century Oldstyle (& Italic, Bold, Bold Italic, Bold Condensed)
Designed in 1906 and released in 1908-09, this face is much like Century Expanded in width and height, but with old style serifs. After its release, Benton grew it into its own sub-family, with bold, italic, bold italic and bold condensed variations. According to the Font Bureau, Century Oldstyle was based on a typeface from the Scottish foundry of Miller & Richard, designed and cut by Alexander Phemister in 1860.
McGrew points out that, although closely related, “the Century oldstyle family is not really a part of the Century Expanded family”.
Frazier considered Oldstyle “a desirable body or text letter, especially where a large face in relation the the body is desirable”. Century Oldstyle was popular with printing school teachers, but never quite achieved the success of other members fo the Century family. (P. Cost)
Monotype’s version differs substantially from the original. Capitals are wider and fitting is looser throughout. This modification was required for keyboard sizes but was carried into display sized as well. Quite a number of faces have alternate long descenders, but this face also has alternate long ascenders in 12-pt size. With these, it is suggestive of Century Catalogue.
Linotype offered a faithful copy of Oldstyle in 24-pt only, originally under the same name, later renamed Old Style Nr. 7, although it is not at all the same face as smaller sized shown under that name.
Intertype offered Century Oldstyle only in 36-pt, but copied the Monotype version in some small sizes under the name Old Style No.9. (McGrew)
Century Catalogue (& Italic)
Century Catalogue is also an old-syle face, designed in 1914 and released in 1917 by Benton, with the same general design as Century Oldstyle but longer ascenders. According to Watts, it was “one of the very finest straight-matters faces ever made .... [but] it never caught on saleswise, probably because it was not made available on the slug machines.”(C.Post)
Century Catalogue Italic was, according to McGrew, cut from the patterns for Baskerville Italic. Except for the caps fro A, V and W and the omission of swash letters, the faces are almost identical in the 18-pt size; in smaller sizes the Century face is wider, as modified by pantagraph during the cutting of mats (see Optical Scaling). (McGrew)
Century Schoolbook (& Italic, Bold, Bold Italic)
Century Schoolbook was designed by M.F. Benton for the ATF at the request of Ginn & Company, a textbook publisher looking for an especially easy to read face for textbooks. The company felt that a type “that would be better for the eyesight of students logically should be designed by an expert.” Benton had recently been involved in a legibility study published in 1912 by Barbara Roethlein of Clark University in Worcester, Massachusetts. Roethelein results stated that “legibility depended on form, size and heaviness of the letters and on the margin, position in group and on the shape and size of adjacent letters.” (P. Cost)
When Benton’s father collaborated with DeVinne on Century Roman, Javal’s leginibility studies had been discussed, and when Benton designed Century Expanded he got familiarized with Javal’s work, so it is not surprising that for his Ginn & Co face, he would return to the Century types. Benton had also found a 1913 investigation by the British Association for the Advancement of Science entitled “Report on the Influence of School-Books Upon Eyesight.” The report suggested that compressed and condensed type not be used in books for children, and that the contrast between fine and heavy strokes not be too great. It continued:
“In an ideal type, the whites and blacks are well balanced in each letter, and it is easy to discriminate between e,c, and o, between i and l, and between h and k; and to recognize m, mn, nu, nv, w, in.”
Benton made tests of his own and his studies of eyesight and reading lead to the design of Century Schoolbook, which “subsequently turned up on nearly every list of legible types.” Century Schoolbook is bolder than Oldstyle or Expanded, although it is a normal-width type. Its wide open counters, large x-height, and squared-off serifs bring to fulfilment the legibility ideals of DeVinne.
Century Schoolbook is familiar to many in North America as being the typeface many first learned to read with.
Century Schoolbook Italic is, according to Paul Shaw, a sturdier version of Century Expanded Italic but with flat serifs on the tops of lowercase letters, thus creating a strong x-height line for the eye to follow. (C.Post)
Century Schoolbook had a slow start in popularity, but it eventually went “far beyond the schoolbook field to become one of the most popular designs fro advertising and other printing”.(McGrew)
Century Schoolbook was also offered by Monotype and Intertype, though Ludlow called its version Century Modern. Some of these faces suffered a bit from adaptation to the mechanical restrictions of the various machines, but they are essentially the same. Other names for adaptations of the face were Century Medium and Century Text, and the ITC(International Typeface Corporation) version was called Century Book.
Century Nova (& Italic)
Century Nova was designed in 1964 by Charles E. Hughes, commissioned by ATF for the project. It was launched in the presence of Morris Benton’s daughter, Caroline Benton Gregg, at an event organized by the Art Directors Club of Milwaukee and attended by over 200 graphic artists, typographers and printers, trade press editors and educators at Milwaukee Hilton Inn.
This is a condensed typeface, the thin lines are substantial and the lower-case letters have a larger x-height. Hughes seems to have brought Century back to “just about the same proportions it had started with some 70 years earlier,” returning to the condensed nature of the original Century Roman. (McGrew) According to the 1964 Milwaukee event’s printed program, Century Nova was a posthumous tribute to the Bentons, father and son. This was the second-to-last face cut by ATF. (P. Cost)