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Fette means bold and Fraktur means broken in german language.


Johann Christian Bauer, born in Hanau Germany in 1802, started the Bauer Foundry at Frankfurt am Main in 1837. While being in Great Britain, he applied himself to learning the art of punch-cutting. Although by nature a craftsman rather than an industrialist (it is said that in his lifetime he cut more than 10 000 punches with his own hands), he turned his bussiness into a world-wide concern in the 20 years before his death in 1867.


Akzidenzen in german means small printing matters like bussiness cards, letterheads, little brochures and everything else that is not a book or a poster. And Akzidenz types were the typefaces specially designed to use on the Akzidenzen or small printing matters, and were usually a little more decorative.



A page from the Gutenberg Bible (The King's Library, British Library) digitized by the HUMI project, Kelo University, March 2000.


Old English derives from Textura, not Fraktur. The upper bodies of many American rappers are adorned with these Gothic capitals. Old English must be the West's favourite tattoo typeface.


The basic black letter scripts are textura and rotunda, the former primarily associated with northern Europe and the latter with southern Europe. These are both book scripts. Bastarda, a third category of blackletter originally confined to documents, was elevated to formal status in the 15th century French and Burgundian book of hours. Rotunda types soon followed, cut by printers in Switzerland, and more importantly in Italy. After 1480 schwabacher types, based on local bastarda traditions, appeared in Bohemia, Switzerland and the German states. Fraktur, another bastarda-influenced type style, developed from Imperial Chancery hands during the reign of Maximilian I. Its name is derived from the broken curves that distinguish many letters.


Blackletter is often described as old-fashioned, even though antique Latin letterforms are much older.


They can usually be distinguished by reference to the lowercase o alone. Although it is written with only two penstrokes the o in a textura looks essentially hexagonal. In a fraktur, it is normally flat on the left side, curved on the right. In bastarda, it is normally pointed at top and bottom and belled on both sides. In a rotunda, it is essentially oval or round.


Blackletter types flourished in England, France, Hungary, Poland, Portugal, the Netherlands and Spain, as well as Germany — and some species thrived even in Italy. Gutenberg used textura as the first printing type. Even before 1500, however, it was replaced by Schwabacher as a text type in Germany. in the Romance-language countries it was replaced by roman type in the 16th and 17th centuries. Nonetheless, in northern Europe, blackletter continued to flourish.


Blackletter is also known as Gothic script. Gothic was the culminating artistic expression of the middle ages, occurring roughly from 1200–1500. The term Gothic originated with the Italians who used it to refer to rude or barbaric cultures north of the Italian Alps. Textura was mainly used during the Gothic era and today is the form most associated with Gothic. Johannes Gutenberg carved a textualis typeface — including a large number of ligatures and common abbreviations — when he printed his 42-line Bible.


Schwabacher is a style of Bastarda that has been traditionally used in Germany.


Only four of Maximilian’s 130 planned editions were completed in his lifetime, but those four had been sent for illustration to the foremost German renaissance artists, Dürer, Cranach and Grün. The artists used the new typeface in their works and thus gave it a wide distribution. Albrecht Dürer’s “Unterweysung” is still one of the most famous books printed in Fraktur.


This typeface was to be more elegant than the boorish Schwabacher, more modern than the gothic Textura and yet distinctly “German” in that it should not incorporate elements of the Antiqua style typefaces that the humanist movement had just created in Italy based on ancient roman lettering, and which had become the rage of printing fashion south of the Alps.




It allowed for an easy distinction of catholic and protestant publications: The protestants printed German, using Fraktur, the Catholics printed Latin, using Antiqua types. One edition of the Bible even had each verse start with a Fraktur letter when the topic was salvation or other positive events, but Antiqua when it was Satan, hell, and eternal damnation. It was this separation that caused Fraktur to be known as the “German” and Antiqua as the “Latin” font.


Scientific and non-German texts were set in Antiqua, considered by scholars to represent European refinement.


If we assume a wordspace of one-third of the body for roman types, we can assume one-fourth for fraktur types.


Evolution of esszett: long s, round s, right half of round s, esszett.


Ligatures save time during setting, since two letters can always be set in a single operation; their single body uses less space that would otherwise be required for two bodies; and they prepare the words in syllable form for the reader, making the text much easier to read (a fact that should not be underestimated).


Roman inscriptional models, while the lowercase letters have Carolingian minuscules as their progenitors. In contrast, both fraktur capitals and lowercase letters are entirely pen-influenced.


The fact that the contrast between thick and thin strokes is generally stronger and its letter spacing is closer together gives the individual lines a far greater cohesiveness. The consistency of the lines does not need to be enhanced by greater leading.


This function of the long s is closely linked with an etymological one. In many words, it helps reveal the linguistic roots. The name ‘Roswitha, for example, could not be set with a round s, since it was derived from ‘Ro’ (Germanic ‘hrob’=glory, praise) and ‘switha’ (Old Saxon ‘swith’=strong) The disadvantage of fraktur is the great similarity between B and V, C and E, and r and x, although the experienced readers have no difficulties in this regard. At the time of the Baroque, roman type also had a long s and all of its related ligatures.


Depending on the type family or style, the bracketed letters in the chart may be added to this group of ascenders and descenders.



Many pseudo-Fraktur and Gothic types were created then, most displaying the harsh spirit of the “New Germany” and all of them incredibly ugly. The Nazis used a font called Deutchland, secretly called by printers Schaftstieflegrotesk or Jackboot Grotesque.


The true reason was pragmatism. In the occupied territories you just could not read the blackletter. But the main reason was that the Germans just couldn't make enough of the stuff — there was a shortage of type. The Nazis found few gothic fonts in French or Dutch foundries. And there was a further advantage: the roman-heroic architecture of Albert Speer could now employ Trajan-style inscriptions above their columns.


Gothic script was labelled "Schwabacher-Jewish". Centuries of tradition were cast aside overnight, the type being newly associated with the documents of Jewish bankers and the Jewish owners of printing presses.



In the following years, German printers and type designers looked for new directions that were not reminiscent of Germany’s militarist past, and eventually developed a style similar to the Bauhaus designs of the 1920’s.


Emotional reaction to association with the Third Reich, and a sense that the fraktur faces were outdated vestiges of the nineteenth century further reduced their use. Variants of Fraktur faces, such as Fette Fraktur, are however used in advertising and packaging to communicate a sense of traditional Austrian, Bavarian, or German flavor. In this modern decorative use the Fraktur rules about long s and short s or about ligatures are often disregarded, the knowledge of the old typographical conventions being lost. Today, printers and type designers are carefully pulling these treasures back into the light and hope that they will once again be freed of political sentiments.


As the entire typeface genre became associated with the Third Reich, it is no wonder that the Neo-Nazis, with little or no knowledge of the true historical connections, would use a decorative Baroque Fraktur for their propaganda.




It is precisely this richness of form that makes this type genre so attractive (recently also discovered by sport goods companies such as Reebok).


I grew up in South Texas and most likely first saw it in the form of cholo graffiti. It’s incredibly sinister looking and probably derived from a hybrid American “Old English” bastard types making their way through the prison system and forms from Mexico I don’t know enough about to socioculturally trace. This was the countryside, and, being near the border, there was a presence of drug-related crime that lent a very dark slant to how I processed them. This perception wasn’t softened by any connotation with art or creative endeavor, as I was yet an immigrant and was still safely unaware of careless borrowing by those scenes.


Their formal construction exists somewhere between hand and machine, which I quite like. German blackletters hold special interest for me partially because of their unfortunate association to specific political ideals. Something that has existed for hundreds of years suddenly took on a sinister sort of meaning because of ten years of one visual ministries activities. The appropriation of my [Hindu] culture’s swastika by that same party yielded the same sorts of results.  There's a lot there about how language is created, and changed, and re-purposed, which I think is incredibly meaningful in understanding each other, or working responsibly as a designer.


Legibility or practicality have never been a concerns of mine, as I don't think it's a necessary of typography to function within a modernist sort of framework for communication. I think they force the receivers of my work to do three things at once – look more closely and slowly (as they're trying to read), be respectfully reminded that type is bound to specific cultures and ideals, and accept that approaches to constructing language are as plentiful and varied as we are.


I'm not sure at this stage of how I think that I consider my viewers so much.  I am trying my best to make my work as autobiographical as possible and often find myself a bit surprised when I remember that people look at it and have their own angles, or theorize as to what my motivations are.  So yes, maybe the challenge is all mine. Tough question.


Designers can definitely make a positive difference as to re-contextualizing the type.  I have immense respect for the Third Reich's visual ministry for the speed and efficiency in which they reworked meaning for so many of the iconography they referenced or outright stole, in this respect. All semiotics, however, are subject to continual change, and, just like any form of language, what is policy one day can be gone the next, depending on our needs and desires.  This is just my opinion, as I believe nothing is permanent, and, as human it is to try imposing timelessness, it's ultimately useless.


Enschede's Burgundica. Incidentally, my favorite revivals and recuts are Gerhard Helzel's.


Fette Fraktur (1) is a typeface designed by the German punchcutter Johann Christian Bauer (2) in 1850. It is based on the Fraktur type of blackletter faces. The font was designed in the 19th century and from the beginning intended as an akzidenz typeface (3).

The lower case letters have a gothic character with only the ornamental flourishes making them broken letters, while the capital letters are more characteristic of broken letter typefaces (4). One could say Fette Fraktur is a true mix of styles, not unusual for typefaces created at the turn of the 19th century.

Blackletter faces have, as a rule, no companion italic or bold, and no small caps. That is also the case with Fette Fraktur. Usually blackletter types were displayed in two columns (5). Only emphasis was made with hand painted colour ink.

Fette Fraktur and the regular Fraktur typeface have been confused for the blackletter script often mislabeled Old English script, and which has become extremely popular in the world of hip-hop music and fashion (6).


Fette Fraktur itself is a blackletter typeface of the sub-classification fraktur. The other subdivisions are textura, rotunda and bastarda (7). These are the scripts in which the darkness of the characters overpower the whiteness of the page. None of these families is confined to a particular historical period. All four of them have survived, like roman and italic, through many historical variations (8). Their differences are many and complex (9).

The first types cut in Europe, including all those used by Johann Gutenberg, were blackletters. Scripts and printing types of this kind were once used throughout Europe (10). They are the typographic counterpart of the Gothic style in architecture (11), and like Gothic architecture, they are a prominent part of the European heritage, though they flourished longer and more vigorously in Germany than anywhere else.

At the end of the 15th century most Latin books in Germany were printed in a dark, barely legible gothic type style known as Textura. What little was printed in German used the rougher and more based on Schwabacher (12) type. When the German emperor Maximilian decided to establish a splendid library of printed books (13), he directed that a new typeface be created especially for this purpose (14). Based on the Bastarda handwriting used by the scribes of the Emperor’s chancery, the calligrapher Leonhard Wagner designed this new typeface, which soon became known as Fraktur (15) for the broken character of its lines.

Fraktur quickly overtook the earlier Schwabacher and Textualis typefaces in popularity, and a wide variety of Fraktur fonts were carved (16). It became common in the German-speaking world and areas under German influence (Scandinavia, the Baltic states, Central Europe). Over the succeeding centuries, most Central Europeans switched to Antiqua, but German-speakers remained a notable holdout.

When the reformation movement swept across Germany, a flood of printed propaganda came with it. Much of this material used the new Fraktur and helped to make the new type popular far and wide (17). For the next five centuries, the Germans managed to hold on to the ancient Fraktur, swaying between unanimous support of it and cursing the “outdated monkish scribbles” depending on the current level of national sentiment. Most works intended for a general audience continued to be printed this way well into the 20th century, while books of a more scientific nature used the “learned” Latin type (18).


Every reader will recognize that letters are generally closer together in fraktur than they are in roman types. (19) The stronger modeling that generally distinguishes fraktur types also gives the impression that its counters (the inner spaces of letters) are narrower than those of roman types, so that gaps between words are narrower than those of roman types.

The frequent use in fraktur of the long s (20) instead of the short or round s further reduces the space required vis-á-vis roman types. In conjunction with other letters, this long s produces a whole quantity of ligatures that have distinct advantages in terms of economy (21).

Since German language has a tendency to group nouns together and write them with initial capital letters, it requires far more capitals than other languages. These have a more homogeneous fit in fraktur and, unlike roman types, do not reveal their different stylistic origins (22).

Given the same line length, we can therefore accommodate more letters per line in fraktur than in roman types. The line spacing in fraktur is also more economical, since its descenders and ascenders are shorter (23).


Many people today erroneously believe that fraktur is more difficult to read than roman type. Anyone who is familiar with the forms used by fraktur knows better.

Since good legibility depends on being able to distinguish word outlines easily, fraktur offers far greater richness than does roman type. Essentially, this is attributable to the much more frequent use of ascenders and descenders. These derive primarly from the use of long s and its many ligatures. The excessively long words that are often encountered in German are broken down into linguistically convenient parts through the use of the long s and its ligatures. The long s is also used to identify hyphenation and word breaks (24).

Fraktur has many letters that can be described as both ascenders and descenders (25). This is also true of some fraktur capitals. In contrast, roman capitals function solely as ascenders. The result is that fraktur, with its larger incidence of ascending and descending letters, has more distinctive profile than roman and thus greater legibility.


The use of fraktur continued in Germany well into the twentieth century, and in 1928 more than half of the books were still printed in blackletter. Its use had been advocated most vehemently at times of economic uncertainty, or when Germany struggled to define itself on the international stage. Deutche Schrift (26), which had its strongest cultural roots in Martin Luther’s Bible of 1523, became a talisman as strong as any flag or figurehead.

After World War I Fraktur finally began to go out of style as German society became more cosmopolitan and open to international influences. This ended, of course, with the rise of the Third Reich (27) and the ensuing glorification of everything German.

Ironically it was Hitler himself who finally terminated Fraktur printing. During the course of the war, the German type had proved to be a communications barrier with the peoples of occupied Europe (28), and so in January of 1941, Fraktur was officially abolished by declaring it to be “Un-German” and “of Jewish origin” (29).

The order directed all newspapers and publishing houses to switch to Antiqua at the earliest practicable date (30). Due to the economic difficulties caused by the war, this date never really came, and relatively few publications had actually switched by the end of the war in 1945 (31). The occupying allied forces naturally imposed a censorship on printed materials and further encouraged the use of Antiqua typefaces for reasons of legibility. During the next forty years, Fraktur became closely and solely associated with the Third Reich. All Fraktur printing was treated with suspicion (32).


The “Nazi” image still clings to Blackletter, however, in spite of its prohibition by the Nazis themselves in 1941. The primary reason for this was the Blackletter taboo in postwar Germany. This type style was supressed, along with past deeds, and hence became interesting to a whole string of subcultures (33).

Other, less ideologically charged subcultures have long since absorbed blackletter into their style canons as an exotic badge. Fraktur can convey medieval-romantic yearning for the Goths (34) as well as the aggression of Heavy Metal (35), whose musical representatives fondly set their bands' names in blackletter.

The fact that Fraktur is susceptible to so many interpretations must be due to its rich graphic nature, so fundamentally different from everyday serif and sans-serif typefaces. While objectionable usages roll off the abstract forms of Futura like water off a duck's back, messages seem to cling much more easily to Blackletter's differentiated letterforms (36).

Contemporary graphic designers are interested in these decorative typefaces and are using them in their work more and more. It isn't anymore about giving a historic feeling to the content displayed with the type style. For example graphic designer Harsh Patel (born 1981, living and working in Los Angeles) is interested in the unfortunate history of blackletter typefaces but in his typographical work he tries to use them as autobiographically as possible.


(37) When was the first time you had contact with blackletter typefaces – the first personal encounter or the first time you used them in your work?

(38) What are the criterias why you include/use blackletter type in your work? Where lies the interest in them for you?

(39) Do you think blackletter typefaces can present text/language in a better way than clear modernist typefaces? To you, is it more about the feeling of the typeface or the practicality?

(40)By looking into your way of using of type do you also consider it as much of a challenge for yourself than you consider it a thoughtful moment for the viewers?

(41) Will it be the role of the designers to re-establish blackletter into what it used to be — a historical way of presenting text/language — or will it just be a matter of waiting till the public will accept its unfortunate political reference and it re-establishes by itself?

(42) Are there any Blackletters you particularly like?