The archive buried in a small office complex in Salfords, Surrey is the last onsite stronghold of what was once Monotype’s enormous factory complex. The Salfords railway station was built solely for the purpose of importing an enormous workforce and exporting the vast infrastructure of the printed word: casting equipment, matrices, and the rest of the weighty and industrious accoutrements of hot metal typecasting.
Inside that office, deep inside a set of sliding shelves, there is a box labeled 457.
Sachsenwald. A typeface doomed to obscurity by a war.
I first heard the tale of Berthold Wolpe‘s Sachsenwald several years ago on a visit to Michael and Winnie Bixler at the Bixler Press and Letterfoundry in Skaneateles, NY. It was so compelling that, years later, my first impulse in a room full Monotype history was to pull out this box and rediscover the story through original documents and drawings.
Every typeface in the archive has an abbreviated life story recorded on pink index cards. Here is how #457 began:
Sachsenwald began its life as “Bismarck Schrift” in 1936. Toshi Omagari, the Monotype designer who was kind enough to take me through the shelves yesterday, explained that given how this card begins, Bismarck was likely commissioned by the Ullstein publishing house in Germany. Bismarck was a blackletter typeface, a design with its origins in a manuscript hand that was widely used in western Europe for centuries and was still heavily in use in print in Germany.
From looking through the notes on Bismarck, it becomes clear that Monotype was hoping that this type would be appealing to English readers and/or clients. See a note here on May 4, 1937:
and an approved proof from August of the same year showing a new and improved “H” for English customers.
As you and I read this many decades later, we can see the unfortunate fate of this new typeface laid out clearly before us. This is 1937, and a market in England for a German-style typeface would certainly not last for long. A name change in July of 1937 could have been be the first outward sign that the Monotype team sensed trouble. “Sachsenwald,” a forest near Hamburg, was much less nationalistic a name than “Bismarck” and potentially more marketable.
What follows is the painstaking, detailed work of type design and production, executed by an English team working on a German design on the eve of a devastating war. Sifting through the drawings and proofs, one cannot help but feel for those who labored to create something beautiful in turbulent times that could not support it. Below, a kerning diagram and a drawing for the lower case “m.”
Sustained work continued well into 1938
Two sets of matrices for casting Sachsenwald were finally produced, but by then, demand for such a typeface simply didn’t exist. It remained on the books for several years until 1967, when we find the most melancholy document of the bunch:
Scrapped. Proofs wrapped up in spare monotype ribbon and boxed. And that was the end of Sachsenwald.
Apart from the brief correspondence in 1971 that you can see below, this is the last we see of Sachsenwald.
Berthold Wolpe emigrated to the UK where moved he on to new designs, and worked at Faber and Faber until his retirement in 1975. The Monotype corporation continued to produce designs for hot metal, then phototypesetting, and now exists as a foundry for digital type. And Sachsenwald was forgotten.
But I have an optimistic epilogue for you. Decades later, one of only two sets of Sachsenwald matrices that were ever produced found its way into the the hands of Michael Bixler. He is casting Sachsenwald in metal in nine sizes at his foundry in Upstate New York.
Enthusiastic thanks are due to Toshi Omagari for sharing the archive with me and for his help with interpreting the Sachsenwald documents. He’s written about another Ullstein typeface here. Any mistakes in this post are mine. Thank you, Monotype, for making it possible to visit. Thanks Ben Mitchell for letting me tag along on a type designer field day, and thank you Michael Bixler for telling me a sad story in 2006. For more information about the Bixlers and how they cast metal type from monotype casting equipment, have a look here.
Every box at the Monotype Archive tells a story, and I have another one to tell you. So stay tuned for next weeks episode! Same Monotype Time, Same Monotype Channel!
Update: September 28, 2017
I’ve just had a message from James Mosley, a professor in the Department of Typography at Reading University in the UK and formerly the head of the St. Bride Library, who has provided some excellent context for the above post. I copy his remarks below with his permission (and with my gratitude):
The type was commissioned under the name of Bismarck Schrift in 1936 by the Ullstein Verlag, Berlin. This publishing house had been ‘arisiert’ as it was called (i.e. made Aryan), in 1934 by getting rid of the members of the Jewish Ullstein family who had founded it. They emigrated to the USA. Ullstein Verlag became the Deutsche Verlag. After WW2 theUllstein family regained control.
Sachsenwald (Saxon Forest) the name chosen for series 457 in July 1937, perhaps seemed more benign and romantic than the nationalistic ‘Bismarck’, on the analogy of the Schwarzwald (Black Forest). The Sachsenwald, north of Hamburg, was an estate given to Bismarck by the Kaiser in 1871 to acknowledge the part he played in creating the ‘German Empire’ (Deutsches Reich) and it remained in the possession of his family. But the ‘Sachsen’ part of the name is still pretty nationally charged, like those of the names of other contemporary Nazi texturas in this ‘jackboot grotesk’ [Schaftstiefelgrotesk] style, like National, Element, Tannenberg, Deutschland. Some of the elements of the name Sachsenwald would later acquire grisly associations, like the names of the Sachsenhausen and Buchenwald concentration camps. Did Morison, or possibly S. H. Steinberg, have any part in the choice of the name?
The new texturas begin to appear in the 5th supplement, Schriften aus den Jahren 1933/1936 of the Handbuch der Schriftarten (Leipzig: Albrecht Seemann).
The transition from patriotism to National Socialist mass hysteria was once again [i.e. ‘immediately’?] reflected in type. … new typefaces quickly appeared: the visually gothicized and schematicized jackboot grotesques: Tannenberg, National, Element, Gotenburg, Deutschland, etc. These forms not onlysignaled the degeneration of mind and soul, but were pitted against life itself. They were not created by language and poetry, but by myths of power.
(Yvonne Schwemer-Scheddin, ‘Fraktur: a national type?’, in Peter Bain & Paul Shaw (editors), Type and national identity, Princeton Architectural Press, 1998, pp. 51-67, at p. 58.)
Sachsenwald appears as Sachsenwald-Gotisch among the Monotype-Schriften in the 6. Nachtrag, Schriften aus den Jahren 1936/1937 of the Handbuch der Schriftarten, p. 33. The Linotype section has similar types.
There is a specimen of Sachsenwald inserted in Signature 8 (March 1938) to accompany an unsigned note, probably written by its editor Oliver Simon (who was a member of a family that belonged to the English Jewish cultural elite), on ‘Two new typefaces’, one of which is Sachsenwald, on pp. 52-3. Wolpe is not mentioned:
Monotype Sachsenwald is the result of the pressure in Germany for modernized gothics, i.e. letters without the fussiness of Fraktur, and with something at least of the adaptability of roman upper case. The appearance of the face created unusual interest in this country … There is a possbility that, succeeding the exhaustion of the novelty-value of one after another of the nineteenth-century jobbing catagories such as sans, egyptian, etc., there may follow a passing vogue in advertising display for the only unexplored group: black-letter. If so, it will certainly not be the English black-letter associated with religious announcements, but a simple and compact and new black-letter such as this. There are few typographers who would not be tempted by the opportunity this face offers of massing bold letters, which are nevertheless free from the bloated effect of any roman expanded into an extra bold weight.
There is no reference to the designer.
Morison wrote an anonymous piece on ‘Black letter: its origin and current use’ in the Monotype Recorder (vol. 36, no. 1) 1937, making use of the Series 457 typeface, but not naming either the type or its designer. (It shows one size of Albertus, naming the type, though not its designer. This statement is made on page 11: ‘For historical, nationalistic and political reasons a form of the mediaeval letter is encouraged in Germany at the present time. In response to demands, The Monotype Corporation has cut a number of newly designed letters in pointed text, rounded text, Schwabacher and Fraktur.’
JM Sept 2017
Ok, Sarah here. It is also worth noting that since my original post, Toshi Omagari has revived Sachsenwald, along with several other Wolpe faces as part of Monotype’s new Wolpe Collection.
Over and out.