Trans-substantial Catholics

Watch this. What are the priests doing? Catholic Litmus Test If you are Catholic, then I hope for the sake of your soul you said he is welcoming Christ bodily into the world. If you didn’t you aren’t looking too […]

Poor Hanno

According to the pop-psychologist-pseudo-science writer Malcolm Gladwell in his magnum lite-opus, the Tipping Point we as a species need risk takers. Individuals who are willing to put it all on the line in pursuit of a goal will, if they […]

Intelligence and Happiness?

A while ago, the Inquisition pondered the nature of intelligence, and whether a certain outlook or attendant mental abilities are guides to or from happiness. This has been obliquely in the news of late…

Buried by the Sea

Its odd. Most graveyards in Connemara appear to be near water, if not actually right on the coast. Why? West Galway, or Connemara, has a lot of unused space. Admittedly, much of the land Connemara is industrially and agriculturally useless, […]

Cycling Two Abreast

Cycling two abreast in Ireland is legal, a protected practice, and it is safer.

Indoors / Outdoors (Defuse)

A talk given by The Inquisition at Defuse, on Wednesday 7th November 2012, as part of Designweek in Dublin, Ireland

Nürnburg’s Extra Bombs

Nürnburg got ripped to shreds by Bomber Harris’ boys. By how much appears to be open to debate.

Law & Morality

The preface to HLA Hart’s publication of his 1961 lecture series on the meeting of law and morality is as prevalent today as it ever was.

Foy – The Bodiless Head

A bodiless head is revered as being Saint Foy, who died a cruel death.

Coffee Haters

There are people out there who pretend to like coffee. Coffee Haters – you have been warned.

False Flags 2

False flag, covert ops by Americans against Americans? Sounds crazy, and so it was deemed.

Plastic 55 Years Ago

55 years ago Roland Barthes considered the importance of plastic and what it meant, as a substance and a symbol.

Cesare Borgia’s Party

The Pope, his son and fifty prostitutes – Cesare Borgia’s party.

Marriage – A Potted History

Marriage is thought by many to be a fixed rite, one which is immovable and inflexible. The truth is that it has not always seemed so…

Blinking Morse

The world was shocked when a victim of torture started blinking morse. The story of a US aviator captured in Vietnam.


Synecdoche is a powerful, expressive linguistic device

The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Contents Page
The Inquisition by Ronan McDonnell - Semper Quarens - Always Looking

Berlin Sans

Berlin Sans is a wonderful and unorthodox typeface designed in 1994 by David Berlow and assisted by Matthew Butterick. It is very distinctive, has a storied history and is widely available. It was designed as a multi-purpose, catch-all that has passed the test of time and the changing of fashions. What’s not to like?

Emer and Conor. They're getting married.
Be warned: This article will run rough-shod over typographic history

Although Berlin Sans is a new, modern and digital face, it is a re-imagining of a much earlier design, Negro, by a German emigré to New York, Lucian Bernhard. As a form of shorthand, and to reflect the modern availability of Berlin Sans, this article will run rough-shod over typographic history by describing the biographical details of Negro’s designer, as the progenitor of the modern font, whose details will in turn be discussed. It is after all, due to Lucian Bernhard that the font ever came about. It will also refer to both fonts as Berlin Sans as the glyph shapes are so alike. Once again, this is due to the fact that to purchase the font for digital use, you would be seeking Berlin Sans.

Equally so, in discussing Lucian Bernhard, The Inquisition does not mean to belittle David Berlow’s work on this beautiful font. Simply put, the genus for this lettering can be traced back to Bernhard’s design output and its lettering forms. That is the story to be told.

Please Note

Other early twentieth century German printers’ jobbing fonts have been digitised. See Erik Spiekermann’s Berliner Grotesk as an alternative, with perhaps more personality but less flexibility.

Lucian Bernhard's very stylish, stacked signature

Lucian Bernhard's very stylish, stacked signature

Lucian Bernhard, Type Designer

Lucian Bernhard (1883 – 1972) was a self-taught graphic artist, painter, type- and industrial-designer. He was born as Emil Kahn. Throughout his life he disliked speaking of the past, even to his children, meaning there is much speculation about his exact biographical details. It seems the most plausible reasons for the name change was either a reaction against his father or a prescient move in the face of growing anti-semitism in Germany.

During the First World War Bernhard worked for the German government in the production of propagandistic artworks.

Lucian Bernhard's winning Priester poster

Lucian Bernhard's winning Priester poster

Bernhard’s breakthrough moment came when he entered a competition to design a promotion for Priester matches. The money offered was very little, but times were tight and he had a name to make for himself. In the end he won not just the competition but also ongoing work from the marketing company who oversaw the competition.

Bernhard’s initial Priester design was a complex Jugendstil piece; Germany’s take on Art Nouveau, and the bleeding edge style of the time. At a friend’s suggestion he started to simplify the over-wrought work, initiating a process he knew as “addition by subtraction”.

The judges decided that the final work, a gaudily coloured writing of the company name and two accompanying twigs of matches was heinous. They threw it in the bin and moved on. Luckily for Bernhard, and indeed twentieth century design more generally, one of the executives from the marketing firm who was sent to oversee the competition saw the binning taking place. He rushed over, retrieved the artwork and admonished the judges by proclaiming the winner to be found. While many thought this simple poster too stark, too modern, the executive’s vision changed German design.

The Priester story was later told by Bernhard himself, so it may well be apocryphal.

Lucian Bernhard's Informative Functionalist poster for Adler Typewriters

Lucian Bernhard's Informative Functionalist poster for Adler Typewriters

Lucian Bernhard's Informative Functionalist poster for Bosch Sparkplugs

Lucian Bernhard's Informative Functionalist poster for Bosch Sparkplugs

Lucian Bernhard's Informative Functionalist poster for Ranniger Gloves

Lucian Bernhard's Informative Functionalist poster for Ranniger Gloves

Lucian Bernhard's Informative Functionalist poster for Stiller Shoes

Lucian Bernhard's Informative Functionalist poster for Stiller Shoes

The train of his career was set in motion. This style became known as Informative Functionalism. The artworks became known as Sachplakat or “object-posters”. The influence of the orient, and in particular the iconic simplified and refined forms of Japanese woodcuts, is plain to see. The product was illustrated to look desirable and the message was a simple word association between the producer’s name and the aspirational image. This is a very similar conceptual approach to Apple’s today.

The new style became synonymous with Bernhard. His stylish, stacked logo can be seen inscribed on many of the posters. These were early days for the graphic design profession. Being relatively novel the producers could sign their work like fine artists.

The adoption of Informative Functionalism was echoed in the prevalence of Bernhard’s direct artful hand-lettering style throughout German design of the time. Foundries clamoured for these robust faces and a new career avenue opened for the designer. He went on to create an extensive list of diverse typeface designs:

  • Bernhard Antiqua, 1911
  • Bernhard Fraktur, 1912-22
  • Bernhard Privat, 1919
  • Bernhard Schonschrift, 1925-28
  • Bernhard Handschrift, 1928
  • Bernhard Fashion, 1929
  • Bernhard Gothic, 1929-31
  • Bernhard Negro, 1930
  • Bernhard Lilli, 1930
  • Bernhard Lucian, 1930
  • Bernhard Tango, 1933
  • Bernhard Moderna, 1933-38
A selection of fonts by Lucian Bernhard

A selection of fonts by Lucian Bernhard

In 1932 Bernhard upped sticks and moved to a USA that was not ready for him. His work was not well-received in a reprise of the German reticence from the early days of his career, it was felt to be too extreme, too harsh, in essence too modern. He began to move toward fine art. His paintings were very similar to Edward Hopper’s as he reacted to his new American life.

Catnap - painting by Lucian Bernhard

Catnap - painting by Lucian Bernhard

On the next page – the typeface’s origins and typographic details

Pages: 1 2

This article was posted by on Sunday, December 11th, 2011 at 11:43.
It is archived in America, Art, Culture, Design, History and tagged , , , , , , .

Comments are closed.

Rummage Through Inquisition's Archives

The Index