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Letterpress cross-licensing vs copying in Europe

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George Thomas

In the early 19th century in Europe, particularly Germany and France, did foundries cross-license their designs to other foundries or was it more common for foundries in different countries to copy and rename designs?


Two foundries of interest to me are H. Berthold and La Fonderie Typographique Francaise.

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Dan Reynolds

Exact practices changed from time to time, even within the same company. Just looking at 19th century Europe, it was super common between 1800 and about 1845 for foundries to sell duplicate matrices of their typefaces to each other. While certain foundries even then would occasionally sell cast fonts of type to printers far away … in the days before railroad networks, shipping was hard and slow. Therefore buying fonts from far-away foundries was expensive. It would not have really realistically cost a foundry in London any customers if it sold a foundry in Berlin copies of its matrices. The likelihood of a Berlin printing house buying cast fonts of type from a London foundry was low.


Once electrotyping started to be used by typefoundries after 1845, many individual typefoundries would both buy and sell duplicate matrices and steal other foundries’ products, since electrotyping made it so easy (the “thief” foundry would have had to team up with a local printing house, who probably acted as a front for the initial order).


In the 20th century, it became much less common for foundries to sell duplicate matrices, because improved rail and ship transportation methods made it realistic to sell fonts of type to printers who were very far away. Nevertheless, cross-licensing did still happen … i.e., one foundry would license typefaces to others (ATF did this a whole bunch with Cheltenham, for instance). After WWII, cross-licensing probably increased in popularity again, but then it was often foundries licensing their fonts to hot-metal typesetting-machine manufacturers and to photo-typesetting firms.


When it comes to 19th century type, I think that your suggestion is the best method: Simply name the source where you found the typeface. It is not always a straightforward manner to identify the exact origin foundry for a design. Some typefaces were sold by dozens of founders, spread across Europe and the United States.


I can’t speak to the inner workings of La Fonderie Typographique Francaise, but Berthold did not start casting type until 1893 (from 1858 until 1892, it was mostly involved in stereotyping and making brass rules). A good deal of the matrices for Berthold’s early typefaces came from the companies Berthold bought between the 1890s and 1920s to jumpstart its typefounding business line, as well as the foundries that those foundries had bought. On the other hand, there are some surviving Berthold company records, so I can give a pretty good answer about many Berthold typefaces, regarding their origins. I mean, whether the typeface really originated with Berthold, or what foundry they got the matrices from.

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George Thomas

@Dan Reynolds Thank you for that perspective. There are certainly aspects of it I had not considered but they make perfect sense.


If you can, I'm trying to identify so far as possible the originating foundry (and maybe the designer) for Berthold's Favorit-Grotesk, page 464 of their 1915 catalog and its italic companion Hansa-Cursiv on page 620 of the same catalog.

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Dan Reynolds
6 hours ago, George Thomas said:

If you can, I'm trying to identify so far as possible the originating foundry (and maybe the designer) for Berthold's Favorit-Grotesk, page 464 of their 1915 catalog and its italic companion Hansa-Cursiv on page 620 of the same catalog.

According to an internal source-notebook at the Deutsches Technikmuseum, Favorit-Grotesk came from the Emil Berger and Gustav Reinhold foundries. Reinhold set up a foundry in Berlin in 1889 and expanded by buying Emil Berger, an older Leipzig foundry in 1890. Berthold acquired Reinhold’s business in 1893 and Gustav Reinhold joined the Berthold management (it might perhaps be better to acquisition the purchase as a merger).


The notebook states that the 12, 16 and 28p sizes of Favorit-Grotesk came from unnamed display typefaces (Zierschriften) from the Emil Berger foundry. It does not say who designed them or even if they were actually cut at Berger In Leipzig. The other five sizes (8, 10, 20, 36, 48p), according to the notebook, were cut at Gustav Reinhold’s foundry. That is backed up by an 1895 design patent registration notice in the Deutscher Reichsanzeiger newspaper, which states that Reinhold had registered the design of five sizes in Berlin on 28 July 1892. Berthold renewed that design patent on those five sizes for another ten years on 19 July 1895. 


Although there are design similarities between Favorit-Grotesk and Hansa-Kursiv, I’m never seen Hansa-Kursiv advertised (or used) as Favorit-Grotesk’s italic companion. Hansa-Kursiv is an original Berthold design. Berthold’s specimens say so, and a source notebook from the company, which I mentioned above, also says so. FontsInUse states that the design is from 1895. I have not been able to find its design patent registration, but the OCR gods have smiled on me, and at least I can find an 1896 registration indication by Berthold for the Cyrillic characters. Alas, I have no idea who designed Hansa-Kursiv.

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Dan Reynolds
17 minutes ago, George Thomas said:

@Dan ReynoldsThat is a wealth of information that I never expected to get. Thanks so much for looking it up.


I wish that notebook could be published at some point.

I have created a long post with many illustrations (and some links) for almost all of the design patent information from the notebook, and will likely make similar posts for additional information in it at a future time. That post lives here:



I have also transcribed almost all the information from the notebook into a series of Google Sheets, and there is a link to them in that same post, relatively early on in the article. The pure text does not necessarily make as much sense as looking at each page itself does. I’m trying to get a proper digitization done, but that will probably take some time. If you are ever in Berlin, you can flip through the actual item in the museum’s archive. It is publicly accessible.

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thomas gravemaker

The Amsterdam Typefoundry used to buy licenses and or matrices from several foundries in Europe and in the United States. The 'Letterproeven van Nederlandse gieterijen/Dutch typefounders' specimens' by John A. Lane and Mathieu Lommen, published by De Buitenkant in Amsterdam gives a lot of information. 'Aigrette' is the 'Bernhard Tango' from the ATF, 'Amstel' has been cast from matrices by Wagner & Schmidt, the 'Nobel' series that was such a success in the Netherlands, was actually the 'Berthold Grotesk'.  Small modifications were made by Sjoerd de Roos to a few glyphs to suit the Dutch market.

There is somewhere a list of all the faces that were bought in with the original names.

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