Letterform: Albertus lowercase 'a'
May 2009: This text was published in the May 2009 issue of Grafik magazine as part of their Letterform series where graphic designers were invited to present and discuss a favourite letterform.
This, in part, led to the initiation of a personal typographic survey of the City of London (I was living in the City at the time) and the making of a dorky little video about this which you can see now on Vimeo (and on this page).
Wandering through the City, it soon becomes apparent that Albertus (or Old King as a certain Russian foundry decided to rename it at one stage) rules here. Designed by Berthold Wolpe around 1936, it is the mortar that cements the City together. It also helps comprise, what has to be, one of the most expansive examples of typographic brandwork you’ll find.
Following World War II, the City became the focus of a flurry of regeneration projects (including construction of the Barbican Estate) and signage became a key element during this period. A decision was made to use this one typeface and it has been adhered to ever since.
You can’t talk about Albertus without mentioning The Prisoner—a, frankly bizarre, TV show first broadcast in 1967. Albertus is used within the TV show in much the same way the City uses it for real, drawing parallels between the closed world of The Prisoner and the utopian ideas of urban planners at that time.
If you want a snapshot of why this ‘quiet achiever’ has survived, reasonably unchanged, throughout the decades, have a look at the lowercase ‘a’. This letterform typifies Albertus’s unique blend of the staunchly geometric and the handmade. The slope and chop of its lines imbuing it with both authority and craft. While researching this piece, I came across a calligrapher who had rendered a whole alphabet in Albertus—by hand—without losing any of its formality or presence.”
Geek Note: The example shown here is actually a slight redraw I produced, based on the lettering that sits above the garbage disposal chutes in Great Arthur House on the Golden Lane Estate.