Typography for a Historical Novel

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A year ago I designed the interior of an historical novel from the time of the American Revolution. I wanted to find a font I had seen in other period novels that looked antique and hand-printed from an old letterpress technology.

I was pleased to find a font that suited my purposes very well: Caslon Antique.

Of course, it would have been too much to use this font for the body of the book, but it did quite well as a display font (a display font is a font that is used by graphic designers to give a certain “look-and-feel” to the design).

I used Antique Caslon for the large initial caps, Univers for the chapter heads, and Minion Pro for the body copy.


BODY COPY — Minion Pro

Minion Pro has a large x-height, which makes it easy to read over long passages. This book was over 500 pages, so I needed to make sure it was very easy to read. Minion Pro is an Adobe Original typeface designed by Robert Slimbach. The first version of Minion was released in 1990.


CHAPTER HEADS — Univers

The modern font Univers provides clean, easy-to-read chapter heads that maintain a nice contrast to the serif body copy. Univers is the name of a realist sans-serif typeface designed by Adrian Frutiger in 1954. Originally conceived and released by Deberny & Peignot in 1957, the type library was acquired in 1972 by Haas.

Both Minion and Univers are modern fonts. You might ask why I used fonts with a modern look for the bulk of the design.

A designer needs to give contrast to her work, and usually the best way to do that is to combine a non-serif font with a serif font. A serif is preferred for body copy because the serifs—the little tails on the letters, make it easier for the eye to scan a line of copy. It is thought that the serifs help to “lead the eye” along the horizontal line of the text.


TITLES—Caslon Antique

A display face like Caslon Antique should never be used too much, and never for body copy. This would exhaust the eyes of the readers. A display font is an accent or a spice; it gives the design the flavor, but, like a good cook you don’t want the spices to overload the dish.

Caslon Antique is free. Download it here.

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