About this font family
Before Bodoni, there was Didot. With the publication by Francois Ambroise Didot of Paris in 1784 of his prospectus for Tasso’s La Gerusalemme Liberata, the rococo typographical style of Fournier de Jeune was replaced with a spartan, neo-classical style that John Baskerville pioneered. The typeface Didot used for this work was of Didot’s own creation and is considered by both G. Dowding and P. Meggs to be the first modern face. Three years later, Bodoni of Parma is using a very similar face. More…
Just as Bodoni’s typeface evolved over time, so did that of the Didot family. The eldest son of Francois Ambroise Didot, Pierre, ran the printing office; and Firmin ran the typefoundry. Pierre used the flattened, wove paper, again pioneered by Baskerville, to permit a more accurate impression and allow the use of more delicate letterforms. Firmin took full advantage of the improved paper by further refining the typeface introduced by his father. The printing of Racine’s Oeuvres in 1801 (seen in our gallery image #2) shows the symbiotic results of their efforts, especially in the marked increase in the sharpness of the serifs when compared to their owns works of only six years earlier. It has been suggested that one reason Bodoni achieved greater popularity than Didot is the thinner hairlines of Didot were more fragile when cast in metal type and thus more expensive for printers to use than Bodoni. This ceased to be a problem with the advent of phototypesetting, opening the door for a renewed interest in the work of the Didot family and especially that of Firmin Didot.
Although further refinements in the Didot typeface were to come (notably the lower case ‘g’ shown in 1819), we have chosen 1801 as the nominal basis for our presentation of HiH Firmin Didot. We like the thick-thin circumflex that replaced the evenly-stroked version of 1795, possible only with the flatter wove paper. We like the unusual coat-hanger cedilla. We like the organic, leaf-like tail of the ‘Q.’ We like the strange, little number ‘2’ and the wonderfully assertive ‘4.’ And we like the distinctive and delightful awkwardness of the double-v (w). Please note that we have provided alternative versions of the upper and lower case w that are slightly more conventional than the original designs.
Personally, I find the moderns (often called Didones) hard on the eyes in extended blocks of text. That does not stop me from enjoying their cold, crisp clarity. They represent the Age of Reason and the power of man’s intellect, while reflecting also its limitations. In the title pages set by Bodoni, Bulmer and Didot, I see the spare beauty of a winter landscape. That appeals to a New Englander like myself. Another aspect that appeals to me is setting a page in HiH Firmin Didot and watching people try to figure out what typeface it is. It looks a lot like Bodoni, but it isn't!