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[] Genzsch

- Typography

Reborn in wood

During a six-month sabbatical Professor Michael Wörgötter of the University of Applied Sciences in Augsburg got to grips with Genzsch Antiqua and produced a set of wooden letters for this expressive typeface. We talked to him about this project.



What was it that prompted you to produce woodblock letters of this historic typeface?

Well there’s a story behind it: Years ago, my parents, both of them involved in the field of visual arts, bought some sets of old wooden blocks from a manu?facturer. What they didn’t know was that they were »Gedi« typefaces made by the last remaining manufacturer of wooden type in Germany, and one of the last in the world. Those wooden letters are now at the faculty in Augsburg in the hand-type workshop that I run there. This and other experiences with lead type and wooden letters made me interested in how they were made, so I sought out the collector, printer and one-time teacher Michael Linke, who knew a lot about all this.


And that brought you to Genzsch Antiqua …

… which type designer Albert-Jan Pool drew my attention to: During my project I spent some time at the Muthesius Art College in Kiel where he taught. Genzsch Antiqua was the flagship of the famous type foundry Genzsch & Heyse in Hamburg which went bankrupt in the 1960s. It was carved by Friedrich Bauer between 1906 and 1912 and was very commonly used in the north of Germany. But it was also used in the south: the company had a works in Munich, so you can still find lots of books set in Genzsch … It was really an important typeface and the narrow normal face still looks very good today. Quite strong, open, not too prominent but with a few characteristics that you notice immediately – a bit »arty«. Friedrich Bauer clearly oriented himself to early Renaissance scripts but didn’t just re-jig them. He created a very unique design.


Does the handcraft aspect play a part in reassessing a typeface?

A heretical question. You only really start to understand typefaces when you design one, or take on a re-design. That happens when you digitise it on the computer, but also when you’re researching, gathering samples, comparing, doing test prints etc. The actual carving of the wood afterwards is not a great creative act, it is a craft – very concentrated working so that you don’t make any errors, because the preparation of the material is very complicated … There’s no »Apple + Z« here. When doing the digitisation I then really realised what a tremendous quality Friedrich Bauer had created here. And whoever cut those designs in steel by hand back then – that was truly masterly and I doubt whether anyone these days could do it so well.


What details did you notice here during your work on the individual letters?

I had tackled a »poster face«, the narrow semi-bold Genzsch, so I was putting the cart before the horse really. What you should actually do is start with a text font, but that would have been the wrong choice for 16 Cicero size. And to my astonishment there were a few places where I wondered if I had detected some variation in the quality of the characters in the original prints and whether it was intentional that some things should look somewhat unorthodox. The normal face is very coherent throughout; but with the narrow semi-bold faces there were some inconsistencies. For example the interior form of the letter O is tilted Renaissance-style, the outer form, however, is like in a classicist face. Also the ff-ligature has somewhat stiff f shapes and the small t is by comparison too bold and also a little clumsy.


Which part of the work in the project was most complicated?

Preparing the wood. That demands high-precision joinery work … two-thirds of the time went on this stage. The woods used have to have been seasoned for at least ten years and they musn’t be too hard or too soft. You use pearwood or Canadian maple, the Gedi typefaces, however, were probably of mulberry wood.


And finally: Was this just a one-off project, or have you discovered a new passion in wooden typefaces?

It is very definitely a passion. For working with both your head and your hands at the same time is a delight. But producing 200 letters took a good 300 hours of work – and you’ll never get paid for that. However what should definitely be done is completing the digital Genzsch and making it available again. Whether I will be the one to finish it? Certainly it would be a dream project …

This article was first published in our novum issue 07.16 (main topic: typography). You can buy a single copy (also as PDF) here: