Berthold Wolpe: An Uncommon Type

As five of Berthold Wolpe’s typefaces are revived by Monotype, a new exhibition on his typographic design offers a fascinating glimpse of his working process

The exhibition in the upstairs gallery space at The Type Archive in London presents a visual history of Berthold Wolpe’s type design and works as an introduction to Monotype’s three-year project to revive five of his typefaces he created in the late 1930s – Albertus, Fanfare, Pegasus, Tempest and Sachsenwald.

The new typefaces that form The Wolpe Collection, designed by Toshi Omagari of the Monotype Studio, include new weights, alternative characters and even previously lost letterforms.

Photograph by Simon Ellis
Photograph by Simon Ellis

While Omagari’s vast project is the end result here, the Type Archive show takes visitors right back to the beginning. Wolpe’s own hand is evident throughout the meticulously-drawn artwork and collected proofs displayed in this well-lit space.

There are plenty of printed objects that show his typefaces in use, too: from the Eagle comic’s masthead and a pair of Abram Games-designed posters for the BOAC airline, to perhaps his most recognisable and well-realised work, the type-based book cover designs that he created over a 30-year period for publishers Faber & Faber.

Photograph by Simon Ellis

The German-born designer escaped Nazi persecution in 1935 and came to London, having first met Stanley Morison in a visit to the capital in 1932. Here, Wolpe designed Albertus (finished in 1940), Pegasus and the blackletter Sachsenwald for Monotype – making good use of his design schooling in letter engraving – before joining Faber in 1941.

Photograph by Simon Ellis

Being a celebration of both Wolpe and Omagari’s vision there are several nice touches in the Type Archive show that bring the Wolpe story right up to the present day.

The Faber in-house design team and book cover designer Daniel Benneworth-Gray have both provided some lovely examples (below) of how the newly digitised Wolpe typefaces might appear on covers today.

Photograph by Simon Ellis
Photograph by Simon Ellis

While the Monotype Studio’s project aims to breathe new life into Wolpe’s typefaces (“adding back serifs, curves and angles that have a more natural and fitting place in today’s modern design landscape”) it’s clear from the examples shown from the 1930s onwards that Wolpe’s elegant design language served its purpose beautifully across a wide range of projects. That his typefaces can now serve contemporary designers is a thrilling prospect.

And Wolpe ‘the designer’ was further brought to life last night at the panel discussion held at the exhibition. Chaired by Eye magazine’s John L Walters, the editor turned to three designers whose work either owed something to the German designer’s approach or had given particular thought to how his type has been used in the past.

Photograph by Simon Ellis
Photograph by Simon Ellis

Alistair Hall’s intriguing take on how cult TV show The Prisoner used – and rather brilliantly abused – Albertus (well worth a read here) was complemented by Ian Chilvers’ discussion of the London Borough of Lambeth street signage project that he has been involved with since 1999 – some ten years after Wolpe’s death.

Photograph by Simon Ellis

With her professional and personal reflections, ex-Faber designer Shirley Tucker also provided some indication of what Wolpe was like to work with via a series of filmed interviews shown during the discussion.

Fittingly, even as visitors left the gallery space Wolpe’s influence was evident in the surrounding streets – the road signs that Chilvers mentioned proudly displaying their names in Albertus.

While this is clearly a story of a modern revival, the accompanying exhibition rightly celebrates the considerable mark that Wolpe has made on British visual culture, as much as his unrivalled skill as a typeface designer.

Photograph by Simon Ellis

The Wolpe Exhibition opens on September 29 at The Type Archive, 100 Hackford Road, London SW9 0QU (Stockwell/Oval tube). It runs until October 30. See typearchive.org. The Wolpe Collection – Albertus Nova, Wolpe Fanfare, Wolpe Pegasus, Wolpe Tempest and Sachsenwald are available now from Monotype at monotype.com

Photograph by Simon Ellis
Photograph by Simon Ellis

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