The Typehead Chronicles: Helvetica
      Of Thomas Christensen, ABCedminded Typesetter  

homeward bound


Akzidenz Grotesk

Identifying Characteristics

  • tail of Q does not cross the circle
  • J does not descend below baseline
  • weird right-angle bar and spur at base of G (like Helvetica)
  • middle of M descends to baseline
  • single-story g (no lower ball)
  • square dots on i and j
  • double-story a
  • i is just a straight line
  • lacks Helvetica's tail on the R


Designed by Günter Gerhard Lange and issued by Berthold in 1896, Akzidenz was the forerunner of the ubiquitous Helvetica. It was used as a text font in Europe, especially Switzerland, until being supplanted by Univers and Helvetica, although in recent years it has made a comeback.

Character and Use

Compared to Helvetica Akzidenz is overall somewhat less wide, although paradoxically letters like C, G, O, and Q are wider and more geometric than in Helvetica. The fonts share the weird right angle bar at the base of the G, but Akzidenz does not have the distinctive rounded off square tail of Helvetica’s R. Akzidenz’s J is more truncated and points horizontically rather than vertically. Akzidenz has a smaller x-height, which is among the qualities that make it more appealing to me for most usages, especially continuous text. It comes in a range of weights and condensed and expanded forms.

Say What?

"It is the work of anonymous typecutters: craftsmen, specialists, whose professional background and experience meant they were familiar with the finest subtleties and principles, and not just those of Grotesque. They gave Akzidenz-Grotesk the ultimate accolade a typeface can have: a functional, formal rightness, transcending the whims of fashion."
Karl Gerstner





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