[Alyson Kuhn] American Typewriter, how do I love thee? Let me count the weights! This typeface’s key charm, especially for those of us who grew up on real typewriter type, is how wonderfully pleasing American Typewriter text is to look at and to read.
American Typewriter was originally issued in 1974 in honor of the 100th anniversary of the typewriter’s invention. Mark Twain, whose first career was as a type composer, would have marveled. He thought the typewriter an incredible machine — not least for enabling the typist to work while seated. (Type composers worked standing up, a literal example of backbreaking labor.) By most accounts, Twain was the first American author to submit a typewritten manuscript, Tom Sawyer. What Twain’s typing lacked in accuracy and consistency, it more than made up for in novelty. He delighted in telling at least one of his many correspondents that the typographical errors were not his doing — they were caused by his cat’s walking on the keys.
Classic typewriter type was completely unproportional, meaning every letter was allocated the same amount of space: An i had enough white space on either side to make it as wide as an m or a W. The individual letterforms of American Typewriter evoke classic typewriter type, but collectively they are far more readable. I would describe this typeface as friendly, and I asked type guru and Monotype Director of Words & Letters Allan Haley why that might be. He replied, “My guess is that the soft shapes and rounded terminals give the design its friendly demeanor — sort of like the Pillsbury Doughboy or Michelin Man of type.” I find the ball terminals (little dot at the end of certain serifs) and ears (tip at the top, like on the g) endearing. Oh, have I mentioned that my own business cards, stationery and official rubber stamp are set in American Typewriter?
When first released in 1974, the American Typewriter family was only available for use on photocomposition equipment. The font found its way onto many operating systems and, most recently, ITC American Typewriter Pro was reissued as an Open Type font. You can read more about its transition to digital prominence at fonts.com. These days you can use it on a plane, on the fly, on the street, on your cell. Swell! And you can see exactly how your every word or witticism will look, thanks to Fonts.com’s awesome Place your text here utility. The quick brown fox is fini for me; I can fit my fave forms into a phrase like “Aly goes gaga for the zesty italics.” Just go to the Complete Family Pack page, select a font (my choice: any of those zesty italics), hit the Try Font button and place your text. Luxuriate in the Waterfall effect if you like, rinse and repeat.
Indeed, American Typewriter is a jewel of legibility, an off-the-cuff unpretentious exemplar of retro readability, a lovely link to the glory days of the typewriter. (Seen here: Alyson’s bracelet invites Biederbeck’s cufflinks to TEA, in an A6 envelope, for an occasion Fraught With Guffaws. Could this be typographic serendipity?)
Our thanks to Cody Dingle at MOD for setting the first two visuals and Alyson’s stationery suite. Coming very soon to Felt & Wire, typographic ephemera from the Kuhn Collection.