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The Century Typeface: An American Original

by | Nov 18, 2010

I’ve been working for several months on a book that’s just getting ready to go to press. It’s the first book I’ve typeset in the Century typeface in quite a while.

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Century isn’t one typeface. It’s actually a family of related designs all based on an original by American Type Founders. The original was designed by Linn Boyd Benton in 1894. It’s a design that has always seemed peculiarly American to me. Despite it’s origins in the nineteenth century, Century remains popular especially in textbooks, periodicals and literature.

Versions have been issued by Linotype, Monotype, ITC, Elsner+Flake, Adobe and Bitstream, and all these variations are available online today.

One of Century’s main strengths is its exceptional legibility. The open forms of the letters allow for quick recognition, and you might recognize some of the Century variations as the typefaces in the very first books you learned to read.

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In fact, Century is so legible and neutral in tone, it’s required by the U.S. Supreme Court that all briefs presented be typeset in the Century family. Here’s an excerpt from Rule 33, “Document Preparation”:

(b) The text of every booklet-format document, including any appendix thereto, shall be typeset in Century family (e.g., Century Expanded, New Century Schoolbook, or Century Schoolbook) 12-point type with 2-point or more leading between lines. Quotations in excess of 50 words shall be indented. The typeface of footnotes shall be 10-point or larger with 2-point or more leading between lines. The text of the document must appear on both sides of the page.

(Citation from Cornell University Law School)

You can get an idea of the variety of faces available in the Century family by taking a look at the samples from half a dozen type foundries here.

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I’ve been impressed with how durable Century has been over the years, and how useful it remains. When this book reaches its publication date I’ll feature it in a Case Study here so you can see the way Century worked for book composition, but everyone who’s worked with the proofs has been impressed with its readability.

Takeaway: For a different look to a narrative book, try one of the fonts from the Century family for a strong and readable American typeface design.

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