In the right corner hailing from Brighton England, stands Eric Gill an artist, sculptor printmaker and creator of some of the most beautiful typefaces on the planet. In the left corner a native of Milwaukee USA, stands Morris Fuller Benton one of the most prolific typeface designers the world has ever witnessed. So who’s the daddy?
Gill, training to be an architect in London, got frustrated and decided to study calligraphy. Here he met Edward Johnston, creator of the iconic London Underground typeface who influenced him to give up his training and become a calligrapher and letter-cutter. During his life Gill was an accomplished artist and sculptor and wrote the must-have “An Essay on Typography”. He wasn’t as prolific as Benton but boy did his designs pack a punch. Gill Sans designed in 1928 is his most well-known and they don’t come much better than that. A versatile sans that has the strength to dominate a page and the beauty in it’s lighter weights to produce a contemporary feel. Perpetua, designed in 1929 and based upon Roman inscriptions, was commissioned by the Monotype Corporation. It’s probably one of my favourite serifs. The italic is a stunning design and unique in it’s style. Add to that the devastatingly underrated Joanna (1930), Solus (1929), Golden Cockerel (1930) and Aries (1932) Gill was a true master of his craft.
Benton was born into the type industry. His father was Linn Boyd Benton a type-founder. After graduating from Cornell as a mechanical engineer he and his father established the ATF (American Type Founders). Morris was the chief designer from 1900 to 1937 and during this time produced over 200 typefaces. From revivals of classics such as Bodoni and Garamond, he created some classic original faces still popular today like Franklin Gothic, News Gothic, Alternate Gothic, Stymie, Cloister, Century Old Style, Clearface Gothic, the list goes on. He also designed display fonts including Hobo, Broadway, Novel Gothic, Typo Script & Canterbury. The rate of his designs was truly astonishing and his influence on 20th Century typography is immeasurable.
Benton was relentless, a non-stop, typographic heavyweight with hits one after the other. Gill was more measured, an artist, but when he hit, boy it was a big one, sending shockwaves throughout the industry. Without an ounce of national bias on my part I declare Eric Gill the current Typographic World Champ on a split decision.
Anyone out there tough enough to take him on, past or present?