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Benton Modern Display typeface specimen
Typeface Review

Benton Modern Display

Reviewed by Gary Munch on April 7, 2009

Martinis at the Campbell. Hats against the weather. Pens pressed and released. Ink, trembling in its meniscus, drying into a sheet. Sharp ideas and sharp retorts. Wire dispatches.

Yep, this is Benton Modern Display, from the Font Bureau and the hands of Dyana Weissman and Richard Lipton. Sleek contours and super-high contrast ought to satisfy art directors looking for a face that’s bright and modern, just retro enough, that speaks secret rumors (with a spicy soupçon of snark) in its italics and sober (even if it’s just for a blogpost) truths in its romans.

A recut and extension-to-the-max of Morris Fuller Benton’s designs for news and magazines, these display cuts seem to demand the best of a press and plates to produce its thinnest thins and sharp serifs. As with so many moderns, BMD owes much to the flexible dip pens (chyah, ask your great-grandmah) so common to its era of invention. Its well-toned musculature moves from thick to thin easily and gracefully with economy and energy. The moderate pace of its transitions from thick to thin are ably controlled to avoid the sparkliness we associate with moderns with the fast and abrupt transitions of, say, Bodoni. A special favorite in this range of nimble fonts is the brilliant R, with its foxy cravat snug to its neck.

With Light, Regular, Semibold, Bold, in normal, condensed, extra condensed, compressed widths, and Black, Ultra in normal widths, Benton Modern Display covers a vast ranges of potential needs.

Make it dry. Very dry. But two olives, please!

Gary Munch is Lecturer in Design at the University of Bridgeport (CT, USA), teaching type and typography in the graphic design program. His latest typeface design is Really No. 2.

5 Comments

  1. Gautam Patel says:

    What a load of meaningless blather. “Martinis at the Campbell”. How nice. For us lesser mortals, mind telling us what this means? “Wire dispatches”? A spicy soupcon of snark?

    You need a strong stomach to digest the bilge “that speaks secret rumors (with a spicy soupçon of snark) in its italics and sober (even if it’s just for a blogpost) truths in its romans”. Check intelligibility at the gate, please.

    Supercilious, self-important, arrogant writing like this has no place on your pages. For a typeface that is truly smart, intelligent and thoughtful, this review is a massive disservice.

  2. It’s on the subtle side, but Gary’s opening paragraph is setting the scene of Benton Modern’s origins (early 20th century newspapers) and general mood of the face. I rather like it.

  3. Gautam, I couldn’t disagree with you more. Some people write “fancy” for bad reasons, but some people simply enjoy it and/or relish the opportunity to teach readers interesting and useful new words and turns of phrase. Words, especially rare ones, are beautiful and powerful, especially when combined to titillate and amplify. Don’t be afraid – assimilate.

  4. luxuryluke says:

    Where’s the bar, anyway?

  5. Gautam Patel says:

    @Stephen, Hrant: I have to disagree. There’s very little subtlety in the review. Words have great power and tremendous beauty. But in themselves they are merely noise, and always opaque. They gain their magical shimmer and translucence when used well. Words always play off each other. And great writing doesn’t stand up and sock you between the eyes. It disappears, and draws you into the text.

    Indeed, to me that’s the real greatness of this typeface: it doesn’t draw attention to itself, it lets the content and the words speak. Does the review really achieve that? Or even reflect that?

    Consider: This …
    “… just retro enough, that speaks secret rumors (with a spicy soupçon of snark) in its italics and sober (even if it’s just for a blogpost) truths in its romans.”

    or …

    “… just retro enough in its italics and sober in its romans.”

    Which works better? Orwell got it right, decades ago, when he advised, among other things, to keep cutting till there’s nothing left to cut.

    Compare the nonsensical first paragraph, which tells us almost nothing we need to know, with the relatively greater control of the second. Of course, there is mandatory silly parenthetical remark (what incontinence is this?), and sentences that are, quite simply, thoughtless:

    “The moderate pace of its transitions from thick to thin are ably controlled to avoid the sparkliness we associate with moderns with the fast and abrupt transitions of, say, Bodoni”

    Okay, so maybe it’s just me, but what does the phrase “with the fast and abrupt transitions of, say, Bodoni” have to do with avoiding sparkliness? Upto “moderns” it’s at least comprehensible. Does the latter phrase go with avoid, control, pace, transitions, or something else altogether?

    We’re all entitled to our delusions, most of all about ourselves. There’s no reason Munch should be any different.

    Meanwhile, Luxuryluke has it right. In vino veritas. Point us to this two-olive bar, someone.

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Typographica is a review of typefaces and type books, with occasional commentary on fonts and typographic design. Edited by Stephen Coles and designed by Chris Hamamoto. Founded in 2002 by Joshua Lurie-Terrell. Relaunched in 2009 by Coles and Hamamoto.

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