The nineteenth century has been a thing for some time now. There’s no shortage of good new typefaces drawing on the sturdy, forthright jobbing types of great founders like Miller & Richard and Vincent Figgins. But few are as crisp and authoritative as Equitan, Diana Ovezea’s new twenty-eight-font type system.
The family comprises a sans and a slab serif, each in seven weights, from a wiry Thin to a burly Black. Contrast is low and, in keeping with the face’s nineteenth-century roots, apertures are fairly closed. Equitan features the firm drawing, large counters, and subtly superelliptical curves characteristic of late twentieth-century sans faces, with a more modest x-height than the average Neo-Grotesque. This sleek finish makes it easy to miss the nods to its forebears: not just the eyeglass g and the cursive-style italic a, but the subtle curl at the foot of k and R, the more emphatic one at the base of the question mark, and the way the long bowl of R overhangs its leg. Oldstyle figures, which can seem precious in some sans serif types, here feel matter-of-fact. And a few characters are sedately offbeat, like the upright octothorpe and the tail of the y, which drops vertically from the baseline and is both handsome and surprisingly unobtrusive in running copy.
“Equitan” is an anagram of “Antique”, derived from a Figgins design widely considered to be the first slab serif printing type, though Ovezea’s inspirations included a variety of Antiques from later American catalogs, like MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan. As the name suggests, its slab serif is not a retrofitted sans, but a carefully considered parallel creation. First off, it’s curlier. The quiet curves at the foot of sans k and R sweep frankly upright in the slab. The tail of the Q sails through almost a full figure eight before coming to rest. Serifs are subtly bracketed, as are selected inner corners. Italics feature pothook and ball terminals. And the g’s ear flicks jauntily skyward like Tintin’s quiff.
In spite of all this micro-level exuberance, both sans and slab are straightforward and clear on page or screen, probably owing to the openness of their counters and their steady, modernist rhythms. This combination of restraint and measured liveliness makes text in either typeface a pleasure to read. Equitan is a beautifully crafted addition to both the Grotesque and slab serif genres. It deserves wide use and a long life.
Max Phillips is a Dublin-based designer who runs the Signal Type Foundry. He previously spent twenty years in New York making useful, attractive things for clients like FAO Schwarz, Citi, and HarperCollins.