Typeface Review

Hunt Roman

Reviewed by Ferdinand Ulrich on July 22, 2012

Hunt Roman is a unique typeface. Resulting from a private commission, it was designed in a single weight and cut in steel in only four sizes for hand composition. As it did not have to be adapted to any of the popular type setting machines of the early sixties, its designer was free from technical limitations and marketability. Hermann Zapf wanted to design “a type of our time”. In fact, Hunt Roman was ahead of its time.

Between 1961 and 1962 legendary German type designer Hermann Zapf designed Hunt Roman as a display face exclusively for the world-renowned Hunt Botanical Library (Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation since 1971), situated on campus of the Carnegie Institute of Technology (today: Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to accompany their text face Spectrum. The punch-cutting and casting of the letters was executed by Arthur Ritzel at the D. Stempel AG in Frankfurt am Main, where it was known by its provisional title Z-Antiqua until the fonts left the assembly line. This private commission was only made possible through the Californian master printer Jack Werner Stauffacher, then typography professor at Carnegie, for it was he who brought Hermann Zapf and Rachel McMasters Miller Hunt, founder of the botanical library, together.

In the early 1960s, the last years of the metal type era, the manufacture of fonts for private use was extremely expensive and therefore incredibly rare. Viewed in this context Hunt Roman can be considered a prototype for exclusive typefaces, designed for one specific purpose, as opposed to the universally applicable typefaces of the time, such as Adrian Frutiger’s Univers or Max Miedinger’s Helvetica.

The friendship between Jack Stauffacher and Hermann Zapf is the foundation for the development of this typeface. Its character and final appearance came into being through the lively exchange of the two men. They had explored different shapes and studied multiple historical forms before they agreed to create a typeface that would bear characteristics of the transitional style. Hunt Roman captures oldstyle features such as bracketed serifs and an angled axis on some of the lowercase letters. At the same time it anticipates the greater stroke contrast introduced in the rational style. There is a precedent for these characteristics in other transitional typefaces, but Zapf made a point not to adopt any details from historical examples.

A significant feature is the large x-height, rare at the time and usually applied to typefaces to be read at smaller sizes, for example in newspapers. Even though all letters have very narrow side bearings, making words appear tightly set in regular body text (especially in the smaller sizes), the characters are quite wide and a line of Hunt Roman type can take up a lot of space in a column. In “Hunt Roman: The Birth of a Type”, a sort of specimen book designed and produced by Stauffacher, there are no kerned letters and few ligatures were necessary to support legibility.

Latin diphthongs ‘æ’ and ‘œ’ were specifically produced to set names of the binomial nomenclature system (which uses Latin grammatical forms). Furthermore a number of accents were needed to support several European languages, mostly to set the names of French and German botanists of the 18th and 19th century. In order to reduce the manufacturing costs, Hermann Zapf developed a method that was customarily applied to capital letters; piece accents. By later casting a portion of the lowercase on a smaller body size, piece accents could be added on top to complete the rest of the metal sort height. The accent pieces only made up about a tenth of the respective point size.

An interesting detail is the missing ‘ß’ in Hunt Roman. After creating the special system to include accents and consequently covering multiple languages, Zapf left out this character that is unique and essential to the German language. Instead he designed a ‘Th’ ligature, a significant letter combination in the language in which it would be used most. While this ligature has become a standard in many fonts today, especially through OpenType, it was quite a novelty in the early 1960s.

Hunt Roman is a true Zapf face. It bears his style, especially in the uppercase letters. Like other typefaces by Hermann Zapf its origin lies in calligraphic lettering done with a broad nib pen and that is still visible in the final result. These calligraphic qualities include the intentions in Hunt Roman’s bends, and the transition of the curves into stems that become almost square-like. The flat terminal in the lowercase ‘a’ is a very significant detail of Hunt Roman and reoccurs in the ‘e’. Hunt Roman’s presence on the page maintains a human touch and at the same time exudes a classic look, lending authority to the words of its owner, the Hunt Institute.

Some have criticized Hunt Roman for its unavailability and lack of additional weights. It has been compared to several other Zapf typefaces, but only simply to show how Zapf borrowed ideas from Hunt and applied them to other designs. In “Twentieth Century Type Designers” (London 1995), core literature in typography, Sebastian Carter suggests that Berthold Comenius, ITC Zapf Book, and Marconi for Hell Digiset, all issued in 1976, “bear a close family resemblance, and made good these deficiencies”. Jerry Kelly, in “About More Alphabets” (New York, 2011), also points out that Comenius is “not too dissimilar” to Hunt Roman. While Zapf Book and Marconi only share similar contrast, perhaps Comenius is entitled to be a true member of the Hunt family. And yet there is another typeface by Hermann Zapf that has an astonishing resemblance to Hunt: Crown Roman, exclusively designed for Hallmark Cards Inc. and used for the recent book by Rick Cusick, “What Our Lettering Needs”. In a comparison between the two typefaces it is quite hard to point out the few things they don’t have in common. Nevertheless, all of the typefaces mentioned above have been designed for “cold composition” and none of them has the same overall crispness of Hunt Roman.

Fifty years after its birth Hunt Roman remains the proprietary typeface of the Hunt Institute in Pittsburgh, however a small number of individuals and presses hold a few fonts with special permission. Additionally, the School of Design at Carnegie Mellon University has fonts for academic purposes in their letterpress workshop. Throughout the years Hermann Zapf and Jack Stauffacher have expressed their hopes that Hunt Roman would never be commercially distributed. By means of its exclusiveness and unavailability Hunt Roman maintains its allure and continues to play an important part in type history.

Ferdinand Ulrich is a typographer and design researcher. He pursues postgraduate research at the University of Reading and regularly teaches design at UdK Berlin. You can follow him on Instagram @ferdinandulrich and @digitaltype.


  1. Every students in typeface design should study this typeface. There is a lot to learn into it.

  2. Informative and interesting review!

    In English, loanwords sometimes bring their accents, e.g. “café,” “façade,” but ß doesn’t appear, so perhaps its omission isn’t that surprising.

    The structure of that ampersand is intriguing! Does it appear anywhere else?

  3. Thanks, Ferdinand, for this comprehensive review of this unique typeface and its genesis.

  4. Dian says:

    As a student at Carnegie Mellon, I have had the fortune to see Hunt Roman in action in the rare book collection at Hunt Library at Carnegie Mellon…and to see the actual type in the letterpress lab! I encourage all students to check out the rare books available in their libraries.

  5. Yes, Mr. Eliason, the ampersand is a very beautiful detail in the font. In the early design phase of this typeface Zapf had drawn other shapes, but ultimately decided to go with this one. The structure does reappear if you compare it to the drop-like terminals in ‘c’ or ‘?’. And the shape is not untypical of Zapf either, if you take a closer look at the ampersand in the Melior italics for example.

    Dian, the letterpress lab at Carnegie Mellon is also where I first discovered Hunt Roman. Indeed, the Fine & Rare Book Room inside the Hunt Library is quite amazing and does reveal many precious pieces. The collection of Jack W. Stauffacher’s work there is intriguing.

  6. Ferdinand will talk about Hunt Roman at The Typophiles Luncheon in New York on March 12, 2014.

  7. Julian Waters says:

    Wish I could be at Ferdinand’s talk in NY, but it’s a bit of a trek from DC. Very good article here though. Some may moan that neither Zapf’s Hallmark Crown Roman nor Hunt Roman are available for public use, but that is what Hermann wanted. Comenius is out there and has some of the Hunt aesthetic, but there really is nothing quite like Hunt Roman as it is set in metal. Some things are best left alone, but I suppose it is just a matter of time before some clueless criminal makes a sloppy digital version.

  8. M Rainer Gerstenberg informed me a couple of weeks ago that he has the permission from Hermann Zapf to cast Hunt. I worked earlier this year with him in Darmstadt and we moved the matrices from the storage to the foundry.

  9. To be precise, I received the blessing of Hermann Zapf and special permission from the Hunt Institute in Pittsburgh (who own the rights) to have Hunt Roman cast by Mr. Gerstenberg very recently. This was convenient, as the matrices reside in Darmstadt. This agreement is exclusive to the P98a letterpress workshop in Berlin as well as to the Greenwood Press in San Francisco/CA, the Kelly-Winterton Press in Stamford/CT and the Old School Press in the UK.

  10. Æ says:

    The sad news of Zapf’s passing in June 2015 brought me here. When I learned he developed Hunt Roman for the Hunt Herbarium, I was intruiged. Thank you, Ferdinand, for this text!

    I am currently finalising my botanical dissertation in LaTeX, so far using Palatino. I would love to set my dissertation in Hunt Roman, as a tribute to him, and his ongoing influence on form and function of typesetting. I however doubt it will be available, or even suitable. Most readers will use the PDF version. In fact, the deposit copies at the libraries might probably never be read, at all. (Any thoughts on the use on Hunt Roman in a PDF would surely broaden my perspective, thus, comments on the suitability issue would be highly welcome.)

    A remark, too, on the missing of ß: It was sometimes used in historical botanical literature of the 19th century, when the German language was very dominant in botany. Under The Code it cannot, however, be used in plant names.

    Article 60.4 of The Code reads: “The letters w and y, foreign to classical Latin, and k, rare in that language, are permissible in scientific names (see Art. 32.1(b)). Other letters and ligatures foreign to classical Latin that may appear in scientific names, such as the German ß (double s), are to be transcribed.”

    I suggest this has played a role in the decision to omit the ß from Hunt Roman.

  11. steve norton says:

    Yes, I’m late to this game. I’m here having just attended the “Jack Stauffacher’s Legacy” virtual meeting with John D. Berry, Chuck Byrne, et al. Byrne talked about Hunt Roman, and I was very curious. It’s a lovely face, I think, and the pilcrow is a knockout!

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