It’s the smallest possible superfamily: a roman serif plus italic, and a bold sans. Despite its modest size, Ellmer Stefan presents his first release since the Pyte Foundry’s mammoth project from 2016, with words evoking a world full of cerebral, witty, and contradictory ideas.
The name of the family, Triptych, refers to altarpieces — painted stories about good and evil and the Holy Trinity for illiterate believers. The historical references in the accompanying text highlight peculiar details from nineteenth-century foundry catalogs, and the type specimen quotes stories of an infinite, comprehensive library and the obscure science known as nosology. All grandiose imagination is abruptly reduced to earthly proportions in the last line of the introductory text: “Where other fonts are promoted as workhorses, this one is a mule.”
The type itself doesn’t seem to care much about the imagination of its maker. Its skeleton is too solid for that, the details too sober and confident. Old Style Antique No. 7 (Miller & Richard) — the model for the Roman and Italick — seems to be drawn with a ruler and a French curve. These characteristics are emphasized in the serif styles, and repeated in the sans. Although low contrast and sturdy details are typical for a body-text typeface, Miller & Richard released Antique No. 7 in both small and large sizes, apparently without seeing much need for modification. The first projects using Triptych at Fonts In Use seem to indicate that this approach still makes sense today: the triplets feel equally at home doing their job in the paragraphs of blogs and books, or as a centerpiece on posters and film titles.
It is often said that “workhorses” do their work without a murmur, quietly and in the background, conforming to the text they carry without coming to the fore themselves. Those are not horses, but chameleons and butlers. Elmer’s mules will deliver the job without pretending to go unnoticed.
In the past five centuries, six cases have been documented of mules giving birth despite their well-known sterility. I guess a small chance remains that these triplets might have offspring — I can’t help but wonder what they would look like!