In 2011, Paul Shaw published a list of “12 Overlooked & Underappreciated Typefaces”: amongst gems like Icone by Adrian Frutiger, Hollander by Gerard Unger, Schadow by Georg Trump and Semplicità by Alessandro Butti, was Pegasus, designed by Berthold Wolpe.
Pegasus is a serif face designed for continuous text setting, with an interesting and unusually free combination of seemingly contrasting elements. Smooth teardrop and round-shaped terminals co-exist in the same alphabet with abrupt cuts and wedge-like details: consider the uppercase Q or the lowercase g. K and R, glyphs that usually relate in design, have completely different treatments. The top serif in the lowercase i and j are inexplicably different. Lowercase d and p appear to be constructed with a vertical stroke axis, unlike b and q which follow a diagonal axis. A lot of the letters, especially in the uppercase, appear to have a rightwards-thrust: consider the uppercase A, E, G, M, S and W. Some of the stroke thicknesses are also inconsistent: consider the horizontals in the uppercase A vis-à-vis the uppercase H, for example.
Interestingly, as Shaw mentions in his review, Pegasus manages to work because of (not despite) its imperfections. Looking at Pegasus in the context of Wolpe’s body of work it becomes clear that there is a design intent in these shapes, that they are not just the result of whimsy or chance. The horizontal proportions of Pegasus’ glyphs are actually quite regular, making the seemingly inconsistent and idiosyncratic details act as accents and harmonics — if I am allowed to borrow from music terminology — to an otherwise even and steady rhythm. I find the figures to be a joy, a very well balanced mix of functionality and unique voice. As his first attempt at text typeface design, Pegasus is a testament to Wolpe’s early maturity as a lettering designer, and it is a refreshing reminder of just how much there is yet to be discovered in text typography by loosening the notions of order and consistency.
Despite its merits, Pegasus was not a success like Wolpe’s first release, the almost ubiquitous Albertus. We don’t quite know what happened. Launching a typeface in 1937, on the brink of World War II, must have had its own problems and it’s possible Monotype’s marketing department might not necessarily have been so keen on pushing such an experimental design. This author’s armchair theory is that Pegasus was far too much ahead of its time to make it a staple of the typographers’ toolbox. It didn’t help that it was only produced in one size (16pt) and one weight (Regular), but perhaps that was more a consequence of the lack of initial enthusiasm for this face rather than a cause for its commercial failure.
In 2017, as part of a Monotype initiative called the Wolpe Collection (also amongst the Typographica favorites of this year is Sachsenwald), Toshi Omagari published his digitization of Pegasus under the name of Wolpe Pegasus. Working from the original drawings by Berthold Wolpe, Omagari decided to keep the imperfections, asymmetries and odd features of the original, without smoothing them out or regularizing them. Omagari’s revival restores a Bold and an Italic which were designed by Wolpe with the assistance of Matthew Carter in 1980, and adds a new and original Bold Italic style.
Wolpe Pegasus is also a reinterpretation, though: Omagari found much to be desired in Wolpe’s original slanted-roman italics, and redesigned the capitals alongside some other key glyphs like the most-frequent lowercase e. He also added many glyphs needed for full text typography like a set of small capitals for the four styles, proportional and tabular figures and a set of text figures as well as the original three-quarters-height figures. The character set is also extended for pan-European Latin text composition. The result is a fully restored family with improved usability.
After more than 80 years in relative obscurity I am very happy that Pegasus is again made available, and it seems right on time with the functional and aesthetic trends in the current design landscape. Perhaps Pegasus’ time has finally come?