Sweet Sans and Business Penmanship

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Having kept an eye out for a definitive standard on American wedding announcements or other physical social media, I was glad to finally come across Emily Post’s Etiquette in Society, which to my mind is the latest reference to introduce a principled set of norms to the medium. While thoroughly anachronistic, I prefer it to today’s anything goes, a standard so lax it becomes synonymous with no standard at all. It requires courage to pen a line such as “The wording and spacing [of the handwritten invitation] must follow the engraved models exactly.” It’s in Chapter 11 Invitations, Acceptances and Regrets, that I remember reading a couple years back,

“All other formal invitations are engraved (never printed) on cards of thin white matte Bristol board, either plain or plate-marked like those for wedding reception cards.”

“Printed” here means that the cards are not to be letterpress printed. We’ve since swung 180° on this point, with letterpress printing back in fashionable use, but the question made brings up a few interesting points. First, engraving is a refined medium, and beside handwriting, the only suitable one for these important matters. Second, engravers alphabets come from a completely different tradition than printing types. The process is different, and the limitations of each medium, real and imposed, are very different. Thus the function, feel, and look of the type in both instances diverge. Third, in order to create an invitation that looks like one produced through traditional means, one must either follow through with the original engraving process, or design with type that comes from that tradition, made specifically to work well in a different medium, such as offset lithography or digital printing.

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The Sweet Collection, including one of the subjects of our pairing, Mark van Bronkhorst’s Sweet Sans, is an example of an entire catalogue of faces drawn to this specification. They’re made to look and work like traditional engravers alphabets in print. Others exist, such as the Sackers series, but none are done so well, nor expanded into such developed families. The other face is Alejandro Paul’s Business Penmanship, a stand-in for your own penmanship, or a fine (sadly period-specific) replacement, based on the handwriting styles taught by Spencer, Zaner, Palmer, and others. My mother’s hand is more or less this exactly.

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Sweet Sans is shown here in all small caps, available via OpenType. If you’re not using an OpenType-savvy app and would still like access to the small caps, there’s a small cap version specifically for you.

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Together, the two work flawlessly. Their stylistic contrast, and cohesive period feel serve to deliver their message with a simple unvarnished tone.

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Great Pairs continue here Wednesday.

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