If you’ll allow me to get a little meta for a moment; There’s been a popular call for this series to go into a bit more depth, so I’m splitting the next few editions or so into two parts—just to see how it goes. Each half will concentrate on the theory, and then practice of a given topic. I’m realizing that such a move may spell the end of type trends as a regular gig, but I’m okay with that. It’s better that a series be pointed and great and come to a controlled stop, rather than uninspiredly droning on, or publicly running out of gas. Anyway, I thought I’d warn you. I could cover phenomena I call ‘trends’ forever, but at some point the content would start to feel a bit forced. Little chance of that happening though, I’ve got at least four more good ideas and I know how to stop when it’s time.
Now on to monospaced fonts. The keyboard you sit up to at work has a layout taken directly from the typewriter, whose letters, out of practical necessity were hammered into the page at a fixed interval. Each character therefore was designed to function within the same space as any other character. Under these constraints, M and W appeared too narrow; I took up too much space, etc.. Type foundries were soon to jump on board, offering typefaces that could be hand set to mimic typewriter output. (I happen to have a small type case of this at home.)
The above images are from ATF’s 1912 catalog, perusable online at archive.org. I can imagine these types were useful for setting keyboarding textbooks, or, as the above pitch explains, for personalized impersonal correspondence. FontShop has a pile of typewriter faces to choose from, Frederic Goudy’s Remington Typewriter being a favorite.
Just a quick note—though complete monospaced typefaces didn’t come about until after the invention of the typewriter, the concept of monospaced type or lettering did exist. For example, tabular figures were fit to a common width. Such was also the case with many interchangeable numbering and labeling systems. I was surprised to learn in my research that the Greeks sometimes composed their inscriptions in a gridded fashion not unlike monospaced type.
Obviously character-based languages often exhibit fixed spacing. (All Korean fonts are monospaced.)
Moving ahead to early computers, engineers—this time to conserve precious memory and computing power—kept similar constraints, resulting in all the first typefaces for screen, and computer line printers being monospaced. In 1984 the Macintosh introduced proportionally-spaced bitmap fonts, on screen and in print, though it kept Monaco around for tasks where monospaced fonts were best suited. Since that time, it seems like monospaced fonts have either been created primarily for use on screen, or for reproducing type used for the same purpose, in print. The exceptions are expansions of popular type families, (Univers Typewriter, Helvetica Monospaced, etc.), faces drawn to demonstrate some novel concept, (FF Trixie) or what I call documentary types, one-off faithful revivals of individual out-of-production faces.
After some time, new typefaces began to expand their families to include monospaced variants, like Luc de Groot’s TheSans Mono, above. It’s at this point where things begin to change for monospaced type. Pick it up here next week.