Empirical Testing


On Tuesday 11 January 2011, type was cast directly from the matrices made by Claude Garamont for his Gros Canon Romain and from Hendrik van den Keere’s matrices for his Moyen Canon Romain at Museum Plantin-Moretus in Antwerp. The purpose of the casting was to test whether the standardization of letter widths measured in historical foundry type, which seem to prove Frank E. Blokland’s theories about the standardization, regularization, and unitization of Renaissance type, can also be traced back to the original matrices.

Van den Keere’s Moyen Canon Romain, as cast in the 16th or 17th century

The casting was done by Guy Hutsebaut of Museum Plantin-Moretus. Because there were no moulds available to support the body sizes of the Gros Canon Romain and Moyen Canon Romain, the letters were cast on a body that did not fit exactly. However, the 19th-century mould used was perfectly suitable for testing the (standardization of the) width of the letters.

16th-century matrices, 19th-century mould, and 21st-centrury cast type

In the video Guy Hutsebaut shows the adjustment of the mould’s registers using a single ‘set pattern’ (the o) for a whole group of matrices. The set patern came from original 16th-century foundry type of the Gros Canon Romain from the inventory of Museum Plantin Moretus. After the final adjustment of the registers (with a small hammer) Guy checked the width of the newly cast letter with the original French-Renaissance one. After approving the width, he cast several other letters from the same group, which, as expected, did not require additional adjustments to their widths.

Comparing the set pattern with the newly-cast type

Although apparently less refined than Garamont’s, the matrices Van den Keere made with shortened ascenders and descenders could be applied in the same way, i.e., without any adjustments of the registers (see image below). Hence the title of this video: ‘Standardized Casting’.

Matrices of the Gros Canon Romain (left) and the Moyen Canon Romain

The background music is the Est-ce Mars by Jan Pieterszoon Sweelinck (1562–1621), a recording made in 2004 at the Pieterskerk (St. Peters Church) in Leyden on the famous Van Hagerbeer organ from 1643, as part of the dtl Type & Music Project. Organist is the internationally acclaimed Leo van Doeselaar. Sweelinck lived in the same time as Van den Keere (ca. 1540–1580) and Christopher Plantin (1520–1589).

Frank E. Blokland

About Frank E. Blokland

Frank E. Blokland is a type designer (including typefaces, dtl Documenta and dtl Haarlemmer), Senior Lecturer of type design at the Royal Academy of Art (kabk) in The Hague since 1987, and Senior Lecturer / Research Fellow at the Plantin Institute of Typography, Antwerp, since 1995. Blokland founded the Dutch Type Library in 1990 and a few years later he started and supervised the development of dtl FontMaster, a set of professional font tools developed together with Dr. Jürgen Willrodt.
        On October 11, 2016 at 11:15 a.m. Blokland successfully defended his dissertation on the standardization and systemization in archetypal Renaissance font production.