Fonts.com takes a fresh look at the Silica™ typeface this month. In its honor, we wanted to look back at the family’s typographic heritage.
Slab serif, or Egyptian, typefaces first appeared in 1815, developed in response to the fledging advertising industry’s appetite for heavy, attention-getting alphabets. Slab serif designs were intended to be display typefaces of the highest order.
The slab serif typestyle was introduced about the same time as sans serif typefaces. Interestingly, both originated in England and were initially only available as cap-only designs. Coincidentally, William Caslon IV, who produced the first commercial sans serif, called his design “Egyptian,” the term also used to designate slab serif typefaces.
Also interesting is that the first slab serif typefaces were generally maligned by the intelligentsia of the typographic community.
A prominent typographic critic of the time described the new slab serif style as “a typographical monstrosity.” And well into the 1920s, The Fleuron, the famed British journal about typography and book arts, ignored the typefaces altogether. Daniel Berkeley Updike, the great type historian of the period, went so far as to refer to the design style as one of the plagues of Egypt.
And yet, despite its many detractors, the slab serif typestyle flourished. Advertisers, for whom these designs were originally intended, loved their commanding power and straightforward, no nonsense demeanor. Slab serif typefaces were the “flavor of the day” until the first part of the 20th century, when newer designs eclipsed their popularity.
Slab serif typefaces fell into disuse for almost 30 years, until they were revived as text designs by several German type founders. (Actually the Boston Breton family, one of the first revivals, was released by American Type Founders in 1900, but it didn’t attract much interest until the German slab serif designs began to be imported to North America.)
The Memphis® typeface, from the Stempel foundry, is credited with starting the slab serif revival in 1929. It was followed by the Bauer foundry’s Beton, the City® family from Berthold, and Luxor from Ludwig & Mayer – all German companies. Other European foundries followed suit: the Nilo and Egizio typefaces were released in Italy, Monotype’s Rockwell® and the Scarab designs in Britain.
Sumner Stone’s Silica typeface family is an important – and particularly handsome – addition to the lineage of slab serif typefaces. It also perpetuates the Egyptian typestyle tradition of versatility and candor.