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AscenderFonts Designer's Toolbox July 2009
Ands & Ampersands
Typographic insights from Steve Matteson
Frederic W. Goudy is known today for many of his fantastic contributions to the font menu – Goudy Old Style, Copperplate, Californian (aka ITC Berkeley Old Style) and Forum to name a few of the hundred. Goudy also wrote and letcured extensively on various topics related to printing, design and typography.
His book from 1936, Ands & Ampersands is a study of the development of the ampersand and is, perhaps, the first exposition on the matter. Originally concieved as a simple Christmas keepsake, it became a thorough investigation of the history of the symbol.
‘What in Sam Hill is an Ampersand?’
Goudy was asked this question frequently – he says that he usually answered: ‘it is a short form of and’ and ‘let it go at that’. But he also points to several ampersand designs in his book which are actually wider than the word ‘and’ and he muses ‘what’s the point?’
Goudy points out that the word ampersand is a shortening of the English and Latin phrase ‘and per se and’. The letters ‘e’ and ‘t’ from the Latin word et are represented in the most commonly seen ampersand symbols – though at times it requires a stretch of the imagination to find either or both of these letters!
Goudy’s research shows a long progression of forms starting with a simple two stroked ‘7’ found in a system of shorthand used in the 1st Century B.C. He goes on to describe over sixty other ampersands found in various manuscripts and early printing – over 2000 years of the symbol’s evolution.
Ands & Ampersands is a remarkable little book and offers a seldom considered perspetive on the origins of a letterform whose evolution continues even today.
Modern typefaces require further abstraction of the symbol in order to complement the typeface that they are designed for. Serif, sans serif, script and other novelty typefaces have ampersands which typically contain some hint of the word et – some tend to hide these origins more than others.
Some typefaces include extra styles of ampersand to add to the modern designer’s palette. Goudy Forum Pro includes four related versions of the ampersand.
Using the Ampersand
Scribes used the ampersand, as well as many other connected letters, to aid in fitting words on a line. Justified (aligned) rows of text could be made more easily by varying the width of letters and words. The ampersand survived into the days of hand-set metal type for this same reason because more type would fit on a line when ‘&’ was substituted for ‘and’.
The symbol is harder to find these days but still enjoys use in logos, book titles, headlines and invitations. The ampersand can add an element of panache, elegance or even simple utility to short phrases and comes in handy when space is at a premium.
Mixing and Matching
In text fonts the italic ampersand is often ‘fancier’ or more flowing than the regular. Substituting the italic can often be used to great effect (‘Rivers & Lakes’ at left). Script ampersands can be used with sans serifs for added visual contrast (‘Freshness & Company’ at left).
Using the & as a graphical element can add a new dimension to a design or document. Exploring its origins can help inspire new ways of designing and implementing this symbol in modern times.
Next month we’ll dig deeper into OpenType fonts – from alternative letter shapes to unique ligatures – which add a professional enhancements to many different types of documents.