The headings in this text are set in a digital version of Clarendon.

Clarendon is an international product, having originated at the Fann Street Foundry in London around 1850, having been refined in Switzerland around 1950, and later digitised by Berthold, Bitstream, URW++, and Linotype.

Most digital ‘Clarendons’ available today are extremely close to the Clarendon typeface designed by Hermann Eidenbenz and issued 1952 by the Haas’sche Schrift­giesse­rei AG of Münchenstein (near the city of Basel, Switzerland). That typeface has become something like the Clarendon.

The Clarendon story is twisted in more than one way. Here’s a shortcut:

Origins: Eidenbenz reworked some older typeface called Egyptienne that was present at the Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei. It turns out that this Egyptienne was in fact original English Clarendon material, about 100 years old.

Width: In the 19th century the Fann Street Foundry issued at least five different Clarendons. At first glance none of them was of a regular width. Namely Clarendon was a bit condensed, and Extended Clarendon was a bit wide. Note that what you call Clarendon came into existence as Extended Clarendon: Eidenbenz was attracted by, and reworked, the older typeface named Extended Clarendon.

Weight: Tradition seems to ask for some sturdiness in a Clarendon. I mentioned above that Eidenbenz reworked the old Extended Clarendon, and looking at that typeface you’ll notice that it was not only extended but also semibold at least. Eidenbenz made it even a bit heavier: He wanted to design a pronounced display typeface. Therefore today’s regular Clarendon is really a semibold typeface without saying so. Today you’ll also find a lighter weight, but even Clarendon Light is still heavier than the regular weights of, say, PMN Caecilia or Egyptienne F.

Weight: Tradition seems to ask for some sturdiness in a Clarendon ... but do note that in the 19th-century group of Clarendons three out of five typefaces were of regular or light weight! This doesn’t fit in, but there you are.

Situation: The 19th-century Clarendon and Extended Clarendon were situated between the modern and the Egyptienne typefaces. Namely Clarendon could be used with a modern typeface in the same way we would, today, simply use a bold weight for emphasis. This situation has changed completely. Today, most typefaces that are advertised as ‘workhorses’ come as families and have their own bold weights; and Clarendon itself was turned into a contemporary type family, far more homogenous than the earlier group of Clarendons.

Fann Street Letter Foundry’s Clarendon

According to literature Clarendon was issued by the Fann Street foundry in 1845. The foundry issued a specimen book in 1846, and it’s hard to understand why Clarendon isn’t shown in that book. Commercial Classics write that it was first shown in 1848 (external link). I’m far from having the complete picture, but there's a 1857 specimen that shows Clarendon, Condensed Clarendon, Extended Clarendon and Thin-faced Clarendon, and a 1873 specimen shows one more, that is Extended Clarendon, No. 2. Here’s the whole group:

Fig. 1 – St Bride library stores many specimens of the Fann Street Letter Foundry.

The Clarendon series was probably cut by Besley’s partner Benjamin Fox (see Talbot Baines Reed, A History of the Old English Letter Foundries, revised and enlarged edition, 1952, p. 296).

Traces of the original typefaces can be found later on, and even today: Stephenson Blake (successors to the Fann Street Letter Foundry) offered a letterpress typeface named Consort. In  a 1977 specimen they show Consort, which appears to be identical with the original Extended Clarendon (apart from small corrections), and they show Consort light, which appears to be identical with the original Extended Clarendon, No. 2. Today, some digital foundries offer several weights of a typeface that is also named Consort but is definitely different: Digital Consort is condensed. Some weights may or may not be digitisations of original condensed Clarendon variations; I have not looked into that.

Now let’s look at some type specimens issued by other foundries that show Extended Clarendon.

I'm pretty sure it’s the very same typeface, but we have to be a bit cautious. Extended Clarendon was very inconsistent across all the type sizes, therefore one has to compare the exact type sizes, otherwise it’s impossible to judge if the letterforms are identical. Comparing the specimen books I got the impression that the typefaces match in certain type sizes but not in others. Below we have a match with Extended Clarendon, Canon (Fann Street Foundry, 1873) on the left and Egyptienne, Corps 40 (Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei) on the right:

Some more appearances of Extended Clarendon – under different names – in type specimens from the continent:

Magere Egyptienne as shown in specimens of the Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei, 1860 (Proben. Der Universität Basel zu ihrer vierten Säcularfeier gewidmet. Universitätsbibliothek Basel).

Magere Egyptienne as shown in a specimen book of Schelter & Giesecke, Leipzig, 1886 (Muster-Sammlung. St. Gallen, Zentrum für das Buch).

Breite Klarendon as shown in a specimen book of the Bauersche Giesserei, Frankfurt am Main, 1917 (Hauptprobe in gedrängter Form. St. Gallen, Zentrum für das Buch).

Egyptienne as shown in a specimen book of the Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei (Schriftprobe. Ihren Geschäftsfreunden gewidmet, c. 1931. Basel, Universitätsbibliothek).

Taking a closer look at that specimen will make clear why Eidenbenz wanted to make the typeface more balanced and more consistent across the type sizes. Compare the stroke widths of o and n in Grandson, for instance. Or compare the exact shapes of a, d, E, R in different type sizes. And so on.

Clarendon (Haas, c. 1952)

As stated further up, the Haas’sche Schrift­giesse­rei issued the new typeface, designed by Hermann Eidenbenz, in 1952. The improvements became apparent when we compare the old and the new typeface:

The new typeface was originally issued in one weight. It was named Clarendon, without an adjective like regular or normal:

Haas (c. 1958)

Here’s Clarendon at Basler Papiermühle, Schweizerisches Museum für Papier, Schrift und Druck (own picture, many thanks to www.papiermuseum.ch):

Clarendon was successful, and it was decided that a few more weights should be added. First came a bolder version (Fette Clarendon), and a few years later a light and semi-bold version (Clarendon mager, Clarendon halbfett). It is only after these additions that the original weight was sometimes called Clarendon normal:

Later still two more weights were added: bold extended (Clarendon breitfett) and light condensed (Clarendon schmalmager) (see the Specimen Book of Typefaces issued by Haas and Stempel around 1975).

But there still was no truly light weight. Even Clarendon mager was quite sturdy.  This only changed when the digital type family was designed: Clarendon Light BT (below, bottom) is considerably lighter than the letterpress typeface Clarendon mager (below, top). I believe that it is this new digital light weight that Willberg considers to be suitable for body text (Hans Peter Willberg, Wegweiser Schrift, p. 67). Do note, though, that even Clarendon Light BT is still somewhat heavier than the regular weights of PMN Caecilia and Egyptienne F (just to mention two related typefaces).

Fig. 2

[Digital] Clarendon BT

Clarendon BT, produced by the Bitstream foundry, is basically a digital version of Clarendon (Haas). The following figure shows that the digital version (bottom) is very close to the original (top). Only some details were altered, look at a and u, for instance; and the digital typeface is a bit bolder and needs more room.

Fig. 3

Clarendon BT is not the only digital version of Clarendon (Haas). The URW++, Linotype and Berthold foundries each issued their own digital versions. From samples available on various websites I gather that there are some subtle differences, but generally all these digital typefaces are close to the original.

URW++ offers the largest type family, consisting of various weights, various widths, and – remarkably – oblique versions as well.

Image credits / information

(where not given above)

Fig. 1 – Selections from the Specimen Book of the Fann Street Foundry. Reed and Fox, Late Robert Besley & Co., c. 1873, https://archive.org/details/selectionsfromsp00fann/page/n176 (The Fann Street foundry first belonged to Thomas Cottrell, then to Robert Thorne, William Thorowgood, Robert Besley & Co. (with Benjamin Fox), Charles Reed & Benjamin Fox, Sir Charles Reed & Sons; see Talbot Baines Reed, A History of the Old English Letter Foundries, revised and enlarged edition, 1952, pp. 289–297).

Fig. 2 – Top: Letterpress Clarendon mager in the specimen brochure ‘Grotesk / Egyptienne’ of the Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei, c. 1968, p. 71, Corps 36. Bottom: Clarendon Lt BT.

Fig. 3 – Top: Clarendon normal, Haas’sche Schriftgiesserei, specimen brochure ‘Grotesk / Egyptienne’, c. 1968, p. 76, Corps 72. Bottom: Clarendon BT [regular].