On one of their recent newsletters, The League Of Movable Type shared an old article about the origins of Slab Serifs that I found remarkably interesting. Where did these Slab/Egyptian styled fonts came from? From I Love Typography
, here’s a quick introduction.
Despite their common name as Egyptian Serifs, Slabs have nothing to do with Egyptian Hieroglyph Slab Serifs: this isn’t really a thing. However, it being the early 1800s, all-things-Egyptian was in everyone’s lips.
What makes a slab serif?
[Their] characteristic horizontal serif that adorns most characters – a typographic element that protrudes from the letters. The structure of each character also remains a consistent thickness, this differs from the serif fonts which have a structure that transitions between thick and thin. All Slab-serifs share these qualities
The term Egyptian was adopted by French and German foundries, where it became Egyptienne. A lighter style of slab serif with a single width of strokes was called ‘engravers face’ since it resembled the monoline structure of metal engravings. The term ‘slab-serif’ itself is relatively recent, possibly twentieth-century.
Like the industrial revolution, the Slab Serif was born in Britain, and was inspired by a new wave of advertising, and those beefy letter forms that could be found on just about every billboard, pamphlet, and poster of the day. Until this time, type was designed to serve one purpose—it was designed for long stretches of texts, for books. But with mechanization, and major innovations in printing technology (e.g. the Steam Press, 1814), advertisers in particular were looking for a type that stood out from crowd; a type that shouted, look at me! Thus was born the the display face—type for use at large sizes, for short bursts of copy.
In a way, Slabs were the original Display typefaces.
Those posters were a riot of big type, often a half-dozen different styles on a single page. If the Didones are a lissome Audrey Hepburn, then the Slab Serifs are those guys one sees all too often on construction sites around the globe — trousers half-way down their posteriors. What I’m getting at is that the early Slab Serifs weren’t discreet. They were designed to be noticed.