Regarding Letters in General.

The hypothesis that there is an ideally correct form for each letter

of the alphabet is just as erroneous as Geofroy Tory’s simple assumption that there is a relation between the shapes of letters and the human body, erroneous, because the shapes of letters have been in constant process of modification from their very beginnings.

Indeed, the shapes of the letters in daily use are due entirely to a convention, so that in preferring one form rather than another, our only consideration need be for the conventions now existing and the degree in which each satisfies our sense of beauty. It should be kept clearly in mind that the perfect model of a letter is altogether imaginary and arbitrary. There is a definite model for the human form. The painter, the sculptor, the architect have their models in nature. But the man who sets himself to make an alphabet has no copy but that left him by former artists on all matters which pertain to the fashion of his letter - he has no absolute standard. Semi’scientific discussions regarding the proportions of letters began as early as 1509, first by Pacioli, then by Durer 1525, Tory 1529, Yciar 1548, and Moxon 1676, down to the present, & all with little practical or valuable results. None of the drawings or writings of these masters contain any practical hints or suggestions for use in designing new forms of letters. Rules or substitutes for the artist’s hand must necessarily be inadequate, yet when set down by such men as Durer, Tory, Serlio and others, probably do establish and fix canons of proportion or construction that may constitute a firm basis upon which to found new expressions. Moxon said of letters that they were originally invented and contrived to be made and consist of circles, arches of circles, and straight lines, therefore those letters that have these figures entire, or else properly mixt, so as the progress of the pen may best admit, may deserve the name of true shape. But these self-same curves, arcs of circles, straight lines, make up also letterforms we do not always consider ’true shape, nor is it possible to entertain the opinion that all letters, although actually composed of these very elements, will necessarily submit to analysis or be reducible to set rules of formation that will make easier the creation of new forms. Such an analysis can, at best, only fix and permit the reproduction of the same form at another time, and even then the quality of life and freedom in the original will largely be lost in the reproduction. The mere blending together of geometrical elements common to all letterforms, good or bad, is not sufficient, ’true shape’ is something more subtle than geometry. Goudy.

With pinched joints and unpredictable chunky serifs, Proto Slab could be mistaken as a novelty, but that denies its potential as a true workhorse. Like its partner, Proto Sans, this face echoes an era when systematic type families were rare. Instead, new styles and weights were cut as needed, each in their own particular design, related only by vague classification. Referencing “Antiques” from American foundries like Barnhart Bros. & Spindler, Keystone, and MacKellar Smiths & Jordan, Proto Slab wrangles the traditional pre-family jumble into a more cohesive set of fonts, yet the variation between its four weights is still apparent. As the type gains weight serifs fall away (A, C, R, a, w), widths change (J, S), and shapes morph (r, l, t) producing a mix of personalities, each distinct but all sprouting from the same slabby tree. A set of stylistic alternates invites users to manipulate this relationship between fonts, to either normalize or emphasize their differences. Proto Slab, a curious but capable companion to Proto Sans.

Design: Jean-Baptiste Levée. Team: Donald Choque, Yoann Minet, Adrien Tétar.

Proto Slab specimen

Character set