Skip to content
Words by Michel Wlassikoff

Deberny et Peignot, “Europe”: Beginnings of Futura in France (1928–1929)

Peignot and Vox modernized their catalog offering by acquiring and rebranding Futura as “Europe” for Deberny & Peignot.
Peignot and Vox modernized their catalog offering by acquiring and rebranding Futura as “Europe” for Deberny & Peignot.
Arts et Métiers Graphiques, a French magazine devoted to the world of printing and the graphic arts, published in its nº6 (July 1928) an article by Bertrand Guégan entitled “Le Futura”, accompanied by from a presentation of the first three series of the character: maigre, demi-gras, gras. Guégan comments on the text by Paul Renner which introduces the second specimen of Futura published by the Bauer foundry. He underlines the “ambitious design” of the typographer “to endow us with Futura with the “face of our time”. Our decorative art and our architecture, says Mr. Renner in substance, mark the triumph of the simple line; also the line of a modern face must be distinguished by its sobriety. Taking inspiration from writing would be a mistake, as much as borrowing elements from ancient characters.” As for the design of the letter itself, Bertrand Guégan grants it elegance and skill, but criticizes it for being too rigorous. He concluded that French readers would quickly tire of settings in Futura in everyday text and that the use of this face should remain confined to “amusing catalogs, pretty prospectuses and texts of posters”. Even if the commentary is mixed, the publicity that the Arts et Métiers Graphiques magazine makes in Futura is appreciable and unprecedented. The magazine, in fact, was launched by the Deberny & Peignot foundry, based on the Gebrauchsgraphik model. It is intended to promote, first of all, the faces put on the market by this foundry. If Futura is entitled to honors in its pages, it is thanks to old links between the Bauer and the Deberny & Peignot foundries, and friendly contacts between Gebrauchsgraphik, which adopted the Futura very early, and Arts et Métiers Graphiques.
Since 1928, Draeger Frères, one of the most famous French printers and publishers, has been sourcing Futura, purchased directly from the Bauer foundry. Known for its high-quality prints and for its creative studio which notably designs prestige albums for major automobile brands, Draeger, by offering Futura to an informed public, lead many printers to follow its example. Until then, Draeger had worked almost exclusively with Deberny & Peignot. But the absence of a modern typeface offering from the main French foundry undoubtedly contributed to this choice. Within the foundry itself, Maximilien Vox was concerned about the absence of a type that would respond to new advertising needs. Vox spoke about the future of typography in France in the journal Art et Décoration, in July 1929, and was concerned about the few type designers capable of proposing types corresponding to their era. To remedy this, Vox submitted the idea of acquiring Futura from the Bauer foundry. He does not hesitate to offer his resignation to the board of directors of the foundry “in case Deberny & Peignot does not immediately adopt my suggestion to immediately acquire the typeface…

Birth of Europe

It is established that the decision to buy Futura came from Charles Peignot himself, who supported Vox. Rights are acquired according to a principle of “franchise”. Deberny and Peignot will distribute Futura under the name “Europe”, this new name being due to Charles Peignot. But this diffusion is limited to France and the French colonies, as well as to the following countries: Egypt, Syria, Turkey, Greece, to which is included French-speaking Switzerland. The launch of Europe is announced in the delivery of number 3 of Divertissements typographies, in the spring of 1930: “We are launching a typeface destined for considerable success, EUROPE, antique in three weights, the most beautiful, the best developed and the most “usable” of modern sans-serif typefaces”. Furthermore, Arts & Métiers Graphiques is starting to use it in titling.
In March 1931, the Deberny and Peignot foundry published number 4 of Divertissements typographies, entitled “Europe et le Studio” with the following subtitle : “Europe — 3 weights — essential complement to advertising photography”. A series of examples of the use of Europe is then shown, which come either from the work of Deberny and Peignot studio, or from fantaisies designed by Vox. In the presentation text, it is stated: “Europe is the face of our time. […] It’s an antique: but an antique that is varied enough, flexible enough, to suit compact texts: “editorial” compositions, catalogs with important text, circulars, etc.” It is specified that this typeface “has been specially designed to perfectly accompany photography”. Europe/Futura occupies a special status in the minds of Charles Peignot and Maximilien Vox, it constitutes an excellent titling face and is recommended for short texts, but it is not considered as a workhorse face. Peignot and Vox, in fact, believe that French creation must ensure the emergence of a type which represents the “face of our time” and which will impose itself in all fields of typography, from titles to current text for book use. In their eyes, Europe must serve as a link between the modern trends of the 1920s and a more elaborate production which should flourish as soon as possible. This is the reason why Deberny and Peignot do not include the Futura Buchschrift, published by Bauer in 1932, in the Europe range.

Success and rise of Europe

From the beginning, Europe’s success has been considerable. Charles Peignot compares it to that of the Cochins typefaces published in 1912. Deberny & Peignot completes the three original weights of maigre and semi-bold italics, then bold italics. On the other hand, the foundry offers an original creation with its Europe demi-gras étroit, which has no equivalent at Bauer and whose design is significantly removed from the structure of Futura. This type, which bears the mark of the ancient French classics, will be completed by a gras étroit, then by a éclairé (open-face) character, launched under the name of Mont Blanc, around 1935.
Europe is “cast” by Deberny & Peignot, as indicated in the specimens. This means that from the matrices supplied by Bauer, the three initial series are made available to printers. Subsequently, punches will be made for all the weights and sizes, in particular for “Europe étroit” which constitute a specific creation. A poster face, non-existent at Bauer, is also cut in wood. It includes an astonishing version of the a, attributed to Cassandre, without it being attested that he drew it. Finally, Deberny & Peignot carries out the design and cutting of punches for non-Latin series: the “Greek characters Europe maigre, semi-bold and bold”, published in 1932, and Europe Vietnamese also in three weights.
Cassandre, moreover, developed Acier, a “semi-open” titling face, having two versions, the solid parts being able to be black or gray, which represents an experiment between Bifur and Futura, published by Deberny & Peignot in 1931. “Acier is a typeface intended to accompany all currently existing Antiques material – indicates the specimen – it can be used with Europe and participate in its universal success.” Marcel Jacno presents to Charles Peignot an “antique inscription”, Film, the publication of which, in 1933, is announced in these terms: “[This] typeface has the property of harmonizing with the classique series, for which it can serve as initials, as well as with modern series and especially with Europe.” Maximilien Vox’s Banjo, intended to compete with the drawn letter, is also linked to Europe: “A laughing character, with an amusing fantasy, and with whom we can, literally, play: Banjo is “the smile of Europe”, writes Vox in the preface to its specimen. In truth, Acier, Banjo or Film are not directly inspired by Europe. Acier only has a distant family resemblance, as does Film. Banjo is the result of previous experiments by Maximilien Vox on a two-widths face. They correspond to the desire on the part of Deberny & Peignot to expand the market for “inscription antiques”, which was particularly flourishing in the 1930s. The company will bring together the three types in designating them as “satellites” of Europe in specimens published from 1934.

A symbol of modernism

Faithful to the relay of Deberny & Peignot, Arts et Métiers Graphiques continued to popularize Europe, until its disappearance in 1939. Europe will never be set as running text, except in a few articles, but will occupy a place essential in the titles, until being installed on the cover (from September 1933 to October 1934), on the same purely typographic model. Echoing this, the magazine VU, launched in 1928 by Lucien Vogel, close to Charles Peignot, was largely devoted to photography. The articles and dossiers give an exceptional place to photography and photomontage, accompanied by spectacular titles and intertitles. Europe is often used, but not exclusively. In this context, however, it constitutes a model.
Same goes for the use made of it by the best French graphic designers during the 1930s. Jean Carlu, in particular. Cassandre uses it more exceptionally. Young creators, members or close to the Union of Modern Artists (UAM), devote themselves to geometric grotesques, and more particularly to Europe, like Francis Bernard, who uses it in current text in the magazine Acier, Jacques Nathan, Jean Picart-le-Doux or Marcel Jacno who designs a graphic line in Europe for the Théâtre des Ambassadeurs.

In pursuit of the face of our times

Charles Peignot asks Cassandre to devote himself to launching the true “face of our time” from 1934; it appeared on the occasion of the Exposition internationale des arts et techniques industrielles, in Paris, in 1937, under the name Peignot. Despite a design logic based on an apparent historical-scientific rigor, which is reminiscent of that which prevailed in Renner’s writings concerning Futura — but which operates in the opposite direction: Peignot claims to abolish the lower case and relate everything to the design of Roman capitals — it turns out to be another commercial failure. However, it was widely used during the Exposition des arts et techniques modernes in Paris in 1937. Besides Peignot, which constitutes the typographical event, the geometric grotesques take pride of place on the façades, in the scenographies, and within the printed materials distributed in the various national and thematic pavilions. In this regard, the comments are not always complimentary, as a contemporary typographer testifies: “It was a debauchery of sans-serifs and slabs, drawn with a ruler and a compass. […] So many brands set in Europe! As we wandered around, we discovered a few exceptions to the uniform and international use of antiques, Futura, Europe and all their successors in recent years.” Regarding “successes”, it should be noted that the other large French foundries have also provided themselves in this area, the Fonderie Typographique Française (FTF) with Apollo (1934), and the Fonderie Olive with Simplex (1937). Moreover, in 1938, Robert Bonfils, historian and teacher at the École Estienne, published La Gravure et le Livre, a reference work which will influence generations of typographers, the text of which is set in Europe and where he forged the notion of “typographic genre”. Europe/Futura now embodies the “elegant genre” in his eyes.
  • Maximilien Vox, “Charles Peignot et son temps”, Communication et langages, n° 14, juin 1972, p. 58-59.
In all the important literature that accompanies Europe, whether the publications of Deberny & Peignot or the articles in Arts et Métiers Graphiques, there is nowhere mention of the origins of the face. Neither the Bauer foundry nor Paul Renner are mentioned as being the initiators of Futura/Europe. Everything unfolds as if the foundry was seeking to conceal said origins from a printing world that is still deeply Germanophobic and to appropriate Futura/Europe to the point of suggesting a specifically French creation.
  • “Le Film, nouveau caractère de titre, gravé et fondu par Deberny & Peignot, d’après les dessins de Marcel Jacno”, Arts et métiers graphiques nº38, 15 November 1933.
  • Henri Colas, “La lettre et l’enseigne à l’exposition”, Le Courrier graphique, December 1937.
  • Robert Bonfils, “Psychologie du métier de typographe”, La Gravure et le Livre, éditions Estienne, Paris, 1938, p. 183.

Subscribe to our newsletter and stay updated with our latest releases, discounts and news.

Useful type with an edge.

Useful type with an edge.

Production Type provide retail as well as dedicated creative services in typeface design for brands.

Based in Paris and Shanghai, Production Type is a digital type design agency. Its activities span from the exclusive online distribution of its retail type for design professionals, to the creation of custom typefaces for the industrial, luxury, and media sectors.
Enquire about custom fonts