Name: Lautsprecher DJR
Designer: David Jonathan Ross
Release date: September 1, 2019
Back Story: Lautsprecher DJR is a revival of Lautsprecher (German for “loudspeaker”), created by German designer and professor Jakob Erbar and published in 1931 by German type foundry Ludwig & Mayer. Type designer David Jonathan Ross first saw the original designs in a presentation at ATypl 2017 by Stephen Coles, who shared some rare specimens from San Francisco’s Letterform Archive. “Stephen and I kept in touch about the design after that, and he sent me some hi-res digital captures of the specimen; it was really his cheerleading that led me to take on the revival,” says Ross.
The typeface had previously been lost to history, by all accounts—according to Ross, by the mid ’40s, Lautsprecher was nowhere to be found in Ludwig & Mayer’s catalog. He says he can’t say for certain why, “but thanks to some research done by type historians Florian Hardwig and Dan Reynolds, we have some ideas.” Ludwig & Mayer’s Frankfurt home was destroyed in 1943 during World War II, meaning the company had to start up again from scratch, and it’s possible that the typeface’s original matrices went with it. “It’s also plausible that Lautsprecher’s distinctive design didn’t fit in with German postwar sensibilities,” says Ross. “Either way, Jakob Erbar’s death in 1935 meant that he wasn’t around to advocate for its re-creation or re-release after the war.”
Ross’s version is pretty close to the original, with a few gentle modifications. “My goal was to be respectful of the original but also to give myself the freedom to subtly transform the design into something more usable in contemporary contexts,” says the designer. His changes include making the stroke thickness a bit more even and tightening the spacing in a bid to make the design work in larger sizes. He also added alternate forms of the O, Q, and & shapes “with more of a cursive flavor, as well as an alternate G that I thought might be a little less jarring for contemporary eyes.”
Why’s it called Lautsprecher DJR? Well, because it’s a revival of Lautsprecher, created by David Jonathan Ross (DJR). “When Letterform Archive started fundraising for their move to a new home, this revival seemed like a perfect opportunity to highlight the relevance of their collection,” he says. For a limited time, he’s giving away a copy of Lautsprecher DJR and a yearlong Font of the Month Club subscription to anyone who donates $250 or more toward their new space.
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Mostly the fact that it’s a “hodgepodge of so many different genres,” as Ross puts it. In uppercase, the typeface seems to be a cursive script, while its lowercase has the structure of a geometric sans serif font. “But there are also tiny little serifs all over the place, and even some hints of Blackletter (the diamond terminal on the r, for example),” says Ross.
The original Lautsprecher also bore numerous other interesting details such as a “subtle bottom heaviness, which adds an organic quality to the otherwise-geometric structure,” says Ross. “It was cool to see how Erbar dealt with the constraint of the metal block, chopping off letters like S so that they do not hang over the following letter. And yeah, that diamond on the lowercase r. I love that lowercase r.”
The typeface becomes all the more intriguing when compared to Erbar’s earlier design, Erbar-Grotesk, one of the earliest geometric sans-serifs. “In many ways Lautsprecher is an oddball, cursive-infused cousin to Erbar-Grotesk’s Bold Italic,” says Ross. “Lautsprecher may not be the greatest typeface of all time, but it is just too damn charming to ignore.”
What other typefaces could it be paired with? As a headline typeface, Ross recommends a contemporary take on Erbar-Grotesk, such as Dunbar or dT Jakob. He also sees the contrast of Lautsprecher’s roundness as working well with a typeface such as Messer, which shares a link to German design from the ’20s and ’30s.