Back Story: The typeface Corsair, inspired by the lettering on a collection of 1940s leaflets identifying WWII fighter aircraft, was commissioned by Best Made Co., purveyors of clothing, axes, and other rugged gear for the urban outdoorsman. Ksenya Samarskaya, who designed the font and is licensing it through the Rosetta Type Foundry, says, “The original text in the leaflets was hurriedly sketched, meant to be functional, efficient…not used for longer copy or polished layouts. At first, looking at the untidy, blocky hand-written caps in front of me, I hesitated, thinking, ‘Is Best Made really requesting I remake Comic Sans?’”
Fortunately, she found her way around that obstacle, and created a refined character set she describes as rough yet precise, like the penmanship of a meticulous mechanic writing with a carpenter’s thick pencil on coarse paper.
Why’s it called Corsair? “We pulled from the source: the names of the planes [in the leaflets],” says the designer. “We skipped over anything that looked like an open tin of alphabet soup — letter, number, letter, letter, number — until we found the Corsair F4U. It was perfect, a slightly rowdy and coarse word used to describe a plane hailed as a superior machine compared to its contemporaries.”
Going back further in etymology, during the 16th and 17th centuries, corsairs were pirates from the Barbary Coast of Africa, seizing ships and raiding European coastal towns and villages from Italy to Iceland. The word has a lovely ring to it—rakish and graceful with a whiff of the renegade—perfectly suited to an alphabet Samarskaya has nicknamed “the gritty intellectual’s Sharpie.”
What are its distinguishing characteristics? Corsair’s condensed, all-uppercase, low-contrast letterforms have an approachable look overall. Each letter has three contextual OpenType alternates to provide a natural handwritten texture. “We started with spare parts that seemed like they might work together,” Samarskaya says. “I gravitated towards the narrower letters—mining out a unique ampersand, being charmed by a straight descender on one of the q’s, or getting curious about the u’s that were constructed out of three careful, separate strokes leading to barely a curve at the bottom. I was pan-sifting for the glittering nuggets of intriguing type, trying to take an idiosyncratic scrawl and elevate it.” The typeface contains somewhere between 2,300 to 2,500 glyphs, including Cyrillic, Greek, and full extended Latin ranging in coverage from the African Continent to the islands of Vietnam.
What should I use it for? How’s this for an idiosyncratic list of suggestions: Outerwear clothing tags and packaging text; descriptive paragraphs for cheese, olive, or wine accoutrement catalogs; menus posted on restaurant walls; old-school labels or forms; gold-leafed onto the window of a haberdashery — or on the label of a bottle of bourbon.
What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? “Well, I often find that pairing typefaces within a designer’s own catalog tends to work well, as with even divergent styles there’s a similarity of the hand,” says Samarskaya. “Call me to try it with some of my pre-releases such as Wyeth or Diote.” She also recommends Salty Dog, mixed with some hand-scribbled titles, or classic wood type such as HWT’s VanLanen.
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