Name: Minotaur Lombardic and Minotaur Lombardic Sans
Designer: Jean-Baptiste Levée
Foundry: Production Type
Release Date: First released in 2014. Updated with new styles in December 2017 for the launch of The Minotaur type specimen book.

Back Story: Minotaur, commissioned in 2014 (but never used) for the overall identity of the Musée Picasso in Paris, springs from varied roots. During the design process, Jean-Baptiste Levée, founder of Production Type, drew upon the letter shapes of Venus, a midcentury sans-serif Grotesque, plus a Scotch Roman from Bruce’s New-York Type-Foundry, a 19th-century foundry. He wanted Minotaur to reference Cubism in keeping with the Picasso museum’s collection, but the font was mainly inspired by the 1967 letterforms of Dr. Allen Vincent Hershey, an unsung pioneer of digital type design. Levée sought a more interesting solution for the original Minotaur than simply disassembling each letter and putting it back together in a fractured state to reflect the Cubist art movement. The designer, who is fascinated with old computers and early single-task software, serendipitously stumbled upon Hershey’s work while doing some research and knew that the quirky angular shapes of those letterforms were a great way to evoke Cubism without being too literal about it.

Hershey was a theoretical physicist at the Naval Weapons Laboratory in Dahlgren, Virginia, who analyzed how submerged ships influence the waves above them. He also calculated complex fluid dynamics and analyzed ship hulls—in short, not the typical person you would expect to design (or even care about) custom typefaces. However, he wasn’t entirely satisfied with the Varityper, the only technology available in the early 1960s to generate scientific reports filled with complicated equations (think a pre-digital word processor, similar to an IBM Selectric). Special characters such as pi had to be entered with plastic keys called Typits attached to the machine, and there was no way to correct errors as they occurred. It was a slow and cumbersome method of typesetting, but it was also the only game in town.

When the Charactron—a new device that was able to output digital source data directly onto microfilm—came along, Hershey immediately recognized its potential and, long story short, developed what amounted to a digital typeface for it. Since digital fonts as we now know them didn’t exist yet, Hershey wrote up a report entitled “Calligraphy for Computers” that contained over 200 pages of his stroke-based letter diagrams drawn using a connect-the-dots approach.
Best of all, most of his letterforms were informed by existing techniques such as the Leroy lettering set, a pantograph system widely used to letter the dialog in midcentury comics such as Tales from the Crypt. They were also inspired by an analysis of top-quality source material, like the work of Jan Tschichold and Frederic Goudy, and type styles from American Type Foundry specimen books. Hershey recognized that computers were just part of the endless evolution of technology for reproducing letterforms, and sought to create quality typefaces for this new medium from the outset. 

What are its distinguishing characteristics? A closer look reveals that instead of Bézier curves, Minotaur’s letterforms consist of connected straight line segments, following Hershey’s original drawings for the Charactron. This takes Minotaur’s Lombardic capitals on a fascinating detour away from the smooth calligraphy-based strokes of Goudy’s 1928 Lombardic alternate caps, which in turn are derived from medieval manuscripts.

Why’s it called Minotaur? “The name is a nod to Cubism—it’s a reference to Picasso’s obsession for this creature,” says Quentin Schmerber, Production Type’s lead type designer. “A Minotaur is part man and part bull, and this typeface is part humanist and part mechanical.”

What should I use it for? The new styles, Minotaur Lombardic and Minotaur Lombardic Sans, are especially well suited for classic uses for ornamental capitals. Their unusual letter shapes suit a wide range of large display applications, from posters to shop windows.

What other typefaces do you like to pair it with? Try it with Gemeli, Scotch, or Venus.