Museum of Modern Art

The origin of that most charming glyph—the ampersand—can be traced back to Roman times and the Latin word et, meaning “and.” Those two letters were occasionally written together as a ligature and voila, the ampersand became a thing.

Its name has an equally charming history: during the early 1800s, the character was considered the 27th letter of the alphabet. For students reciting their ABCs, it would have been confusing to say “X, Y, Z, and,” so they inserted per se (meaning “by itself”) into the sequence, transforming the end of the recitation into “X, Y, Z, and per se and.” Over time, “and per se and” morphed into the word we use today: ampersand.

Last May, the Velvetyne Type Foundry together with artistic, political and social co-operative La Générale, organized an ampersand workshop in Paris to celebrate a new French translation of Jan Tschichold’s iconic 1953 book, The Ampersand: Its Origin and Development. The request resulted in 460 responses. A whittled-down group of 288 ampersands will be published by editions -zeug in September 2017 as a contemporary companion to Tschichold’s book, and the entire assortment will also be available as a free Open Source collection from Velvetyne. 

Here are just a few of the submissions that stood out to us. Most were created by graphic or typeface designers (no surprise there), but we’ve also included a lovely example drawn by a molecular biologist. We asked the designers to tell us where their ampersand’s inspirations lie.

1. Black Mass by Jean-Baptiste Morizot
“I was inspired by 17th-century liturgical songbooks printed with hand-stencilled letters, and wanted to explore the visual grammar of these huge books (89×60 cm) in a fresh and contemporary way. The name Black Mass twists the liturgical background of the letterforms.”

2. Ophanim by Simon Håkansson
“My main area of expertise is actually molecular biology, but I’ve always been interested in art and design. The grandiose typography of Art Deco posters, the stylized geometric shapes of the Bauhaus movement, and fonts such as Trebuchet, Domani CP, and Baskerville inspired me to use a form that more clearly conveys the origin of the ampersand from the Latin word et.”

3. Uno Casablanca by Anouk Pennel
“The typeface Uno was drawn for an exhibition on Le Corbusier’s work in Africa and India held at the Centre Canadien d’Architecture (CCA), and is based on the architect’s stencil lettering used for plans.”

4. Sleek by So-hyun Bae
“If you love typography you learn to love the ampersand, the black sheep of the family. This one’s general shape comes from classic Caslon or Baskerville ampersands. I wanted to retain their elegance, but make a new character that looks sharp, modern, and sleek by eliminating the contrast.”

5. Das Ampersand by Dave Darcy
“The ampersand represents the kind of organic lesson in reduction that a lot of mark-making aspires to. The distinctive descender is borrowed from a specimen of Abbey Text, a wooden type designed around 1900, as the starting point. Its ampersand is one of my favorites.”

6. Avert by Daniel McQueen
“Most designers have a soft spot for ampersands; they’re an enjoyable, expressive glyph to draw and also serve a great purpose within a typeface. What’s not to love? Ours is taken from our typeface Averta inspired by early European grotesques and American Gothic typefaces. It has an unmoderated straightforward tone resulting in a modernist form.”

7. Black by Tomas Clarkson
“For me, ampersands are a nice way for a type designer to show some flair. Often a typeface has a set of rules and guidelines, but with the ampersand a designer is able to be playful and show off a bit. I was inspired by the many strong geometric forms I found in a book on Modernist logos.”

8. Salex by Sascha Krischock
“The Salex typeface is based upon the idea of a compulsory element that gets dragged around from a starting point, like a ribbon or flag. I looked at the sport of ribbon gymnastics as an inspiration, and built the hairlines of the serif in a flickering very thin manner, with strong descending tails as a counterpart. I liked how it became all quite fragile, even sensual.”