One year ago today, Gudrun Zapf von Hesse turned 100 years old. On that occasion, her lettering alphabet Hesse Antiqua was revived after 70 years and released as a digital typeface. To celebrate the release we printed type specimens at, bringing a late-1940s alphabet back to the post-digital letterpress future. With delay, but on Gudrun Zapf von Hesse’s 101st birthday, we share this story.

With photographs by Norman Posselt.

From lettering to digital type

This intro is a short recap — read the full story here.
By early 1946, Gudrun Zapf von Hesse maintained an in-house bookbindery at the Bauer type foundry in Frankfurt/Main. In-between her own projects, she watched the punch cutters as they carved out faces of letters from metal blocks using gravers and files. Eventually she began cutting her own alphabet in brass (capitals, figures, and a few ornaments). She mounted those punches on wooden handles and used them to letter-stamp titles of leather book covers and spines. The alphabet known as Hesse Antiqua (a name given by GZvH’s husband) was finished in 1947. Early on, the letters were used in her bookbinding work — preferably in gold.

Hesse Antiqua Punches
Old and new: Hesse Antiqua it its initial appearance since 1947 in the form of brass punches (left) and as a digital typeface (right), featuring capitals, small caps, figures and ornaments.

In close agreement with GZvH, I began digitising the existing capitals, figures, and a set of ornaments in 2017 and drew a couple of missing characters as well to prepare the typeface for contemporary applications. Meanwhile, Monotype agreed to release the typeface. Their in-house type department, especially Bernd Volmer, added small caps and more diacritics, and took care of font production. The typeface was released on Januar 2nd 2018, on the occasion of GZvH’s 100th birthday.

Although the original Hesse Antiqua was born in the hot-metal era, it was never actually cast in lead and remained a set of brass punches for decades. The result of the new Hesse Antiqua is not a revival in the usual sense, but the careful translation of a lettering alphabet into the digital world — considering decades of changes in font technology. At the same time, it is the digital data that allows us to bring Hesse Antiqua into a letterpress environment at

Hesse Antiqua A
Careful considerations went into the digitisation of Hesse Antiqua: seen here is the same letter as [1] a macro image (flipped horizontally) of a brass punch, captured by Norman Posselt, [2] an enlarged scan of a smoke proof (36 point) from that punch, [3] digital outline description in a Glyphs window, [4] the final appearance as you would find it in the digital font.

From digital type to letterpress printing

As the example of the Edition Letterpress for Suhrkamp Publishers, of Louis Rosetto’s memoirs Change is Good, and of our large-format newspaper Krautreporter (Erik wrote about it very recently here) shows, we have gradually developed and refined a design and printing process that we call post-digital letterpress. Any available digital typeface can be used in our layout of which we send PostScript files directly to a laser-setter that has been customised according to our specifications. It can produce photopolymer plates at a maximum of 52×72 cm — without involving any negatives. Erik has also coined the phrase “hacking Gutenberg”. Gutenberg wished he’d had this.

After we had spent a decent amount of time improving this technology, it almost seemed to suggest itself that we would eventually be printing type specimens from our digital fonts (I dare announce a complete post-digitally printed collection of all Spiekerfonts in the somewhat near future).

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In our post-digital process at we can turn any digital PostScript file into a printable photopolymer plate.
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The plate is mounted on a magnetic base inside the machine for perfect registration and easy adjusting.

The Hesse Antiqua specimens are designed as a set of different sizes, reminiscent of examples printed in-house by Bauer, Berthold, Stempel et al. in the 1950s and 60s (as GZvH recalls them), suited to fit in a B5 envelope for shipping. After we distributed all six different designs among two large photopolymer plates, we made arrangements with our colleague Daniel Klotz, who runs the branch workshop in the Southeast of Berlin and prints all our large editions on his Heidelberg cylinder.

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Our branch workshop in the Southeast of Berlin (aka “Die Lettertypen”) holds a “Johannisberger” stop-cylinder press and a “Heidelberg” cylinder aside from a “Linotype” machine, several platen presses and other heavy devices.

Daniel printed the black forme first and then we spent a whole afternoon adding gold — truly in the tradition of GZvH, the bookbinder. Actually, another print run came before gold, but from the same forme: a layer of opaque white underneath, so that the gold would not sink into the paper and appear flat. While most specimens were printed on the Heidelberg cylinder, some were produced on our Korrex Nürnberg proof press at

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Naturally, everyone enjoys printing gold on the cylinder.
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Ferdinand (left) and Daniel (right) inspect a print that’s fresh off the press, captured by Norman.
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In letterpress printing we avoid deep impressions on thin paper, but appreciate a slight light-catching contour.
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Final proof before the printed sheets are cut into separate formats and sizes.

An edition of 101

We printed a limited edition of 101 sets, many of which were sent to supporters of the project, to the team at Monotype involved in the font production process, and to friends of throughout last year. Just in time for GZvH’s 101st birthday, we are happy to announce that we have 15 Hesse Antiqua specimen sets left that we can add to orders placed in the new year. If you buy something in our online shop, just let us know ( that you would also like to receive a set (this offer ends on January 31st 2019, on a first come, first served basis).

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An homage to the wallpaper-like cover designs of the legendary Insel-Bücherei
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ABC—XYZapf von Hesse
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Although Hesse Antiqua was conceived as a titling face, it also cuts a fine figure in short texts

Happy 101st Birthday, Gudrun Zapf von Hesse!

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