Berthold Block is a sans-serif typeface released by the H. Berthold foundry in the early twentieth century and intended for display use. Block has a chunky design suitable for headings, with short descenders allowing tight linespacing and rounded corners. It is sometimes simply called "Block". Font design expert Stephen Coles describes it as "a soft but substantial display face with compact dimensions and an organic appearance…[it] isn’t meant for body copy." The Block design has been credited by the Klingspor Museum to Hermann Hoffmann, who managed type design for Berthold.
The original metal type release of Block was intentionally "distressed" in style, matching the effect of worn type; some rereleases have a cleaner design. Ferdinand Ulrich suggests that this was to match the organic feel of advertising lettering of the time, including the work of Lucian Bernhard. Block was one of Berthold's most popular typefaces, and was released in a wide range of versions, including lighter weights and type in wood (for large sizes) and hard-wearing steel. Metal type versions had stylistic alternate characters such as a more compact 'S' to allow fine-tuning of appearance of type and fit the desired number of characters into a line.
Berthold Block was released in 1908; Berthold later added additional weights and styles, also releasing phototypesetting versions. It was often used by Praktiker and by the Whitechapel Art Gallery for branding in the 1970s and 80s. Berthold also used the name "Block" for a number of other typefaces not particularly closely related to it as a brand extension marketing strategy. These included the script font "Block-Signal" and the blackletter Block-Fraktur.
In the late 1970s, Berthold re-released three lighter-weight fonts derived from the Block design as a mini-family named "Berliner Grotesk" for phototypesetting, with the font redraw carried out by Erik Spiekermann.[a]
A variety of digitisations of Block exist, including by Berthold and successor companies and by Bitstream (the condensed weight only). Paratype of Moscow released an expansion with Cyrillic characters in 1997. Matthew Butterick's Hermes, released by Font Bureau, is a loose adaptation also inspired by other German grotesque typefaces of the period, adding lighter weights and unicase features.
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- 1921 Berthold Block specimen (digitisation: Stephen Coles)