Nicolas Jenson

The first metal typeface was created by Nicolas Jenson, a Frenchman who studied the art of metal moveable type in Mainz from 1458–1461. Whether he studied with Johannes (Gensfleisch zur Laden zum) Gutenberg is a matter of speculation. He is credited with the earliest metal moveable type adapted from Humanist Minuscule, produced in the 1470s.

Adobe Jenson Pro is a fairly faithful revival of his work and is offered in several weights in both roman and italic, and is likely the most complete commercial offering currently available. That said, it feels just a little bit too bound by adherence to its handwritten forebears.

Francesco da Bologna, a.k.a. Griffo

This man‘s work followed closely on Jenson’s heels. He conducted his own research on pre-existing scripts and ultimately was able to abstract somewhat more fully than Jenson (see the 1495 edition of De Aetna) and is credited with producing the first cursive typeface (i.e., italic) used to produce Aldus Manutius‘ edition of Virgil in 1501; this typeface style went on to become very popular.

There are several commercial revivals of his work, e.g.,

Bembo Book is an attractive product—inspired by rather than 100% faithful to the original; however, it lacks many of the characters used in the Renaissance (notably including long s). Poliphilus is, apparently, faithful, but is unfortunately also deficient in its character set, as are Griffo Classico, Aetna JY Pro, and Aldine 401. Poliphili is a notable exception to this trend and is available in regular, bold, italic, and even a display type.1

Later designs

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  1. Display types are adaptations of a typeface specifically intended for use in headings, this context requiring diminished spacing for proper aesthetic appeal.