Monday, May 27, 2019

1894 First Greek American Type Face

Newspapers offer an invaluable source of information for Greek American history. Atlantis (founded 1894) and the National Herald (founded 1915) were the two competing Greek language newspaper, which represented a double political dichotomy; Atlantis was Greek monarchist and US Republican, while the National Herald was  Greek Venizelist and US Democrat.

Atlantis, whose publication ended in 1972, is less known than the National Herald that continues to be in print, online, and recently digitized. The National Herald is a familiar image with its vivid Archaizing title read by grandparents and parents in the Greek American home. WPA photographer Jack Delano captured the newspaper's type face, as read by a steel worker in western Pennsylvania in 1941.

Originating in the 1930s, this Archaizing style of letters brings nationalistic associations of ancient grandeur. Although originating before its monopolization by the Metaxas dictatorship (1936-40), this font retains some unfortunate associations of militarism (and used today by the Golden Dawn Neo Nazi party). English language type face of the 1920s became equally historicist and classicizing. American print entered a golden age of Times New Roman and combatted the Victorian chaos of styles and lack of standardization.

Twenty years older than the National Herald, the type face of Atlantis is a product of the 19th century, where newspapers print occupied the same visual surface with wall advertising and posters. In addition to a strong serif, the letters have shadows that help them pop from the surface of the paper and grab your attention three-dimensionally. Like the fictive continent of Atlantis, the letter forms make one think of the extraordinary voyages of Jules Verne. Above, you see the title of the first issue of the paper, March 3, 1894. It might be the earliest example of Greek American letter press. As noted in earlier posts, a complete run of Atlantis survives in the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, where I have photographed it above. 

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Kostis Kourelis

Philadelphia, PA, United States