A look into our wood and metal type catalogue reveals a great variety of sizes ranging from 4 to 96 point – or in other words, from Perle to Grosse-nonpareille – all the way up to 40 Cicero and much larger Picas. Our letters come from the United Kingdom, Switzerland, France, Germany, Italy, and the United States. Different countries introduced their own point systems and have used different standards. We have tools to measure them.

The idea of a unit system in typography was first invented by Pierre Simon Fournier (published in Table des proportions, 1737), but it was refined and adjusted to the French royal inch by François-Ambroise Didot in the early 1780s. Both Frenchmen developed systems that maintained an interrelationship between type size and a continual number of points. Before the introduction of a coherent system, type sizes had names such as Gaillarde (8 point), Palestine (24) and Trismégiste (36), some of which remained. In German, few of these names are the same for respective sizes, mostly they deviate. The name for 12 point is Cicero, which is also the next higher unit in the typographic system. Measures in Cicero come in handy with large wood type, e.g. 24 Cicero is 288 point.

In the United States, a typographic standard was not developed until the late 1880s. Originally proposed to be equal to 1/6 inch, a Pica was ultimately not exactly that (precisely 0.1660) when it was introduced as a standard in the American Point System in 1886. We still measure US American type in Pica points, which differs from Didot points just enough to create a chaos when mixing them. 1 Didot point equals to 0.376 mm, while 1 Pica point in the American Point System is 0.351 mm. Like 1 Cicero, 1 Pica is divisible by 12 point. 

The French Didot system was introduced in most Continental European countries. Unlike France, Germany was not a nation in the first half of the eighteenth century. It was merely a number of states which shared a language, but not the same spelling and certainly no typographic standard for type sizes. In 1879, eight years after the formation of the German Empire, Hermann Berthold (founder of the well-known type foundry) recommended his typographic system of points that was based on the metric system. It has remained the standard for letterpress printing in Germany until today. Rulers that could measure point sizes of that system followed soon thereafter. Even Fournier had developed a device that could do just that, in the 1730s. 

P98A Type Gauge
We use different tools to measure type sizes. From top to bottom: Pica ruler manufactured by C-Thru (Bloomfield/CT, USA), Didot typometer produced by Bacher (Bad Feilnbach-Au, Germany) and a point size gauge by Haas type foundry (Basel, Switzerland). (Photograph by Ferdinand Ulrich)

Typometer is a well-known tool, which can measure Ciceros and even typographic points in smaller units on one side of the ruler as well as centimeters (with a millimeter scale) on the other. In the printing trade it is therefore the ideal device to study not only type sizes and leading, but the size of a page and layout, too. Pica rulers are usually equipped with a scale for inches or agates (another typographic system for conversion). 

The finest device that has been manufactured for measurements of type sizes and spacing comes from Haas type foundry. It is a gauge made from brass that features smaller and larger gaps to fit metal sorts, spacing (leading and quads) of all available sizes ranging between 2 and 48 Didot point. Each size gently fits into the respective slot, without squeezing or wiggling. A similar device was introduced by E. W. Blatchford & Co. in Chicago, called Gage-it

2017 10 25 P98A Walzengreif Np 0061
The Haas point size gauge features small and large gaps to fit metal sorts ranging from 2 point (Viertelpetit) to 48 point (kleine Missal). The correct size will gently fit in the gap – no squeezing and no wiggling.
2017 10 25 P98A Walzengreif Np 0074
The nicest detail of the gauge sits on the hilt: the Haas (Hase/Has meaning hare in German) press mark depicts a rabbit holding a metal sort. (Both pictures by Norman Posselt)

Ever since we came across the point size gauge from Haas, we have been wanting to reproduce this gentle solution at p98a.berlin — not only for Didot points, but for the Pica system as well. In a first step we scanned the device and retraced it as a vector graphic with precise attention to the exact scale. From that data, our laser cutter forges this device in a shiny new look from fluorescent acrylic glass. The scale is engraved in FF Real of course, our house face. We have made it for ourselves and encourage others to acquire it for their letterpress workshop as well. It is 23 centimeters long and shipped in a special card board case.

2018 08 15 P98A Neon Typometer Np 162401 Kopie

While the Haas gauge was made specifically for the Didot point system, we acknowledge the fact that our friends and colleagues across the channel and across the Atlantic are still using Picas — there are devices available for either system. As Andrew S. Tannenbaum famously said: “The nice thing about standards is that you have so many to choose from.

2018 08 22 P98A Neon Typometer Np 173000
The umlaut Ä that sits in our new gauge, seen here and in the header image, is Karlgeorg Hoefer’s Permanent Headline (released with Ludwig & Mayer type foundry) in its rare outline style, available in 36 point at p98a. (Photographs by Norman Posselt)