font ☜☞ fuente


The word font (often fount in the UK, but pronounced “font”) is related to Middle French fonder, to melt or to cast. A collection of cast letters and other symbols such as numerals with the same body and design constitutes a font. In theory at least, every sort was cast in the same mould, which meant that each one had the same height-to-paper (i.e., the height of each piece of metal type from the feet to the face) and the same body (from the front to the back, the point size, sometimes measured in millimeters per 20 lines). The two halves of the mould were designed to slide against each other to accommodate the third measurement (the width), which naturally varied from letter to letter. The sharing of two measurements meant that all the sorts could fit together neatly.

On the front, each sort had a groove called the nick. The nick varied in shape, depth and position from font to font: it enabled the typesetter to orientate the sort correctly (important in a poorly-lit printing-house in winter), while the variable shape and position helped to identify the font.

Each font was kept in a case, or rather, two cases: The Institución y origen del arte de la imprenta (1680?) of Alonso Víctor de Paredes shows a “divided lay”, i.e., an upper case and a lower case, with a total of 141 compartments, although 11 are empty (fol. 9r). These cases somewhat resemble the French pattern illustrated by Gaskell (p. 36, 1972 ed.), especially in the lower case. Apart from the fact that it holds the “upper-case” letters, the upper case is less similar: see metal type. [DWC]

Alonso Víctor de Paredes, Institución y origen del arte de la imprenta, y reglas generales para los componedores (1680?); now edited and translated by Pablo Álvarez (Ann Arbor, MI: Legacy Press, 2018).

Philip Gaskell, A New Introduction to Bibliography (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1972); available in Spanish as Nueva introducción a la bibliografía material, prólogo y revisión técnica de José Martínez de Sousa (Gijón: Trea, 1999).

See also: broken type, dropped letters