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Charles Peignot

Founder and first president of ATypI

Charles Peignot (1897–1983) was director of the Deberny & Peignot foundry in Paris for nearly fifty years. In 1957, with a group of delegates from type manufacturing companies, he founded the Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI), serving as its president for ten years. Throughout his career, Peignot was closely involved in the creation of all the new faces produced by the Deberny & Peignot foundry, which later also became a manufacturer of photocomposition discs for the Lumitype phototypesetting machine.

In the nineteenth century, the type foundry established by Gustave Peignot was a leading type manufacturer in France. Gustave’s son Georges took over the company after his father’s death, and his son Charles took it over when Georges and his three brothers were all killed in World War I.

Under the direction of Henri Menut, Charles learned the craft by apprenticing in all ateliers of the foundry. He completed two typeface designs left unfinished by his father, Naudin and Deberny & Peignot Garamont, and discovered that his true interests were artistic in nature. He entrusted the management of the company finances to Henri Menut and to Pierre Payet, his cousin. In 1921, all three started merger negotiations with the Laurent & Deberny foundry. The merger on July 1, 1923, allowed the company to combine Deberny’s classic punches and matrices with Peignot’s modern designs, and gave the company access to two factory facilities in Paris and Corneuve.

After the finalization of the merger, Charles continued to expand his interests and artistic convictions in typeface design. In 1924, Peignot began to collaborate with Maximilien Vox, a typographer, art director, and critic — this association profoundly influenced the direction of French typography. In 1925, Peignot made connections with the key participants in the Art Deco and Modernist movements and commissioned A.M. Cassandre to design letters for the foundry. In 1927, Peignot launched the first edition of Arts et Métiers Graphiques, a magazine that would become a world forum for trends in the graphic arts. Peignot also acquired the rights to produce a version of Futura, which Deberny & Peignot released in 1930 under the name Europe. In 1937, Cassandre designed the Peignot typeface, its lowercase letters heavily influenced by the uppercase forms.

A few years after the end of World War II, Deberny & Peignot was again on track to resume its place as an important player in the typefounding business, under the sole direction of Charles Peignot. In 1952, the foundry partnered with Photon, an American company pioneering in the field of photocomposition. Photon introduced its machine in European markets under the name Lumitype in 1954. Despite its technological innovation, the machine was unsuccessful in Europe.

In 1952, Charles Peignot hired a young Swiss type designer who would soon become a prolific contributor to modern typography: Adrian Frutiger. During his first few years at Deberny & Peignot, Frutiger drew several original typefaces (Président, Phoebus, Ondine, Méridien) and supervised the conversion of other designs to the Lumitype system (Garamont, Baskerville, Bodoni). In 1957, Deberny & Peignot released Univers, Frutiger’s revolutionary typeface family of twenty-one styles that exploded in the global market. Univers became the first typeface to be manufactured simultaneously as handset type, Monotype mechanical type, and phototypesetting. In 1960, Frutiger designed Egyptienne and left Deberny & Peignot to set up his own studio.

Around 1953, Peignot gathered a group of friends and colleagues to discuss issues that impacted the typography industry. Industry luminaries such as Maximilien Vox, John Dreyfus, Hermann Zapf, Roger Excoffon, and Adrian Frutiger formalized their purpose in 1957 under the title of the Association Typographique Internationale (ATypI). Charles Peignot became the organization’s first president.

Foremost on Peignot’s ATypI agenda was the fight against illegal copying of type designs—all of which were not protected under copyright law. He once stated: “I created ATypI as a place where artists and industries could regroup to fight against the copy. If artists are not protected like authors and creators are in other domains, they will renounce typographic creation.” This crusade met with minimal success. ATypI drafted a type protection treaty for presentation at an international WIPO conference in Vienna in 1973. The delegates from the eleven countries present signed the agreement, but so far, the document was only ratified by Germany and the UK.

In the 1950s, ATypI published a classification method for grouping Roman-alphabet typeface designs into ten stylistic categories. The ATypI-Vox Typeface Classification System was adapted from a system that Maximilien Vox had devised in the 1930s during his work as editor of the Deberny & Peignot general type specimen.

Peignot retired from his position at Deberny & Peignot in the early 1960s. In 1972, his family business was bought by the Swiss Haas’sche type foundry, which later merged with Linotype. In 1973, Peignot was succeeded by John Dreyfus as president of ATypI, after serving in this position for ten years. Peignot died in Paris in 1983 at the age of 86.

In 1982, ATypI established the Prix Charles Peignot for Excellence in Type Design—an award that is presented every three to five years to a designer under the age of 35 who has made an outstanding contribution to type design. The winner is chosen by a committee of ATypI members appointed by the ATypI Board. Past recipients of the Prix Charles Peignot are Claude Mediavilla (1982), Jovica Veljović (1985), Petr van Blokland (1988), Robert Slimbach (1991), Carol Twombly (1994), Jean François Porchez (1998), Jonathan Hoefler (2002), Christian Schwartz (2007), Alexandra Korolkova (2013), and David Jonathan Ross (2018).

Adapted from the history of the Deberny & Peignot foundry published by Rochester Institute of Technology. Photograph of Charles Peignot by Rogi André, ca. 1930.