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Aspects of Italian type history: Bodoni to Nebiolo, Novarese and Butti, and Simoncini

A three-part strand of presentations on Italian type design and manufacturing

“The lost hundred years of Italian type. From the death of Bodoni till the rise of Nebiolo”: Nebiolo, Bodoni, history, Italian type, decorative type, 1800, printing types, research, unpublished, wood type, type foundries. In the span of roughly a century, the typographic practice in Italy evolved from being a craft perfected by the skills of Giambattista Bodoni to being fully mechanized. While there is plenty of literature about the printer from Parma and the Nebiolo company in Turin, not much is known of the century in between the two. How come Nebiolo become one of the most important Italian companies in the early 20th century, aggressively incorporating almost all the possible competitors across the nation? Who were they? While Italy was slowly becoming a unified and independent nation, along the way came visionary publishers, patriotic printers, unlucky punchcutters, forgotten type foundries, and authors of typographic manuals. We will learn why Bodoni was forgotten for so long and how Italian typographers created their references. And of course, we will look at a lot of interesting type from the 19th century, with its experimentation, its crazy decoration, and the freedom that created much of what we now consider standard. “Aldo Novarese and Alessandro Butti, a story to be (re)written”: Novarese’s name is almost synonymous with Nebiolo. Aldo Novarese (1920–1995) headed the foundry’s Studio artistico (art studio) from 1953 to 1974: as its last leading figure, he was invariably “celebrated” and remained the only source for the history of the company after its demise in 1978. He began his career as assistant to Alessandro Butti (1893–1959), who headed the Studio artistico from 1936 to 1952. Under Butti’s art direction, Nebiolo released many original typefaces that were highly influential in 20th-century typography, including Semplicità, Neon, Veltro, Augustea, Microgramma, and Recta. However, few designers and historians today are aware of Butti’s work, whereas most of his type designs are usually attributed to Novarese. New evidence based on unpublished documents and oral history interviews now lead scholars to question the authorship of some typefaces generally attributed to Novarese, but which appear to be earlier creations by Butti. Moreover, witnesses recall Novarese’s habit of adding or faking his name on the original drawings. Thus, the time has come for a reconsideration of Novarese’s “vulgate” and for a reappraisal of Butti’s role as a leading 20th-century type designer who contributed so much to Nebiolo’s reputation. “The Officine Simoncini”: You may have heard about Nebiolo, but between the 1950s and the 1970s, if you were into text typography in Italy, the name of the game was a different one: Simoncini. Based on the outskirts of Bologna and rising from the ashes of the war, the Simoncini family established themselves as the largest Italian producer of Linotype matrices, and therefore of text typefaces. Their output eventually consisted of well-known designs for continuous reading like Garamond Simoncini, Aster, Life, and Permanent, and of experimental agate faces like Delia and Selene, which we will take a close look at. Francesco Simoncini, entrepreneur, engineer, and designer, also patented a system for the preventive distortion of letter shapes for better printing results. For the first time, we present to the international typographic community our ten-year research project on the Officine Simoncini and highlight their significance in the history of type design.


Alessandro Colizzi

Alessandro Colizzi (Rome, 1966) is professor at Université du Québec à Montréal’s École de design since 2005, where he teaches typography, type design and graphic design history. He holds a PhD from the University of Leiden for his research into Bruno Munari’s graphic design work; an MA in Type Design from The Hague’s Royal Academy of Art, as well as a postgraduate diploma from France’s Atelier National de Recherche Typographique; and an MLitt in English Literature from the University of Rome La Sapienza. His research interests are focused on typographic history, type design and lettering, and information design. Since 2002 he has published regularly on design magazines and journals, and has been board member of the Italian design magazine Progetto Grafico; he is also active as translator of typographic works. He is currently working on a book on Munari’s graphic design for publisher Corraini (due in 2013). —colizzi.alessandro@uqam.ca


Antonio Cavedoni

Trahit sua quenque voluptas


Marta Bernstein