A Swedish Typeface 1897–1930

The project "A Swedish Typeface 1897–1930" addresses typographic design and its relation to nationalism, and the role of historiography in the production of this relation. The research is specifically concerned with a dominant narrative of "Swedishness" in the history writing of 20th century typographic design in Sweden.

Image: Advertisment in Boktryckerikalender 1910

Questions posed in the project deal with the function of this nationalist rhetoric in the shaping of typographic discourse. For instance, how has the concept of ‘Swedish identity’ been projected through the design of typefaces and letterforms, and what is the significance of historiography in the reproduction of this concept? Conversely, the study also concerns typographic histories that are obscured by the dominant narrative: What are the potential forms of these histories when they become ‘History’, and what are the possible meanings and problems of activating them?

The study is focused on the period between the two Stockholm Exhibitions of 1897 and 1930. A result of the Exhibition of 1897 was a growing urge among the Swedish printers to cultivate a national identity in typography. This was said to be lacking in the printed matter produced in the country at the time. All aspects of Swedish print production, it was believed, had to become independent from foreign imports, both in terms of equipment and aesthetics, in order to strengthen its position towards international competition. Crucial in this approach was the development of a roman typeface, designed and produced in Sweden, in which the particularities of the Swedish language as well as the ‘national character’ were to be considered. The main actors of this movement were the printers Waldemar Zachrisson, Hugo Lagerström and Axel Carlson, whose conflicting opinions were manifested in the typefaces Nordische Antiqua, Medieval Antiqua and Swedish Antiqua.

The study also addresses the broader political, economic and technological context of typography and its significance to the development of the modern nation state. Even though the study is a historical investigation, in the sense that it departs from historical records, its main concern is to make visible how a particular historical narrative informs contemporary discourse. In doing so, some of the underlying currents that are often overshadowed by simplified and media-friendly images of nationalism will unfold. In this way the research will also contribute to the understanding of our times’ growing movements of nationalism and their effect in a media landscape under strong influence of the design and marketing of identities.

The project is financed by Ridderstads stiftelse för historisk grafisk forskning. Project manager is Rikard Heberling.