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July 21, 2011

Stan Davis' Beatles' Bastard Font


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Commentary
May 18, 2003

Amelia's adventure

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Amelia is first and foremost Stan Davis' daughter, born when he designed the typeface in 1964 for an international typeface contest. The contest was sponsored by the Visual Graphics Corporation (VGC) and judged by some of the leading designers of the day. While sometimes linked to (so called) "liquid" typefaces, MICR or chequebook fonts, Amelia's structure sets it apart from all others, before or since. As Stan, who now lives in Saugerties, NY, writes: "Somehow, Amelia has imparted meaning. It was simultaneously used by the Beatles and others as a rock anthem, a symbol of the sixties, science fiction, the corporate world, psychology and (among a host of others) computers, to which, I might add, in hindsight, it anticipates."

Stan is upset by the fact that MyFonts is selling bastard versions of Amelia, designed by Linotype and Bitstream. In his own words, to me: "Bitstream and Linotype have stolen my "Amelia" font (their renditions of it are pathetic). My digitized version of Amelia and other fonts I designed are available at highwoods@hvc.rr.com." He provides more information later: "As for how Bitstream and Linotype came by my fonts, I have no direct knowledge but I can give you some idea of the formative process of Amelia and other fonts I have designed. Some time after I digitized Amelia (in Fontographer) from my original drawings, I compared the letter forms with the pirated versions and, not surprisingly, found them wanting. It's strange and ironic that these bastard versions apply the same typographic tricks Amelia was designed as a departure from. Amelia was conceived in the early sixties at a time when hope was in the wind. It looks to the East for inspiration but is firmly rooted in the classical tradition it turns on end." So, here we have an original designer thoroughly upset by the piracy [in his own eyes] of two large foundries.


The contenders

Always on the side of the artists and creators, I decided to dig a bit further, and discovered various versions of Amelia on the market. I have not seen the original, but it seems that A770Deco (shown below) is closest to it. The versions are:

  • A770Deco (SoftMaker Software GmbH). This is Martin Kotulla's version. He bases most of his fonts on the historical originals, a practice that makes his font CDs very valuable to the type historians.
  • BarbarellaSF (Brendel Informatik & SoftMaker Software GmbH, 1990-1993). A precursor of A770Deco, and very much its twin sister.
  • PerkleDisplaySSi (Southern Software, Inc, 1992). A third font in the same mould as the previous two, but poorly executed contours, spacing and kerning.
  • AmeliaBT-Regular (Bitstream, 1990-1992). This is an interpretation, despised by Stan Davis.
  • LinotypeAmelia (Linotype*Hell AG, 1997). Another version Stan Davis does not like. Linotype claims that Amelia is a trademark of Heidelberger Druckmaschinen AG (its parent company).
  • Amy (Corel, 1991). A truly horrendous version by Corel.
  • Ambroney Normal (Primafont). I have not been able to locate a copy of this font.

The alphabet

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A quick look at the basic alphabet shows that Amy stands out by its gross deviation from the original: it has thicker strokes, and loses it completely in letters such as the K. In fact, the principal thread in Amelia is the rounding of all corners, the liquid effect. That principle is not applied uniformly in most versions: the numbers 5, 6 and 9 show that Amy, and the Linotype and Bitstream versions are inconsistent. The overall color suggests that we have four groups, A770Deco and BarbarellaSF in the front group (truest to the original, and consistent in their applications), PerkleDisplaySSi (related, but as we will see below, lacking in the details), AmeliaBT and LinotypeAmelia (probably developed from the same source, but bastard liquid faces), and Amy (all by itself, a Corel monster).


The letters

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Stan must have liked the octagonal look of B's bowl. The Bitstream, Linotype and Corel versions take the liquidism too far here, and round out the bowl.

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The corners of the bridge are more "liquid" in the A770Deco group.


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The square angle in the first three faces show a lack of understanding. PerkleDisplaySSi fumbles the ball by not having a truly vertical leg of the P.


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This letter clearly shows who is related to whom. SSi's tail did not survive Paul King's outline manipulation. Amy's tail is too short as well.


Conclusion

It is inconceivable that these fonts were developed independently---there are too many coincidences. I must agree with Stan Davis that the Bitstream, Linotype and Corel versions are unacceptable bastards, that lower the value of his creation. MyFonts claims that the Bitstream font it is selling was created by Stan, yet the version sold is the imperfect Bitstream bastard. I am sure Stan wants it removed, but what can he do? Does any of the Bitstream profit go to Stan--I doubt it. Same comments for the Linotype face, but Linotype goes a step further---it has trademarked the name of Stan's daughter, and uses it for its own bastard. They have thus made the bastard immortal. So, if you want the original face, and if you want to support its creator, please get it from directly from Stan Davis at highwoods@hvc.rr.com.


 

Copyright © 2003 Luc Devroye
School of Computer Science
McGill University
Montreal, Canada H3A 2K6
luc@cs.mcgill.ca
http://cg.scs.carleton.ca/~luc/index.html


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