In a recent NYRB review by P.N. Furbank of the Memoirs of the Comtesse de Boigne occurs the following sentence: “Her edition forms a physically very pretty book, with a charming and inventive use of civilité type.” Of course I immediately wanted to know what the typeface looked like and, if possible, why it was so named. The latter is explained here:

Civilité, designed by the prolific typographer Herman Zapf, is based on the typeface Granjon, of 1928, which in turn was a revival of the types of Robert Granjon, who flourished in Paris, Rome and Antwerp in the late-sixteenth century. Robert Granjon is renowned for his caractères de civilité, letterforms based on a graceful French handwriting and intended as a French version of the Italian italic hand.

You can see a nice sample here (I trust everyone recognizes the Latin text). And if you’re really interested, there’s a book: Civilité Types, by Harry Carter and H. D. L. Vervliet (The Oxford Bibliographical Society, Oxford Univ. Press, 1966).


  1. Mr Spectator says

    And, dear God, isn’t it *ugly*?

  2. I don’t know, I think it looks interesting, sort of Basque influanced or something, but I would be worried about how the book in question uses it. Civilité as a decorative font for chapter headings would be okay, but I don’t think I’d want to read long passages in it.

  3. I assume it’s not used for passages of text, but I’m curious to see the book and find out.

  4. Good heavens! One of only two Latin texts I remember at all!

  5. language hat says: I assume it’s not used for passages of text, but I’m curious to see the book and find out.

    (20 years later, but finally an answer)

    Yes, I often came across the civilité type when reading old Dutch books. It was used for longer passages and whole books. Here is an example:

  6. Thanks! I am grateful yet again that I am able to keep threads open indefinitely.

  7. I am grateful to you LH for keeping it open!

    When I googled “lettres de civilité”, while researching this specific font type, this thread was one of the hits.

  8. Keith Ivey says

    the lowercase o has been lightened, the lowercase t and j have been heavied

    I don’t remember running across this verb heavy before. It definitely fills a niche.

Speak Your Mind