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The lack of emotions gave rise to desperate Romanticism, which did not manifest itself in book typography at all, as if the division of work in art had marked the industrial revolution. At the same time, at the beginning of the 19th century, when Caspar David Friedrich paints his snow-covered graves with forked, mutilated trees, Justus Erich Walbaum sits quietly in his Weimar workshop, establishing the German branch of Neo-classical typography. Beside Didot and Bodoni, Walbaum seems to stand rather on the margin of glory. His typeface, when judged according to the Neo-classical rules, is even a little bit “impure”. But this is precisely the reason why it is much more legible, softer and more humane than it would have been, if it had merely, blindly, aimed at an ideal.
Just like the teacher of calligraphy, designer of gravestones and painter-craftsman Baskerville, also Justus Erich Walbaum came to typography from another, this time much more distant profession. He was born in 1768 as a parson’s son and was apprenticed to a confectioner in his young days. From engraving confectioner’s moulds it was only a short step to cutting type punches and type-founder’s tools. Renaissance graphic artists, to be sure, were fellows of a different calibre – they started their careers by engraving weapons! Walbaum’s name, however, does not appear in any imprint lines, because he probably never printed books himself. The same type faces were used by other printers of that period, for example Unger or Prillwitz. Maybe the last fine Walbaum type face was used to print Berthold’s Specimen Book of 1923, which also includes a specimen text in the size of 12 points, on which our transcription draws. In contradistinction to the strictly rational Didot or the elegant Bodoni, Walbaum at first sight does not possess any features that might lead to a brief attribute. In any case, however, it is an outstanding work, a far cry from chocolate wafer-cakes or cream horns. The expression of the type face is robust, as if it had been seasoned with the spicy smell of the dung of Saxon cows somewhere near Weimar, where the author had his type foundry in the years 1803-39. Its typical features are: a firm skeleton of the design of the individual letters, in some cases supported by a square scheme; daring triangular serifs of S, s, C, and G; K and R standing, like an old grumbler, with one foot placed forward; and rather conservative italics. An especially unsuccessful solution for its time was the design of italic figures. Nevertheless, they were blindly taken over by the Berthold Company in 1919, together with the other shortcomings.

Justus Erich Walbaum