This week’s typeface is an interesting one: a modern, sans-serif typeface that still retains some qualities of the more old-fashioned calligraphy scripts. Lydian, designed by Warren Chappell for American Type Founders in 1938, lacks the extensions of letters at its terminals that would make it a serif face, but is also markedly different from last week’s Futura, a typeface known for the equal weight of each line. Like a calligraphy text, Lydian’s letters narrow around curves (and additional strokes, as in the “y”) and thicken for straight lines. The dot of the “i,” a small diamond, also looks just as if it came from a calligraphy pen.
Though not as versatile as other typefaces, Lydian manages to have an elegant feel without being difficult to read, making it good for invitations, envelopes, and the main text of signs. The diamond shape of its punctuation (seen especially well in periods and colons) as well as its delicate curves (particularly in the ampersand [&]) also add a classical feel to the text, making it useful for older letters and certificates.
Lydian was a popular typeface when it came out, with its additional styles and weights all released in an eight-year period. In 1938, Lydian, Lydian Italic, Lydian Bold, and Lydian Bold Italic all appeared on the market. Quite soon after, in October of 1939, a US patent was granted. These were followed by Lydian Cursive, an alternate and more ornate variant in 1940, and Lydian Condensed and Lydian Condensed Italic, both released in 1946.
Lydian is also a typeface that has appeared in surprising and different ways, perhaps saying something about its versatility and elegant, yet modern, style. In the 1960s and early 1970s, actress Lucille Ball used it for the end credits in both The Lucy Show (1962-8) and Here’s Lucy (1968-1974). At the same time, the International Baccalaureate Organization was using it for its document headings (if you ever took the IBs, you’ve seen it!) and continued to use it until 2007.
Most familiar for our readers would be also be its most contemporary use: as the typeface of choice in the on-screen end credits of the television series Friends (1994-2004)!
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