February 26, 2004

Civilité, a French cursive


Robert Granjon, son of a printer in Paris, did not like the fact that many people were writing in their own "type", like Hebrew, Greek or even Roman, and that the French did not have their own letterform. So, from his office in Lyon, he managed to have his handwriting made into a typeface, now known as Civilité.


The book "Dialogue de la vie et de la mort" is set in this original script face. The type became well-known rather quickly, and spread to neighboring countries. For example, Plantin in Antwerp made a deal to use the type.


Meanwhile, Aimé Tavernier, a typefounder and printer in Belgium, who was born between 1522 and 1526 in Bailleul in the French Flanders, made a type which we shall call the "Tavernier Civilité". Some claim it was made independently. However, Dr. Maurits Sabbe and Marius Audin in their wonderful 17-page treatise, "Les caractères de civilité de Robert Granjon et les imprimeurs flamands" (1921) (see also "Die Civilité Schriften" (1929), the German translation published by Herbert Reichner, Vienna), doubt that claim. They note that surely, Tavernier must have seen Plantin's Civilité. Besides, Tavernier's Civilité is first seen only in 1559 in "La civilité puerile distribuée par petitz chapitres et sommaires ... traduictz par Jehan Louveau en Anvers chez Jehan Bellere" (Imprimerie Aimé Tavernier). Considering that Sabbe was director of the Plantin Museum in Antwerp, and Audin a well-known type historian from Lyon, it is likely that they were right in their conclusion that Tavernier had indeed seen the Plantin version.


Sabbe and Audin do not know of any Dutch versions of Civilité, but they note the use of Granjon's type for the first time in the Netherlands in a mathematics text called "Practique omme cortelyken te lere chyphere" (1567, Amsterdam), published by the widow of Jan Ewoutsz.

ca. 1570

Tavernier became well-known and started making type for export to neighboring countries. Unfortunately, he died very young in 1570. Plantin said in 1574 that after the death of Tavernier and François Guyot, his land had no outstanding typefounder left, but that there were some in Germany, but he would not recommend the Germans because they were "irrgläubig". He said of Tavernier that he was the last good typefounder of the sixteenth century.


Gent-based printer Henrik van den Keere makes a very elegant Civilité-like typeface. Van den Keere's type became also widely used. For example, the Enschedé type collection in Haarlem has six Civilité versions, three of which are probably by van den Keere (and two by Tavernier, and one by Granjon/Plantin).


The popularity of Civilité started declining, as its novelty wore off. Some variants of it were created at the end of the century. A small list follows:

  • Richard Breton (typefounder and printer in the Rue St Jacques, Paris), 1597.
  • Philippe Danfrie (Paris), 1597.
  • Jean de Tournes' version was used in "Galathée" (1598).
  • Fleury Bourriquant made a Civilité honneste, which was used in the region around Toul, Chatellerault and Troyes, in the early part of the 17th century.


Pierre-Simon Fournier (aka Fournier le Jeune) makes the "Civilité de l'oubli", a version very close to Granjon, and calls it a French cursive. It can be seen in his "Manuel typographique" of 1766.


Matthias Rosart in Brussels makes a Gros Romain Civilité. From this date on, many foundries include a version of Civilité in their specimen books.


Morris Fuller Benton (1922) is one of several great type designers who made a Civilité. Among the contemporary type designers who have typefaces called Civilité, we cite Klaus Burkhardt, Manfred Klein, Stephen Moye (CiviRegular), Ingo Zimmermann (almost a copy of Moye's version), Richard Beatty, Hans J. Zinken (civi4, 1996), Hermann Zapf (1984: Zapf Civilité), George Thomas (CivilitéMJ), and Tim Ryan (CivilitéTR).

Copyright © 2004 Luc Devroye
School of Computer Science
McGill University
Montreal, Canada H3A 2K6