Copperplate Gothic is everywhere…and I can’t stand it.
I’m a font nerd. I wouldn’t be writing this if I weren’t. I recognize fonts everywhere. Futura while standing in line at the Post Office, Helvetica (seemingly everywhere), of course Times New Roman, Comic Sans (unfortunately) and Copperplate Gothic.
Either I’m weirdly tuned-in to Copperplate Gothic because it’s on my mind (one of those weird ‘the universe is connecting us’ kind of things) or it really is almost everywhere. I saw it recently on the business card for one of the best restaurants I’ve ever been to – I almost offered to redesign their card, doubt that would have been received well. It’s the font of choice at one of the best coffee shops in Chapel Hill, NC. It’s on the notice to turn off cell phones at my gym. Alas, it’s even embossed on the back of my beloved, soft-back Moleskin drawing book…that one hurts.
See, I can’t stand Copperplate Gothic. And it’s all because of the serifs. I can appreciate a font’s history and it’s usage, but not Copperplate Gothic.
It’s cartoonish. It takes the informality of a san-serif and tries to dress it up with ill-placed serifs. There is a disconnect. Without the serifs, the font makes sense. It’s readable, it’s ‘heavy’ and imposing, strong line-weight, wide horizontal axis. All the requirements for a reliable san-serif type.
But the serifs come off as an afterthought. Their proportion is out of sync with the rest of the font. Perhaps Fredric Goudy, the font’s creator, was attempting something new in type design – which I appreciate. But it’s glaringly wrong. Either the line weight is too strong or the serifs too small. The x-height is ‘off’ or the spacing is.
Take a look at the ‘E’ for example. As a letter, it’s unbalanced. The balance shifts right, ironically, because of the small serifs. The serifs don’t exist in harmony with the rest of the glyph. The bar on the ‘L’ is too long, only to be exaggerated by the blunt serifs. And where some glyphs have a general rectangle shape they should have a square shape to maintain the aesthetic and vice-versa.
I see all the letter forms and want to chop and trim the serifs. Copperplate Gothic is begging to be a san-serif; it’s spirit is a san-serif.
I understand why it is so widely used. It comes off as distinguished, historic, strong and masculine. It is readable. But there are so many other options for a typeface. It’s a shame so many people are drawn to it and it’s so ubiquitous. It has become the ‘go-to’ font for those seeking something strong, distinguished and readable. Why not take an extra 15 minutes in choosing a typeface? There’s the obvious Trajan or why not play around with all-caps Century or Book Antiqua or (ironically) all-caps Goudy Old Style?
Is it so prevalent because it isn’t as stodgy as a Garamond or Caslon, as pretentious as a Didot, as simple as a Helvetica? Maybe. Copperplate Gothic certainly exists in its own category. And while I actually can appreciate Copperplate Gothic as a singularity in the world of typefaces, it sits on the fence too much. It wants to be a san-serif but is holding on to an older aesthetic with the points of its little serifs.