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Berthold Wolpe posing with the Goudy Award

Berthold Wolpe, (1905–1989)

Goudy Award Winner 14, 1982

Berthold Wolpe was born in Offenbach, near Frankfort, Germany. He became an apprentice with a firm of metalworkers where he learned gold, silver and copper smithing and engraving. This training in metal, combined with a nascent passion for calligraphy and inscriptional lettering, led him to become a pupil of Rudolf Koch at the Offenbacher Werkstatt. His colleagues at the Werkstatt included Warren Chappell and Fritz Kredel. From 1929 to 1933 Dr. Wolpe and Kredel served as principal assistants to Koch. In 1932, his first type, Hyperion, was cut by Koch's son Paul and issued commercially by Bauer Type Foundry.

While on a visit to England in 1932, he met Stanley Morison. Morison was impressed with some lettering in bronze done by Wolpe and invited the young designer to create a typeface based upon these letters for the Monotype Corporation. The result was Albertus (titling capitals issued in 1935; lowercase in 1937; and bold and light versions in 1940). Albertus was an immediate success, creating a demand for other Wolpe designs. In 1935, the Fanfare Press commissioned Tempest Titling and in 1937, two designs were issued by Monotype-Sachsenwald-Gotisch and Pegasus. (Two other typefaces were issued much later; Decorata in 1956 and LIB Italic in 1973.)

Dr. Wolpe decided to leave Nazi Germany in 1933 to settle in England and the last forty-five years of his career have been spent almost entirely in his adopted country.

Dr. Wolpe began a four-year affiliation with Ernest Ingham at the Fanfare Press. He joined the staff of the publisher Faber & Faber in 1939 where he worked with Richard de la Mare and David Bland. He remained with the firm until his retirement from full-time employment in 1975. He has designed more than 1500 jackets and scores of books for Faber & Faber. His ideas for book design are nourished by a wealth of historical knowledge; the results are models of classical typography.

Dr. Wolpe has played a major role in the activities of the Printing Historical Society and the Double Crown club. He has also found time to pursue much research into typographic matters, publishing papers and books on the typefounders William Caslon and Vincent Figgins. He has also edited an Elizabethan handwriting manual and written authoritatively on alphabets in medieval manuscripts. He has co-authored volumes on alphabets and handwriting including Das ABC-Buchlein with Rudolf Koch and Renaissance Handwriting with Alfred Fairbank.

For a number of years, Dr. Wolpe taught at the Camberwell School of Art and the School of Graphic Design in the Royal College of Art. He presently teaches lettering at the City & Guilds of London School of Art. In 1959 he delivered the Edith Burnett Memorial Lecture and in that same year he was appointed a Royal Designer for Industry. Dr. Wolpe was awarded an honorary doctorate by the Royal College of Art in 1968. For the year 1981-82, he was elected to the James P. R. Lyell Readership in Bibliography at Oxford University.

"After a lifetime's obsession with the alphabet in all its manifestations," writes his friend A. S. Osley, "Wolpe believes that the letter forms of the past have a lot to tell us today. Yet he deprecates painstaking imitation as an end in itself. He considers that the traditional should be adapted, where necessary, to modem needs and techniques. Thus, when he uses italic on his book jackets, the letters, almost always hand drawn (unlike the Letraset compositions of other designers) are not copybook versions. They are the formal Italic that the classic Italian writing-master Arrighi Vicentino might have evolved, had he been working today. Similarly, his type-designs, and for that matter his informal handwriting, are rooted in traditional soil but flower in a manner that is clearly of the 20th century."