Saturday, February 2, 2013

Quest for Souvenir Part 1

Part 1 of a two part series on Souvenir (Part 2)

I want to preface this post that it might not be of interest to the usual readers here. Ostensibly, it deals with the font of the Tom Moldvay Dungeons and Dragons rules and the font of the original X1 Isle of Dread. It is a font that I have talked about before and is mostly known as ITC Souvenir Demi Bold.

I am reminded by a post over at the Daddy Rolled a 1 Blog, about viewing life through the gaming lens.

I enjoy the fan created works that hearken back to the earliest days of the hobby. Greg Gillespie Barrowmaze uses the Avante Garde font (or something similar) and that style of font helps to invoke the feel of the older TSR modules such as B1 In Search of the Unknown.

I have some background in working with the printing and advertising industry and it has always been a quagmire of issues concerning when and how to use a font in publication. The key concept that is initially hard to grasp (for some) is that the font is "licensed" to be used and that license contains clauses about how it can be used. This is a subject that has gained more notoriety with the Internet age, because most software works in a similar manner. The software running on the machine you are using is most likely a licensed version with restrictions on how it can be used or sold. Such topics are debated in court on a regular basis.

A list of what font was used by TSR in their early products was done by Arrdy DeVarque in the 90s, but that list is filled with font clones that have questionable licenses (or are just outright illegal copies). So, I set about trying to find "open licensed" versions of the fonts that were used in the earliest TSR products. Pop on over to the TSR Font list to find some really great open license font equivalents. But note that Souvenir Demi Bold has remained elusive.

The tale of the quest for Souvenir begins with a German type foundry named Schelter & Giesecke. This was an important and popular font company that was founded in 1819 and was in business for over a hundred years. In the 19th century, product catalogues were made that showed off various font samples and arrangements for customers to peruse. Some of these books are so old that they are now in the public domain. You can even find some books by Schelter & Giesecke on Google Books. See Muster-Sammlung. And if you search through Google Books, you will find a plethora of papers and publications from the late 19th and early 20th century that talk about Schelter & Giesecke. One particular article shows that even in 1913, the idea of licensing and rights was a contentious issue. See The Inland Printer, Volume 51

In summary, Schelter & Giesecke sent a letter to "The Inland Printer" and asked where they got the font for their front cover, because it matched their Salzmann font. It mentions the "National Registration League" as an attempt to bring uniformity in laws across nations to protect designs. And, remember, this is in 1913. The question of copyright, licensing, and patents is still disputed between countries til this day, albeit, it seems to become more uniform and all encompassing as time marches on. It appears that in 1913, the German government took issue with American manufacturers copying German fabric designs, much in the same way the American government of today is trying to keep the rest of the world from copying American companies "Intellectual Property".

Part 1 on a series about Souvenir (Part 2, Part 3)


  1. Hey, thanks for the nod to my blog post, above!

    And, this stuff about fonts is really interesting, at least to me. I actually have a bit of a graphic design background and took a few classes that involved fonts and lettering back in high school and college before ultimately switching majors.

    I found a bunch of those old TSR faux-font knock-offs a few years ago and held onto them for personal use, like making character write-ups and game recaps from our old-school Friday night games, but I'd never thought about the legal repercussions of using a font in a published product. Very cool stuff.

    1. Thanks for dropping by. I can't even begin to fathom how many things I have learned because I played Dungeons and Dragons. It has driven me to learn history, computer programming, astronomy, design, and now fonts (heh). I even setup fontographer and learned a little about making my own font. I could actually now go about making a Schelter-Kursiv inspired font, but I am not a professional and decided it would be too time consuming for me at the moment.

      And prosecution of using a font without permission still happens today.
      P22 type foundry sued Universal Studios for using their font in the Harry Potter products and sign.
      Typotheque filed a suit against RaiseDigital for using their font in Rick Santorum's website.