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Creating a font based on Martin Luther's 500 year old handwritten letters.
Creating a font based on Martin Luther's 500 year old handwritten letters.
491 backers pledged €21,508 to help bring this project to life.

About

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€21,508

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Hello, my name is Harald Geisler and I am a typographer. In my past Kickstarter projects I successfully created digital typefaces of Albert Einstein's and Sigmund Freud's handwriting. The projects were funded by thousands of supporters on Kickstarter - Thank you!

With this project I would like to go even further back in history. 2017 is the 500 year anniversary of Martin Luther's "Thesenanschlag" the publication of the 95 Theses. This text was critiquing preachers selling indulgence (certificates to reduce sins). The discussion around this publication lead to the reformation movement which inspired deep and lasting social, cultural and political changes, and eventually the foundation of protestantism. To commemorate this anniversary I like to create a font based on Martin Luther's handwriting. 

What is a font? A font file stores the design of a letter. Apps on your computer then use this information, for example right now your browser uses a font to display the text on this Kickstarter site, or if you are typing in Microsoft Word or Apple Pages - you enter text and a font shapes the look. You can access the fonts installed on your device through a font menu in your office software:

Common fonts are Times, Arial, and Helvetica. When you back this project, you will be able to use Martin Luther's handwriting on your computer and smartphone! 

Rewards

Creating a handwriting font that is true to the original takes months to complete - to upfront the production costs and time I do need your financial support. I like this to be a project that is accessible to everyone at an affordable price: Pledge 10€ and you will receive the final Martin Luther font to use on your computer and smartphone. 

A Font as a present for the holidays? Pledge 25€ or more and you will receive the font for yourself and an additional Gift Card will be mailed to you once the font is finished. Use this printable PDF Voucher to let your friend or family member know what to expect:

 

Along with the font, I will create The Martin Luther Handwriting Book, a gorgeously printed collection of images, research, history, transcripts and more. Pledge 50 Euros and your name will appear in this volume.

 

All reward options:

Prototype: I have already created a prototype of the Martin Luther handwriting font, which holds 14 letters and 4 numbers. To get a first impression and "testdrive" the font you can download the prototype font for PC, Mac, Linux (OpenType) ⇨ right here.

Installation instruction Mac and PC: Double click the font file and your computer will ask you if you like to install the font. Open i.e. Word and select the Martin Luther Prototype from your font menu… your writing will be rendered in Martin Luthers handwriting. Please keep in mind the prototype only contains the letters L M a r t i n u s h e p , . 1 2 4 5— missing letters will be displayed with the Kickstarter sign.

If you like more detailed step by step instructions please have a look at this Helpful Font Guide (PDF) - A document answering the basic questions of how to install and use any font.

"Hey Siri, write with Martin Luther font…", if you have an iPhone or iPad you can "Testdrive" the font on your mobile device too. ⇨ click here to install Martin Luther Prototype on your iPhone or iPad. This video shows how to use fonts on your iPhone:

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History and Inspiration

What does this historic event have to do with Typography? Luther's movement would not have succeeded without being supported by a new technology, a typographic invention by Johannes Gutenberg in Mainz, not far from where Luther lived. The invention of movable type made only half a century before Luther's "Thesenanschlag" can be seen as the ancestor of the type we use on our computers today. Movable type enabled the mass-production of Luther's texts to be spread among the population and reach a wider audience across borders.

1568 woodcut on moveable type by Jost Amman. In the background, compositors are setting type. Source: Meggs, Philip B. A History of Graphic Design.
1568 woodcut on moveable type by Jost Amman. In the background, compositors are setting type. Source: Meggs, Philip B. A History of Graphic Design.

 

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Hey Siri… the end of handwriting? Looking back one could tend to say that the Gutenberg press was the beginning of the end for the art of handwriting. In 2017 with permanently available smartphones there is no need to use a pen; when one likes to take a note one picks up the phone and says "Hey Siri…"

Style and content When the computer or phone displays a note, it needs a style, a form or typeface that represents the content. Not all content can be expressed well with the pre-installed options on your device like Helvetica or Times, because not all ideas and thoughts fit in the standard regular style options. Some thoughts are complex sometimes even contradictory. Ideas do not always pop up like advertisement slogans on a billboard… they need time to develop and sometimes the complex form of handwriting can properly represent that. 

With this project I like to reintroduce the complex and historic aesthetic of Martin Luther's handwriting from half a millennia ago at the dawn of "machine writing"; bringing it to the writing tools of today: your computer and your phone. What would your thoughts look like expressed in a 500 year old handwriting? My hope is that using the final font will be a visual inspiration to you and helpful tool to contain your thoughts.

What will the Martin Luther font be based on? 

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The source and base of the font.

In 1521 Luther was ordered to defend his thesis in front of a trial which in itself could be seen as a sentence to death. He defended himself but only through his political supporters was granted safe conduct. The letter you're seeing here was written shortly after the trial by Martin Luther to emperor Carolus the V. summarising his speech of defence. The pages of this letter I will use as a main source to create the font.

Manuscript used with kind permission of the Luthergedenkstätten
Manuscript used with kind permission of the Luthergedenkstätten

Inspiration - where did the idea come from and how will it continue? 

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About the Idea and Inspiration behind the font.

2014 in the context of the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King jr.'s visit to East Berlin (1964), I came upon this radio recording (source:DRA) of his speech at the Marienkirche. I took a note of the introduction because of what he says about his name: 

This idea triggered a lot of thoughts in me about what influence it has on a person to grow up with a name linked to history. Is it a burden or is it an inspiration to carry a name? For Martin Luther King jr, I imagine this connection must have been a source of inspiration.

At this point I started to think about the two handwriting projects in conjunction and as a possible project in two parts, because with the handwriting fonts I am proposing a similar situation: What does it mean to write your thoughts and ideas with the "hand" of Einstein or Freud? Is the author lurking over your shoulder as you write or are you dictating, is the font a disguise to hide behind, is it a role to switch into and to to see and act as if you were, is it a challenging discussion on paper or an empowering writing together? I hope that the fonts enrich your daily reading and writing experience as a source of play, encounter with history and inspiration.

2017 is the 500th anniversary of the Reformation - next year 2018 will be the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr's shocking assassination. 

It is my wish in 2018 to continue the series with the creation of a font based on Martin Luther King jr.'s handwriting. BUT I have not yet cleared the rights to do so. If this project goes well, I will proceed.

Reading and writing 500 Years ago This project on Kickstarter is not only about the completion of the font or an excursion to the content of this remarkable letter. Also I will introduce to reading Martin Luther's handwriting. Reading comes with writing and therefore this is also an invitation to learn to basics of writing the handwriting style practised 500 ago.

Martin Luther practised an Antiqua style of handwriting with Gothic and Kurrent influences. Sigmund Freud practised Kurrent too to write German and Antiqua or Latin script for other languages. So their style of handwriting is not that much different - of course 400 years between them, but still the basic movements remain. I like to imagine that if the two would meet, they would probably not understand each others German, but since both were fluent in Latin would have no problems communicating through writing. 

Kurrent was used throughout German speaking countries and even until the 1950s taught in Bavarian elementary schools. So once you pick up the basics of Luther's hand and the variations used at the time, you will have a profound base to study many other historic manuscripts. 

Creating a handwriting font

The first step is to transcribe the Latin letter. With that at hand I look for typical letterforms, for example how the c and t connect or the different s forms you see marked above.

Then I learn the basic characteristics of how a writer moves, by examining the upward and forward movement directions. 

I practice how to write the individual letters of a writer over and over again and produce first test letters. This step is important to verify the standards set earlier in the process. Once I am sure about the characteristics I start with the work.

I create a path that follows the original movement which created the letter. Next I add width and contrast to the letters relating to the tools and materials that were used at the time.

Detailed drawing process of the letter E for the Albert Einstein font.
Detailed drawing process of the letter E for the Albert Einstein font.

What about the @ sign? For sure Martin Luther did not write an @ sign, neither did Einstein nor Freud. In the past projects I first draw all the characters with original sample. After I practised and created a lot of letters and numbers I get a feeling for how a writer moves on paper - how the writer makes a loop and how to get from a to b. I look for similar forms like the lowercase "a" and a parenthesis, based on this collected "movement" knowledge and related samples I can make a profound improvisation in the "character" of the original writer. 

How close can a digital font reach to actual handwriting? I created the image below to show the "visual relation" between manuscript and font. You see different samples of the word "Allgemeine Relativitätstheorie" (General Theory of Relativity). The Samples are taken from various original manuscripts from Albert Einstein from different times. Below the manuscript you see the different versions of the Albert Einstein font (PRO) that I finished developing 2017. 

The Albert Einstein font is the most complex font I have developed. It contains 5 versions (in some cases 6) of each letter. Each version is tracked back to a sample found in original manuscripts. An Algorithm in the font continues to switch between the different versions as you type - to create a vivid look, close to handwriting. If you like to read more on the creation process and what is working inside of the font, have a look at this PDF: Albert Einstein Font - How was the font made?

This Kickstarter is about funding the creation of the basic Martin Luther font and a well made documentation. A font that works on all computers, and supports a large number of languages. 

To create text adequate to Martin Luther's handwriting this font needs additional features that were not necessary in the creation of my prior handwriting font projects. Some of Martin Luther's letters are significantly different when they appear in the beginning, middle or end of a word, as well as some letter combinations form so unique ligatures (see c t ligature in sample above) that I have to integrate them into the font in order to be true to the original. The technical names for these features are initial, medial and terminal forms, and ligatures.

When the funding goal is reached I will add stretch goals to address features like the algorithm I applied in the Freud and Einstein font. 

Font specifications: The Martin Luther font will be delivered in OpenType format with PostScript outlines. This format is a standard and widely supported by all common operating systems like PC, Mac, Linux, iOS etc. 

Features:

  • Terminal forms (letters at the end of a word, like the "s" in the prototype)
  • Initial forms (specifically lowercase letters that are in the beginning of a word)
  • Medial Forms (letters in the middle of a word, like the "long s" in the prototype) 
  • Ligatures (like "ct" or "st"…)
  • Stylistic Alternative letters (the prototype already holds two different versions of an lowercase "h" -  so you can pick which h you like better)

Language support • Here is a list of the languages the font will support: Afrikaans, Albanian, Asu, Basque, Bemba, Bena, Bosnian, Catalan, Chiga, Congo Swahili, Cornish, Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, Embu, English, Esperanto, Estonian, Faroese, Filipino, Finnish, French, Galician, German, Greek, Gusii, Hawaiian, Hungarian, Icelandic, Indonesian, Irish, Italian, Kabuverdianu, Kalaallisut, Kalenjin, Kamba, Kikuyu, Kinyarwanda, Lithuanian, Luo, Luyia, Machame, Makhuwa-Meetto, Makonde, Malagasy, Malay, Maltese, Manx, Meru, Morisyen, North Ndebele, Norwegian Bokmål, Norwegian Nynorsk, Nyankole, Oromo, Polish, Portuguese, Romansh, Rombo, Rundi, Rwa, Samburu, Sango, Sangu, Sena, Shambala, Shona, Slovak, Slovenian, Soga, Somali, Spanish, Swahili, Swedish, Swiss German, Taita, Teso, Turkish, Vunjo, Zulu

Commercial use: If you are planning to use the font commercially, for example in your design work or in any context that you could describe with "at work" or involves you doing something that you receive money for… please pledge for the commercial license or higher. Thank you. You can read my End User License Agreement here: https://haraldgeisler.com/eula

Timeline - When will I get the font?

The final font will be available to all backers on February 28. Before that all backers will receive beta versions of the font as I am working on it. You will be able to give feedback to the font as I am developing it, which will be integrated to make the final Font better. The Documentation of the Project the "Martin Luther Handwriting Book" will be available to all backers digitally on March 15. The physical version will be send out by March 30. For details please see the timetable below.

 

What handwriting projects are planed in the future? It is my wish in 2018 to continue the series and create a font based on Martin Luther King jr.'s handwriting. BUT I have not yet cleared the rights to do so. If this project goes well, I will proceed.

In the past I said the next projects after Einstein and Freud has to be a woman. Together with my collaborator Elizabeth Waterhouse we selected a person - she is just ideal and I am very excited and happy about finding her. Some of you already suggested her, but I am not going to spoil the surprise. All I can say we are in conversation with the estate and it will happen - just the papers are not signed yet.

Budget

 

Stretchgoals - The large funding of the past campaigns allowed me to develop the fonts even further than I imagined when I started the campaign. I will add stretch goals when the campaign is close to reaching its goal. The more funding the project gets, the more time I can spend on creating the font and the better the final creation for all backers will be. Please spread the word among your friends to make the Martin Luther font an excellent typeface.

Motivation 

With the handwriting font projects I like to bring the qualities of the aesthetics of handwriting into the realm of typography today, and to your writing utilities of today: your computer, tablets and smart phones.

I differentiate between handwriting and calligraphy. Handwriting can be beautiful and is always a trace of the person writing, calligraphy is pretty and aims for excellence for example by being precise or meeting certain standards - it often aims to please the reader and rarely used in other ways. An interesting analogy to discuss is a quote that comes to mind, I think it was someone referring to the Choreographer Merce Cunningham who continued to appear on stage way beyond the accepted age for a dancer at the time "a young dancer on stage is pretty, but when we see an old experienced dancer it is beautiful". 

One of my favourite moments in "reintroducing" handwriting is the Sigmund Freud Typeface used in a headline of The Times of London. The Times is historically very important in typography. In 1931 the Newspaper commissioned a font called Times New Roman. The Times' font is today installed on practically every computer and smartphone in the world - it is the most common serif typeface. Moments like this makes me smile and curious to imagine a complete newspaper set in the Sigmund Freud typeface, or imagine a tablet displaying all text in Martin Luther's handwriting from 500 years ago.

Sigmund Freud Font used in a headline for an article about contemporary handwriting, 5 June 2015
Sigmund Freud Font used in a headline for an article about contemporary handwriting, 5 June 2015

 

These typographic projects would not be possible without a platform like Kickstarter and Backers like you. 

❤  Thank you.

 

 

 

 

 

Credits

Images of Luther's manuscripts kindly provided by the Luthergedenkstätten.

Risks and challenges

Every artistic project bears risks. Every project is new and brings up unforeseeable risks and challenges both technically and artistically. I have published two comparable projects (Albert Einstein font, Sigmund Freud Typeface - a letter to your shrink) and seven logistically comparable projects (Typographic Postcards I + II, Typographic Wall Calendar 2011, 2012, 2013, 2014 and 2016) which involved design and production, packaging and shipping of printed goods, so I know about the artistic, logistical and technical pitfalls to avoid. The research and preparation that I already made for this project, for example producing a prototype that you can already download and use, assures me that I am able of complete this project within the projected timeframe.

Thank you for your support.

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  1. Select this reward

    Pledge €10 or more About US$ 11

    Martin Luther Font

    Martin Luther Font for PC, Mac, Linux, iPhone or iPad

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    • PDF file of Martin Luther Handwriting Book
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    Gift the Martin Luther Font

    Share the Martin Luther Font with a family member or friend. You will receive the font and an additional Martin Luther Font Gift Card send to you.

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    Martin Luther Font Educational

    Martin Luther Font to use at work in educational or non-profit context (University, School, non-profit, religious organisation, …) on PC, Mac, Linux, iPhone and iPad.

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    Martin Luther and one other font

    Martin Luther Font and one other font of your choice (Sigmund Freud, Albert Einstein, …)

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    Font & Book SUPER EARLY BIRD

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    Pledge €50 or more About $57

    Font Bundle: Luther, Freud and Einstein

    Receive all three handwriting fonts I made: Martin Luther, Sigmund Freud and Albert Einstein.

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    • Albert Einstein Font
    • Sigmund Freud Typeface
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    Font & Book

    You will receive the font and the printed Martin Luther Handwriting book send to you from Germany. The book will show the collected research, notes and sketches from the creation process, and tips on using the font on your computer or phone. Beautiful original samples of Luther’s handwriting with transcript and translation, as well as introduction to reading old german handwriting to give you a better understanding of the font. Your name will be printed in the book.

    Includes:
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    • Printed Edition Martin Luther Handwriting Book
    • Martin Luther Font Gift Card
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    Martin Luther @ Work

    Martin Luther Font to use at work in a commercial context (Design Studio, Advertising Agency, Newspaper, etc.) on PC, Mac, Linux, iPhone and iPad.

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    Bundle and Book

    Receive the Font Bundle and the Book.

    Includes:
    • Martin Luther Font
    • Printed Edition Martin Luther Handwriting Book
    • Your Name in the book!
    • Albert Einstein Font
    • Sigmund Freud Typeface
    • Martin Luther Font Gift Card
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    Spread the Word

    Receive 3 copies of the book and 3 Martin Luther Font Gift Cards… and more.

    Includes:
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    • Martin Luther Font Gift Card
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    Martin Luther Font Educational Team

    Martin Luther Font for a team of 5 people to use at work in educational or non-profit context (University, School, religious context) on PC, Mac, Linux, iPhone and iPad.

    Includes:
    • PDF file of Martin Luther Handwriting Book
    • Martin Luther Font Educational and Non-Profit License
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    Commercial License

    Thank you for your support. You will receive the content of the "Bundle and Book" Reward and three fonts to use on your PC/Mac for commercial use. 30 minutes of Skype or phone conversation, introduction to fonts or consultation on how to use the fonts in your project with Harald.

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    • Commercial license for all three handwriting fonts.
    • 30 min Skype or Phone Chat about how to use the fonts
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    Pledge €250 or more About $284

    Font Library Pass

    Receive commercial licenses for ALL fonts I ever made (14) including Luther, Einstein (PRO) and Freud. 30 minutes of Skype or phone conversation, introduction to fonts or consultation on how to use the fonts in your project with Harald. AND the content of the "Spread the Word" Reward

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    Pledge €500 or more About $567

    Framed Page

    Framed in German oak, museum quality print of one page of Martin Luther's letter to Emperor Carolus V. with latin transcript.

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    • Framed Page
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    Pledge €1,000 or more About $1,135

    Complete Letter

    Framed in German oak, museum quality print of Martin Luther's letter to Emperor Carolus V. with latin transcript for you to study.

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Funding period

- (60 days)