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Revival of Ihlenburg's Columbus (1892) and American Italic (1902) typefaces, never before made into quality digital fonts.

Revival of Ihlenburg's Columbus (1892) and American Italic (1902) typefaces, never before made into quality digital fonts. Read More
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This project's funding goal was not reached on May 20, 2012.

About this project

Help me rescue this funky cool typeface from becoming forgotten history!

Cristoforo is my name for a pair of new fonts reviving classic American-Victorian art nouveau metal types by Hermann Ihlenburg: Columbus (1892), Columbus Initials (upright swash capitals) and the italic companion American Italic (1902). Cristoforo Regular will have some 300+ glyphs. You can see specimens of the source typefaces on my blog.

If you are not familiar with Kickstarter, scroll down to the FAQ and learn more about how it works.

Why is Cristoforo needed? 

Columbus and American Italic were classic typefaces by a master craftsman. But there's never been a decent digital version of these fonts. With Cristoforo, I want to make a pair of professional quality digital fonts, complete both in standard character coverage and in having many assorted alternate letter shapes. (For example, the graphic above shows the swash alternate versions of C, V and R originally available in Columbus Initials.)

Who should back Cristoforo?

  • fans/collectors of classic Americana
  • fans/collectors of Victorian-era design as seen anywhere in the world
  • graphic designers and typographers
  • fans and designers working with/for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game

H.P. Lovecraft & Call of Cthulhu

Cristoforo has a huge history here. Its predecessor, Columbus, was the typeface used to create the logo for the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game, inspired by the horror fiction of H.P. Lovecraft. The Call of Cthulhu RPG first appeared in 1981, and for over a decade Columbus appeared on the covers of not only the game rulebook, but also a couple of dozen supplemental books and adventures. After falling out of use on supplements in the 1990s, it has still continued to be the primary game logo to the present day, with only a couple of brief interruptions. Thus Columbus has an iconic status among many fans of Call of Cthulhu and/or H.P. Lovecraft. The game introduced many to Lovecraft’s fiction. The Call of Cthulhu campaign adventure Masks of Nyarlathotep, which I designed most of the “clues” for, remains the highest-rated campaign or adventure ever published for any role-playing game. Here are a few of the Call of Cthulhu books using Columbus.

What's that black book at the top of the picture, holding the others at a handy angle? I hand bound a copy of the rulebook, hardcover in leather. Why, yes, I am that obsessive.

Americana & Cracker Jack

Cristoforo also has a key link to classic Americana. Its predecessor, Columbus, was the typeface used as the basis for the original logo for Cracker Jack (the candied peanut and popcorn snack), back in the 1890s. The candy was such a basic part of the baseball stadium experience that it was immortalized in the hit 1908 song, still sung today at most major league baseball games, "Take Me Out to the Ball Game":

“Take me out to the ball game,
Take me out with the crowd;
Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack...”

Although the logo has since been updated and modernized, the current version still shows the influence of the original letterforms.


  • Fees from credit card processing and Kickstarter will be about 8–10%, call it $700. My initial estimate for the costs involved in creation and mailing of rewards is somewhere above $2000. I also don't have an original ATF specimen book that covers the Cristoforo model, Columbus, and I need more models for American Italic. Libraries and collectors are understandably reluctant to open up their fragile old books in the manner required for a good scan, so I am thinking I will just acquire my own. The three books I am looking at will run about $1000 altogether. Ouch! But nice to have in general, and for potential future projects. In a perfect world, I would acquire good metal versions of the typefaces, or at least commission somebody to print a complete character set of American Italic and scan it. Assuming I can even find the metal type in decent shape. No idea yet what this would cost. All of that might leave me $4500, for probably 300 hours of work, or a whopping $15/hr. I've probably put in 40-80 hours just on preparing the Kickstarter campaign alone, and the rewards production will be another 40-80 hours. Of course, I could make more if I exceed my goal—that would be great!

    Although the going rate for somebody commissioning a typeface varies, my experience suggests that a basic two-style typeface from a competent, but not massively popular, type designer would run about $10,000–14,000. I hope to make a little money from retail sales over time, so hoping to clear less than half of that up front seems very reasonable to me. If I can't clear even that much, the project probably doesn't make sense!

    As mentioned below, if I exceed my target I can add more language support, and if I get enough over, I could pay an intern as well (my stretch goal for funding). An intern won't necessarily add more than he/she costs in time, it's just another way of giving back to the community.

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  • These classic typefaces were originally designed by Hermann Ihlenburg. Born in Berlin in 1843, he immigrated to the USA in 1866. Ihlenburg was among the most prolific of 19th-century type designers, creating over 70 typefaces in his career, in a dizzying array of styles, up to three years before his death in 1905. The Klingspor printing museum in Germany offers a (PDF) for Ihlenburg.

    Columbus and American Italic were originally very much designs of their time in the Victorian art nouveau style. But “trendy” is not the same as “lasting” so neither remained in production for long. Columbus was issued by MacKellar, Smith & Jordan right before it was subsumed into the American Type Founders conglomerate, in 1892. Columbus disappeared from ATF catalogs by 1906. American Italic was released by ATF in 1902, was still around in ATF’s 1912 catalog, and was gone by the time the 1923 catalog was issued. Why the italic was named and marketed so independently, I have no idea.

    Columbus was actually one of four typefaces Ihlenburg designed for the 1892 Chicago World’s Fair celebrating the 400th anniversary of Christoper Columbus’ voyage. The others were Columbian, Ferdinand and Isabella (the latter two named after the King and Queen of Spain who financed the voyage). Of the four, only Isabella is in widespread circulation today, having been converted to a digital outline font as early as 1988 by Agfa, and widely bundled since then. Ferdinand has a poorly-made free version. Columbian has no digital version I have come across.

    The best source of general info about Hermann Ihlenburg is David Pankow's article “Recast in an American Image: The work of Hermann Ihlenburg, Type Designer” in (Journal of the Pacific Center for Book Arts), Vol. 13, Nos. 3&4, Fall/Winter 1993-94. The article was written to commemorate the deposition of at the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at the Rochester (NY) Institute of Technology, a library-inside-a-library which Pankow was long the curator of.

    I had a fellowship to pay me to work at the Cary while doing my MS in printing at RIT in 1995–96, and I got to go through and admire the many Ihlenburg type drawings and sketches. Ihlenburg was capable of an amazing variety of styles, all executed with amazing craftsmanship. Of course, a lot of the 19th century art nouveau stuff seems rather overwrought to modern sensibilities, but to me that's part of its charm—rather like H.P. Lovecraft’s writing.

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  • (first issued in 1981) is a role-playing game inspired by the horror stories of (1890-1937). Although there are variants in many settings, the "classic" version of the game is set in the 1920s... with the twist that hiding below the surface of things are nameless horrors and incomprehensible alien gods trying to break into our world.

    In any case, the game logo is set in Columbus, using the alternate swash “C” and substituting the zero for the “o” in “of.” The game logo is still in Columbus, and from 1981-91, so were the titles on the covers of virtually all supplementary material for the game—dozens of books, some of which you can see in my promo video above.

    So it’s my hope that H.P. Lovecraft aficionados, Call of Cthulhu fans, and designers producing related materials may be inclined towards use of Cristoforo, thanks to its strong associations for that crowd. Among other things, they won’t find that alternate cap “C” in the currently available digital versions of Columbus.

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  • Kickstarter is a crowdfunding platform for creative projects. Kickstarter is an all-or-nothing deal: if a project receives enough pledges to meet (or exceed) its funding target, then credit cards are charged and the project is funded. If not enough money is pledged, the project gets no funding at all. There is no upper limit on funding, however.

    Kickstarter is not an investment platform. Backers do not get a share of profits. Instead, they get pre-defined "rewards" from the project, depending on their level of funding.

    A backer can fund as little or as much as they want. They can take any one reward (or no reward at all) at or below their funding level. If you want to donate $1000 and pick a $10 reward, or no reward, that's up to you.

    After a project is funded (assuming it is), the creator can survey their backers to get things like their address (for shipping physical items), or what t-shirt size they want, etc. Backers also have the chance to communicate with the project creator, in case they have special requests, questions, or want to pass on some of the rewards associated with their reward level.

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  • First and foremost, I love type: both my career and my hobbies reflect that. This is just one way of expressing that. The first digital font I ever worked on, back around 1994-95, was my first stab at a version of Columbus. But I have learned quite a few things since then, mostly during my 11 years doing type at Adobe. I want to do something that really respects the original, so I threw out the version I started before and started over from scratch.

    If you check out my bio on the side here, you'll see that I designed a large typeface (, with over 3000 glyphs per font) while I was at Adobe. For years I evangelized font production best practices for the then-new OpenType format to type designers and type foundries.

    Reviving Columbus as Cristoforo excites me partly because it is such a quirky design, also because of the Call of Cthulhu connection, and because I've seen a lot of Ihlenburg's work and think it’s pretty cool. Wild, but cool.

    I even have a family connection: my distant cousin Joseph W. Phinney was a vice president and founding partner in American Type Founders, the type foundry trust into which Columbus and its issuing foundry were absorbed in 1892. It was ATF that issued American Italic ten years later. There’s at least one typeface that is credited variously to J.W. Phinney or to Ihlenburg, depending on what source you look at.

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  • This typeface has a kind of narrow appeal to a few specific groups of people. In this case, I don’t think it makes sense to do hundreds of hours of work up front and hope to make enough money at regular retail sales. I am instead hoping that it can get funded up front from those few super-enthusiastic folks who think it is cool. The success of this project can serve as a signpost for other type designers wanting to create typefaces with less risk, while still retaining creative control and future rights.

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  • If funding exceeds $9,000, I will add Central European (Polish, Czech, Romanian, Turkish, Baltic, etc.) support to Cristoforo. This would add about 100 glyphs to the font, essentially more accented character support, including accented versions of alternates. If funding exceeds $12,000, I will also add Cyrillic support for Russian and other languages! This would be about 120 characters for standard Cyrillic, and up to 50 more to get a fair bit of extended Cyrillic (extended = language coverage for another 60 million people.)

    Half of all funding beyond $12,000 (less additional incentive expenses), will go into a special bucket to pay a summer intern, as long as I can find somebody interested, available and qualified who I think I can work with. This will be a unique educational opportunity for somebody to do a combination of work with me on Cristoforo, work on the Kickstarter rewards, read books from my personal library on typography and typeface design, and even work on one or more of their own typefaces—perhaps in roughly equal measure? I don't expect a summer intern to actually contribute more to the project than I would have gotten done without him or her, but if I’m lucky, it can be about even. I really want to be able to pass on some of the things I have learned. Job posting coming soon on my blog at

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  • There are two other revivals of Columbus that I know of. First, there’s a free version of Columbus called by its original name,, by a fellow named Sam Wang.

    There’s also an $18 commercial font called Scriptorium. You can compare the quality of the letter shapes vs some draft letters from Cristoforo in this

    Each of the previous attempts consists of about 100 glyphs (letter shapes) per font, whereas a standard character set today consists of about 240. For Cristoforo, due to alternate forms and their accented versions, I plan about 300 glyphs per font (potentially many more, depending on language support). Of these about 100 are in passable shape right now in the upright face—I haven't started the italic.

    Cristoforo will feature both the default forms and the alternate swash caps, some of which have not been digitized before. Neither Columbus revival handled multiple shapes for the same letter.

    American Italic has never been revived in digital form, though it has inspired a kind of pastiche called by Ray Larabie (Typodermic).

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  • The trademark on the name Columbus for a typeface first lapsed for many years. Then, in 1992, Monotype issued a completely unrelated lovely, also called Columbus, for the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the new world (just like Ihelnburg’s typeface was for the 400th anniversary). Monotype trademarked the name at that time. So, given a currently available typeface with that name trademarked, I had to call my version something else.

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  • I'm not certain, but I currently imagine a retail license will be $30 for the upright and $25 for the italic, or $50 for the pair. They will definitely be at least as much as the reward level on Kickstarter, without the added goodies.

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  • Central European means adding support for accented Latin to cover: Croatian (Latin), Czech, Estonian, Hungarian, Latvian, Lithuanian, Polish, Romanian, Serbian (Latin), Slovak, Slovenian and Turkish. For font geeks, we'd be looking at including the character set.

    Cyrillic support would likely mean a follow-up release. Basic “Adobe Cyrillic 1” would cover Russian, Adyge, Avarish, Balkarian, Belorussian, Bulgarian, Chechen, Darginish, Ingushian, Kabardino-Cherkesian, Kumykish, Lakish, Lesginian, Macedonian, Mordovsko-Ersatian, Mordovsko-Mokshanian, Nanaish, Nenish, Nivkh, Nogaian, Selkup, Serbian, Tabasaranish, and Ukrainian.

    Adobe Cyrillic 2, which I would likely do if I did Cyrillic at all, would add support for: Abaza, Adyghian, Avar, Buryat, Chechen, Dargin, Dungan, Ingush, Kabardian, Kalmyk, Kara-Kalpak, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Lakh, Lezgi, Mongolian, Tabasaran, Tajik, Tatar, Turkmen (Cyrillic), Tuvan, Uzbek.

    I might throw in support for even more than that, but first let's worry about the funding!

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Support this project

  1. Select this reward

    Pledge $5 or more About $5 USD

    COMPUTER DESKTOP WALLPAPERS! We'll have three designs: Victoriana theme; type design theme featuring a tribute to original type designer Hermann Ihlenburg; H.P. Lovecraft / Cthulhu horror theme. Use one or all! PLUS, you'll get exclusive backer-only updates on the project.

    Estimated delivery
    3 backers
  2. Select this reward

    Pledge $19 or more About $19 USD

    + THREE LETTERPRESS POSTCARDS: I'll mail you a set of three letterpress printed postcards (one in each of the three themes mentioned above). Postcards will be printed letterpress using the Cristoforo fonts! And you get listed on the web site as one of my fabulous backers! PLUS, get the desktop wallpapers and get backer-only updates. ADD $2 for outside the USA.

    Estimated delivery
    7 backers
  3. Select this reward

    Pledge $48 or more About $48 USD

    THE FINAL FONTS—ALL DIGITAL PACKAGE. Full fonts, at less than the retail price! Get the final versions of both Cristoforo and Cristoforo Italic. You'll also get a working version of Cristoforo upright within a month of the project being funded, and a working version of the italic by the end of September (I think!). PLUS the desktop wallpapers, backer listing and backer-only updates! (But see below if you want the postcards as well.)

    Estimated delivery
    42 backers
  4. Select this reward

    Pledge $63 or more About $63 USD

    FONTS + POSTCARDS. The fonts, PLUS the letterpress postcards, the desktop wallpapers, backer listing, and backer-only updates. ADD $2 for outside the USA.

    Estimated delivery
    Limited 12 backers
  5. Select this reward

    Pledge $92 or more About $92 USD

    + T-SHIRT: a special Cristoforo silk-screened cotton T-shirt, printed in two colors, and good quality, in your choice of sizes. NOTE: Add $5 for shipping to Canada/Mexico, and $10 for anywhere further abroad. Add $25 for each additional T-shirt, and $3 for each T-shirt that needs to be XXL or larger. PLUS you'll get the final fonts, the desktop wallpapers, the postcards, backer listing and backer-only updates!

    Estimated delivery
    5 backers
  6. Select this reward

    Pledge $133 or more About $133 USD

    + POSTER: a two-color 18" x 24" poster, showing off Cristoforo! The poster will be printed on archival quality acid-free paper as a limited edition of 100. PLUS you'll get the the final fonts, the T-shirt, the postcards, backer listing and backer-only updates!

    NOTE: Add $10 for shipping to Canada or Mexico, and $20 for anywhere further from the USA. Add $25 for each additional poster or $25 for each additional T-shirt. Add $3 for each shirt that is XXL or larger.

    Estimated delivery
    Limited 1 backer
  7. Select this reward

    Pledge $182 or more About $182 USD

    + OVERSEER OF THE PROJECT! You'll get periodic updates with current versions of the fonts as I work on them throughout the project, plus the chance to give feedback on any aspect of the project.

    This is the reward to take if you want to get me to promise to add Esperanto support, or Norse runes, or something. :)

    PLUS the final fonts, the poster, the t-shirt, the postcards, backer listing and backer-only updates.

    NOTE: Shipping outside USA and extra items costs as described above.

    Estimated delivery
    Limited 1 backer
  8. Select this reward

    Pledge $232 or more About $232 USD

    AN HOUR OF TYPE TRAINING. You get up to an hour of training by Skype (or in person, see below) critiquing your type design or giving you training on any aspect of typography and type design that interests you, and I have expertise in. NOTE: Add $40 per additional half hour. Can be split into two sessions, or more if you pay for more time.

    PLUS the final fonts, the poster, the T-shirt, the postcards, backer listing and backer-only updates.

    NOTE: Shipping outside USA and extra items costs as described above. Can be done in person if you can meet me in Portland, or at a conference I'm attending, time permitting. From June to October I currently expect to visit Dallas, Barcelona, possibly Paris, Milwaukee, Chicago, San Francisco, and Hong Kong.

    Estimated delivery
    Limited 2 backers
  9. Select this reward

    Pledge $333 or more About $333 USD

    + A CUSTOM HARDCOVER BOOK with the title digitally foil-printed on the cover USING CRISTOFORO! I will take a PDF with 8.5 x 11 pages, of your choice, and print it on sturdy acid-free 11x17 pages two up. This will allow me to create hand-sewn signatures. I will then hand-bind it as a hardcover—in bonded leather!

    PLUS you get the fonts, the postcards, the T-shirt and the poster, backer listing, and backer-only updates. NOTES: This is for a single book of up to 200 pages; add $1 per two pages beyond that. This reward is limited to books where we can get the permission of the copyright holder. Please either add the cost of licensing the book as a PDF, or provide proof that you have such a license already along with the PDF. Feel free to contact me for more details. Shipping outside USA and extra items costs as described above.

    Estimated delivery
    Limited 1 backer
  10. Select this reward

    Pledge $1,892 or more About $1,892 USD

    + CUSTOM TWO-DAY (or longer!) WORKSHOP just for you! ADD $800 for each additional day up to five. I'll teach you anything you want to learn about type design and typography that I know. You'll enjoy my wife's wonderful cooking, and absorb fonty goodness until your brain explodes! Learn anything from outline construction to spacing and kerning, or how to use multiple master technology to design an extended family of fonts all at once! Or anything else I can teach. Includes two meals a day, for up to two people. Date subject to mutual agreement, some time between project funding and the end of January. Does not include your travel costs to get to Portland, Oregon. You may also opt to have me come to you if you can cover my travel costs and expenses. Possibility of staying at our home if hotel cost is an issue. Email me to discuss this one! :)

    PLUS the final fonts, the poster, the t-shirt, the postcards, backer listing and backer-only updates.

    NOTE: Shipping outside USA and extra items costs as described above... unless you pick up. :)

    Estimated delivery
    Limited 0 backers

Funding period

- (26 days)