★ ★ ★ Although categorized as a Gothic (sans serif) typeface, Copperplate Gothic actually has tiny serifs on the terminals of both its horizontal and vertical strokes. This is the first of its many annoyances. Designed by Frederic Goudy around the turn of the last century (c. 1901–1905), the uppercase-only font—well suited for etching, engraving, and letterpress printing—now comes standard on most Macs and PCs. As a result, its use is as pervasive as it is awkward—gracing Powerpoint title slides, resumés, and all manner of amateur ephemera with abandon.
Professionally, Copperplate has long seemed the requisite font for legal stationery, labels for mid-level wines, restaurant signage and menus, movie posters (when Trajan is unavailable), food packaging, and banks. If you’re a designer and you’re reading this you know what I’m talking about. If you’re not a designer, you may still recognize Copperplate as the Ghirardelli Chocolate logo, the display type on movie posters for films like Ratatouille, Seabiscuit and Lost in Space, numerous albums by CAKE, or from Paul Allen’s business card in American Psycho. When used with purpose and nuance (the Panic Room title sequence, for example) or by Louise Fili in modified or unmodified form, it can be an effective and elegant type choice. When employed arbitrarily it is nothing short of appalling. I’m looking at you, Golden State Warriors. Ugh. Killing me.
So frequent and predictable are the unsatisfying and/or distracting uses of Copperplate that I have grown to despise it. It may surprise you, then, that I swiped the menu during our recent visit to Wise Sons Jewish Delicatessen to add to our reference binder of “great typography.”
Wise Sons’ logotype is, of course, Copperplate. They also make heavy use of it throughout the menu. Like their burger, the menu features an eclectic mix of typographic flavors that pair effortlessly with one another. Copperplate is the nostalgic standard used for the headings. It establishes Wise Sons in the tradition of the neighborhood deli—proud but unassuming. Refined but accessible. Fastidious but friendly. The descriptions are set in Brandon Grotesque—a Futura lookalike whose rounded corners give it a less authoritarian feel than its 20s-era antecedent. The script, Royal Script, is an unpredictable but inspired choice. Like a garnish it is used selectively (for prices and a few callouts) to provide contrast to the more substantive portions of the menu.
The menu is as densely-packed as Wise’s deli counter. Its skilled combination of faces, cases, weights and styles make it both easy and joyful to navigate. Its oversized format feels abundant and generous. The off-white stock is warm and welcoming. In sum, it is beautifully, thoughtfully and profoundly appropriate to its message. What’s more, it made me look at Copperplate with new appreciation.
Oh, and in case you’re wondering, Wise Sons’ Deli Burger is as accomplished as the typography on their menu. Made with ground pastrami, it’s topped with iceberg lettuce, red onion, deli mustard and a delicious beet and horseradish spread, served on a perfectly toasted challah bun.
The Creative Lesson
Special thanks to Stephen Coles for his type identification assistance. Check out his excellent site Fonts in Use to see more great examples of inspirational typesetting.