The history of the typeface Gill descends from Edward Johnston’s iconic typeface, Johnston sans, designed for the London Underground in 1913. At the time, Eric Gill studied under Johnston as his apprentice at the London Central School of Arts and Crafts and even had a small role in assisting Johnston in the creation of his typeface.
Taking inspiration from Johnston’s work, Gill first experimented with his improved typeface in 1926, when he hand painted some lettering for a bookshop sign in his hometown Bristol. Gill also sketched a guide for the bookshop owner Douglas Cleverdon, who later published the work in ‘A Book of Alphabets for Douglas Cleverdon’.
At the time the book only contained uppercase lettering, which got the attention of Stanley Morrison for it’s commercial potential. An advisor for monotype Morrison commissioned Gill to develop a complete font family to compete with the Germans who at around the same time released the popular font Futura. The font was released by Monotype in 1928 as Gill Sans.
The Gill sans alphabet is classical in proportion, it’s classified as a humanist sans serif, making it very legible and perfect for display work, this makes it better suited than most sans serif typefaces to setting bodies of text.
Characteristics of the Typeface
It has a relatively small x-height in comparison with other sans serif fonts, a huge x-height is usually considered to achieve a high legibility but Gill sans seems to be the exception to this rule. Also Gill sans is essentially the only other sans serif typeface without modular use of strokes, “O” is a perfect circle, and the vertical strokes as well as upstrokes and down strokes have consistent thickness, only the “a”, “e” and “g” have thinner strokes at the openings of the small eyes. These exceptions to an otherwise consistent stroke thickness are one of the trademark characteristics of Gill Sans. Unlike other popular sans serif fonts, for example, Arial and Verdana, Gill sans uses a double storey lowercase “g”; this has a distinctive eyeglass shape, which is easily recognisable.
Gill Sans in Use
Gill Sans rose in popularity in the late 1920’s because in 1929 it became the standard typeface for the London North and Eastern Railway, appearing on everything from Locomotive nameplates to train timetables. The success of Gills Sans didn’t stop there; in 1935 the designer Edward Young used the typeface on the now iconic penguin book cover designs.
Other notable uses of the typeface Gill Sans include the BBC Logo when it was re-designed in 1997 and is still used today, also the ‘Story’ part of the film Toy Story logo uses Gill Sans Heavy Bold.
So, theGill Sans typeface started with the London underground and the typeface Johnston Sans and then in the 1920’s took over North and Eastern Railways, then some of the most iconic book cover designs of the 1930’s the penguin books took to the stylistic and simplistic look of Gill Sans.