Variations on First Principles of Typography

Jan van Krimpen

From the Preface:

¶ This edition has been years in the making. Its production began in the reading room of the Meermanno Museum of the Book in The Hague, while John Friedrichs and I rummaged through boxes of archival material on Jan van Krimpen. In one of the files we hungrily sifted through was a manuscript, in Van Krimpen’s fine hand, of a contribution for Bont-Boek over Bond en Boek, published in Holland in 1955. The essay served as a response to Stanley Morison’s “First Principles of Typography,” and thus Van Krimpen simply appended the title in order to add his own particular thoughts. Neither John nor I were familiar with Van Krimpen’s essay, and so shortly after my visit to Holland, John set to work translating the text, which is now presented here for the first time in English. Like Morison’s, Van Krimpen’s text is almost hilariously dry, serious to a fault and written with a typically brutal formality. Nonetheless it is an important contribution to the literature of typographic history, and a pleasant surprise for admirers of Van Krimpen’s work.


Variations was first published in 1955 as Van Krimpen’s contribution to a book published on the occasion of the 75th anniversary of the Dutch Publishers’ Association, set in Van Krimpen’s Romulus type and designed by his colleague at Joh. Enschedé, Sem Hartz. 1955 was also the year of a spelling reform in the Netherlands and, true to Van Krimpen’s character, he had refused to use the new spelling. As a result, his essay is the only one in the book that sticks to the old spelling.

Variations is a re-evaluation of the views expressed by Stanley Morison in ‘First Principles of Typography’ a quarter of a century earlier, against the background of recent developments in typography, in particular in the Netherlands. The essay was written for an audience of people working in the Dutch publishing industry and Van Krimpen ventures to point out the continued relevance of Morison’s typographical principles at the beginning of an era in which the Dutch publishing world was set to break away from tradition.

—John Friedrichs


Jan van Krimpen (1892-1958) was a prolific Dutch typographer and type designer working primarily for The House of Enschedé in Haarlem, The Netherlands. His elegant typefaces include Spectrum, Haarlemmer, Romulus, Romanée and Cancelleresca Bastarda. With Stanley Morison he also worked on the Monotype release of Van Dijck, as well as Monotype versions of Spectrum and Romulus. His book typography was both elegantly simple and austere, and he suffered no fools in his view of understated and principled design. For details on the research trip that led to the publication of this book, have a look here...



6" × 9.75", 28pp. 50 copies.
ISBN: 978-1-894744-35-5

Out of Print



The wrapper, half-title and colophon are set in Jan van Krimpen’s foundry Romanée, cast in Haarlem, the Netherlands, by the House of Enschedé in 1928. The remainder of the book is set in a new digital version of Romanée, based closely on Van Krimpen’s original drawings for the types, rather than on printed samples from the metal. As such, this book and the Stanley Morison, published in 2012, present an interesting comparison of two digital ‘revivals’ of the Romanée typeface, with bits & pieces of text also printed from the actual metal for further comparison. The text, translated by John Friedrichs of Leiden, the Netherlands, appears here for the first time in English. The book was printed into handmade Magnani Velata on a Vandercook 15-21 at the Greenboathouse Press in Vernon, BC. The binding was designed by Jason Dewinetz and executed by Alanna Simenson in Vancouver.


Thanks are due to Ricky Tax for his generous assistance at the Meermanno Museum of the Book in the Hague, to Johan de Zoete at the Enschedé archives in Haarlem, to legendary bookseller Wilma Schuhmacher in Amsterdam, and to many other booksellers and librarians who kindly assisted John and me on our typographical adventures in Holland.