Hermann Zapf and His Dingbats

Hermann Zapf and His Dingbats sounds like a quite delightful 70s psychedelic band. Unfortunately, it isn’t one, but feel free to start the group and send us your demo.

Hermann Zapf rocking that pen.

Hermann Zapf rocking that pen.

No, Hermann Zapf is not a musician, but he is a rock star in slightly different circles. Zapf is a font designer, one of the most famous such designers in the world in fact. I am writing about him today because I ran into his amusing name while researching funny-named font Wingdings. Turns out Wingdings is what you would call (were you in the font business and knew such things) a dingbat font. Hermann Zapf designed one of the most famous (were you to be in the know about such things) dingbat fonts in the world – the Zapf Dingbat.

Zapf Dingbat. Chew on that, funny name fanatics.

Hermann Zapf was born in Germany in 1918, a world devoid of Microsoft Word and (presumably) dingbat fonts. At school he ate full meals in a time of famine thanks to a program organized by funny named President Herbert Hoover.

Zapf originally wanted to be an electrical engineer, but the atmosphere in Germany in the late 30’s was such that his and his family’s political leanings prevented that, as he was not admitted to any university. Instead, he found an apprenticeship and drifted into the world of typography half-accidentally, eventually becoming wildly successful (or as wild as you can be designing fonts).

This is actually the screenplay to the film "Beethoven", written in Zapf Dingbat font to make it more entertaining.

This is actually the screenplay to the film “Beethoven”, written in Zapf Dingbat font to make it more entertaining.

He has been married to fellow typographer and bookbinder Gudrun Zapf von Hesse since 1951. That is pretty awesome, and the life of a typographer-bookbinder couple sounds fascinating to me somehow.

Zapf is also a master in calligraphy, and was once commissioned by the United States to write out the Preamble to the United Nations Charter in four different languages. I have never received a call from the United Nations, or anyone else for that matter, asking to write something out really nicely for them. There is a reason for this, but at least they could ask.

Zapf was not content to just ride his own funny name to success, but at one point teamed up with a man named Herb Lubalin to found a typography company.

Back to those Dingbats. As you may know, a dingbat font is one of those seemingly useless fonts you find your word processor that consists entirely of various symbols and characters, forming “text” that is totally unreadable. In the 1990s an editor of the music magazine Ray Gun named David Carson printed a Brian Ferry interview entirely in the Zapf Dingbat font, for a delightful reason. Story goes, he thought the interview was so deathly boring, using the unintelligible dingbat font only made it more interesting and entertaining. I can’t confirm that, but approve of his methods.

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About Arto

Co-founder of the Funny Names Blog, Hawaiian shirt enthusiast, and holder of a funny name himself with too many vowels for any sensible person. Currently residing in San Diego, California, scouring through obscure documents on a hunt for more funny names. www.funnynamesblog.wordpress.com
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8 Responses to Hermann Zapf and His Dingbats

  1. Dave says:

    Arto, you outdid yourself today. Well done!

  2. amb says:

    Maybe it’s because I haven’t had my coffee yet, but pretty sure you sound like a quite delightful 70s psychedelic band, my friend.

  3. Liz says:

    Have long wondered why so many (strange) font choices. Love the word typography and can’t even fathom what a career in that field would involve. (Invites to professional functions must be stunning or at least very nicely done.) This is for sure good background info and I’ve learned yet another piece of the pie that is our world. Thank you, Arto!

    On a side note, I have my first cold since the HankyBooks arrived so am finally able to truly test drive. I gave my dad his very own last night and he totally loved it. 🙂 (p.s. Maybe the U.N. would like some Hanky Books? All those long meeting–am sure there are a lot of coffee spills, runny noses, etc. Your phone call may come eventually!)

  4. Dave says:

    Whenever I hear about someone whose political leanings in 1930’s Germany prevented them from doing things, I usually assume I would like that person a lot. Hermann seems like a pretty cool guy!

  5. A typographer and a bookbinder? Like gas and fire! Watch out everybody.

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