His­tory of Civil Script and mod­ern Cyril­lic type

Am­s­ter­dam Cyril­lic caps of Thes­ing’s print­shop, 1699-1707
Am­s­ter­dam Cyril­lic caps of Thes­ing’s print­shop, 1699-1707
The next articles are published by TYPE JOURNAL in two parts:
CIVIL TYPE AND KIS CYRILLIC (3 September 2013) and KIS CYRILLIC (24 January 2014), author Vladimir Yefimov. Here we give an extract from them. Vladimir Yefimov’s essays on the his­tory of Civil Script and mod­ern Cyril­lic type are one of the best world researches.


Civil Type and Kis Cyrillic

In 2002, an Eng­lish-lan­guage col­lec­tion of art­icles about typefaces and al­pha­bets from around the world was pub­lished un­der the title Lan­guage Cul­ture Type: In­ter­na­tion­al Type Design in the Age of Uni­code (com­piled by John Berry). The book, which came out in the wake of the AtypI buk­va:raz! com­pet­i­tion, con­tained an es­say by Vladi­mir Ye­fimov on the his­tory of Civil Script and mod­ern Cyril­lic type based on his­tor­ic­al forms—Civil Type and Kis Cyril­lic. Today (3 September 2013), 10 years after re­lease, the art­icle is not only still rel­ev­ant, but more cap­able than ever of rous­ing both pro­fes­sion­als and those read­ers who are in­ter­ested in the his­tory of Cyril­lic and Civil Type. Those who knew Vladi­mir will re­mem­ber his tal­ent for quietly and pa­tiently, time and time again, talk­ing about our let­ters as an as­set, rather than the oner­ous leg­acy of Peter the Great. Al­low us to in­tro­duce you to the first part of the es­say on the con­tro­ver­sial re­form.


he re­form of Cyril­lic type took place in Rus­sia dur­ing the reign of Tsar Peter (1689–1725). The old poluustav type was pre­served only for re­li­gious lit­er­at­ure, while for all oth­er pub­lic­a­tions, Peter in­tro­duced a new style that im­it­ated the forms of con­tem­por­ary West­ern type; in later days, the new type be­came known as Civil Type (grazh­danskiy shrift). The re­form par­tially altered the struc­ture of the Rus­si­an al­pha­bet, too: the use of European (Ar­ab­ic) nu­mer­als was in­tro­duced, and punc­tu­ation and caps us­age were put in or­der. Thus, Cyril­lic took on the form of ro­man serif type, in much the same way that Mus­covy was dressed up in European clothes. In fact, the in­tro­duc­tion of Civil Type meant the re­vi­sion of the Cyril­lic al­pha­bet’s struc­ture and the re­styl­ing of its let­ter­forms based on the shapes of West­ern (Lat­in) let­ters. Nev­er­the­less, from the point of view of mod­ern type design, the re­formed Cyril­lic type in­tro­duced by Peter could have been of a high­er qual­ity, had the de­velopers of the Civil Type re­lied on the best ex­amples of West­ern typefaces of the 17th and early 18th cen­tur­ies.

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Kis Cyrillic

Here is the second and fi­nal part of Vladi­mir Ye­fimov’s es­say Civil Type and Kis Cyril­lic. Ac­cord­ing to the au­thor, the typefaces of Hun­gari­an geni­us Miklós Kis (1650–1702) are the most strik­ing ex­ample of Dutch old-style An­ti­qua. In this second part of the es­say, Vladi­mir Ye­fimov gives a de­tailed ac­count of how Cyril­lic script for the Bit­s­ream’s Kis—a con­tem­por­ary ver­sion of Miklós Kis’s typeface—was cre­ated. One of the most beau­ti­ful Lat­in typefaces of the great Rus­si­an ruler’s era, in the au­thor’s opin­ion, gives the an­swer to a very reas­on­able ques­tion—Could a Pet­rine typeface take a dif­fer­ent form? The text is com­ple­men­ted with new il­lus­tra­tions and pre­vi­ously un­pub­lished draw­ings from Ye­fimov’s per­son­al archive.


t is evid­ent that the design of the new Cyril­lic type was done at the am­a­teur level, al­though this was prob­ably the first at­tempt in Rus­sia to use a mod­ern ap­proach to type design, in­clud­ing sketch­ing, the cre­ation of ori­gin­al draw­ings, the man­u­fac­tur­ing of type punches and matrices, then the print­ing of tests, with suc­cess­ive proofread­ing and im­prove­ments to the type. We don’t know which of the ro­man faces was used as the start­ing point for the design of the new let­ters. It is most likely that there was no single pro­to­type and that the struc­ture of the Civil Type was not based on one par­tic­u­lar ro­man font. The sketches were a kind of ec­lect­ic mix­ture of the dif­fer­ent ro­man faces avail­able in Peter’s time (from late Dutch old-style ro­man to Ro­main du Roi). As a res­ult, the Civil Type be­came very dis­tinct­ive, but in fact its dis­tinc­tion was just the styl­ised trap­pings of the ro­man style, an im­it­a­tion of it.

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Further Readings
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