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The word “serendipity” comes from an 18th-century story in which the three happy-go-lucky Princes of Serendip travel the land, and encounter the most fantastic opportunities by not looking for them — just staying alert.
Around 2012, one of Berlin’s Typostammtisch nights had the form of a book market. At the only professional antiquarian stand, Fust’s librarian Jan M. acquired a 1920s type specimen from the Trennert foundry in Hamburg Altona. In it he discovered two of the craziest fonts from the Interwar era, both designed by freelancer Heinz König: 1928’s Alarm — clearly a me-too product competing with Berthold’s successful Fanfare from the previous year, drawn by Louis Oppenheim, but different in every detail — and Wiking, a blackletter version of Alarm. Time went by, and the Trennert catalogue sat on a shelf. Then a German online letterpress shop offered a complete 72pt foundry type fount of a weird and wonderful typeface which we did not immediately recognize (that catalogue hadn’t been opened for a while) but fell in love with. We didn’t hesitate: those chunky bits of lead had to be ours! The typeface, of course, was Alarm. How Serendipic can you get?
With the help of designer and letterpress printer Peter De Roy, a friend from Brussels, Jan had his initials printed on a business card from the original Alarm 72pt. People got curious, especially after seeing the prints from our early 2016 printing session (see below). Why had nobody ever digitized this weird and wonderful child of its time which, with some effort, could be lifted out of it and dropped into the early 21st century? When discussing our plans at the Berlin Typostammtisch (Type Circle) for F’n’F with type designer Andreas Seidel of astype, Andreas offered to give it a go. Alarm was updated with a great international (Latin) character set, today’s special signs (think of €, @, and ¥) and a contemporary set of numerals.
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Printing with heavy metal Alarm
Before Alarm became a revival project, fellow type geek Dan Reynolds expressed his interest in trying out the 72pt Alarm fount. In early 2016, when he was still doing research and teaching at Braunschweig University, Jan and Dan took the train with their suitcase of heavy metal, for a day of printing at the University’s fully working printing workshop. No messing about: under our admiring scrutiny and with some help from Dan, seasoned printer Ulrich Lindner did most of the work, painstakingly correcting the height of the letters with pieces of paper until the total image was “acceptable”. Jan shot a lot of short video fragments, but it wasn’t until a year later that he got around to editing the whole thing into this didactic piece of film.