Narrowing Canto’s origins down to the stately inscription found at the base of the Trajan column in Rome would be too reductive. Granted, the letters hailing Emperor Trajan after his victory in the Dacian Wars are widely regarded as some of the finest examples of Roman Imperial capitals. In The Trajan Capitals, Frederic W. Goudy describes the Trajan capitals’ curves as “carefully considered quantities which impart a character to the forms that no mechanical construction can possibly give,” concluding that “the Trajan alphabet, in its spontaneity, is primal.” Yet there are countless other examples of this lettering style. Consider Richard Lipton’s type family his tribute to the unknown craftspeople through the ages who skillfully carved letters in stone, but whose fine and lasting work has largely gone uncredited.
Other type designers have looked to those iconic character shapes for inspiration and have made them into full alphabets, yet most lack a crucial feature: a lowercase complement. While Goudy limited his drawings to the capital letters, Warren Chappell did add a lowercase to his 1940 typeface Trajanus, a pen-based interpretation of the Roman imperial capitals. Chappell’s lowercase, however, had its origins in the Carolingian minuscule, an unrelated lettering style developed seven centuries later. In more recent times, other interpretations have been limited to capitals and small caps. When Lipton decided to develop his early drawings into a full-fledged typeface, he returned to his original source of inspiration, Edward M. Catich’s influential Letters Redrawn from the Trajan Inscription in Rome, published in 1961.
Historically, the shapes of carved letters were informed by the action of a flat brush used to paint letters on a stone surface. Those painted models then served as guides to cut actual letters into the stone. Instead of looking at different, existing models for the lowercase, Lipton carefully examined the characteristics of the capital forms. Duplicating their methodology and applying the same flat-brush logic, Lipton drew refined lowercase letters that beautifully harmonize with the elegant capitals. And he didn’t stop there—he added a bold weight, then reimagined his typeface as companion designs drawn with different tools. Whereas Canto can be considered the more formal, polished incarnation, Canto Pen’s calligraphic nature lends it an informal touch. Canto Brush, which revisits the original painted letters at the root of the inscriptional style, comes in two variants: Canto Brush is intended for large display sizes, while Canto Brush Open’s strokes have a more pronounced dry-brush effect for use below 72 points.
Now, six years after its original release, Lipton has considerably expanded the Canto family. He added Light and intermediate Semi Bold weights to the Regular and Bold in all variants, effectively doubling their expressive range. Furthermore, he expanded the character sets, inserting a slew of ornaments to enhance and embellish typographic compositions set in Canto. Finally, he added companion italics to all of the weights in the three Canto subfamilies. Lipton did not look directly at the calligraphic styles of writing masters when drawing those italics. Rather, to maintain the engraved nature of the family, he found inspiration in the gorgeous inscriptional lettering by Fud and Nick Benson of the John Stevens Shop in Newport, Rhode Island.
Canto has blossomed into a tight-knit, harmonious collection of fully-featured inscriptional typefaces in three styles and four weights with matching italics. The type family is immersed in two millennia of lettering history—ready to lend elegance, sophistication, and gravitas to contemporary display typography and short to mid-length copy.
Like all fonts from Lipton Letter Design, Canto is available for print, web, applications, and ePub licensing. Webfonts may be tested free for thirty days. To stay current on all things Lipton, subscribe to Type Network News, our occasional email newsletter featuring font releases, foundry happenings, type and design events, and more.