Elstob a variable font for medievalists

The Elstob font aims to include all Unicode characters commonly used by medievalists. It is a variable font—that is, one that can do the work of a number of conventional fonts by varying different aspects of the characters’ shapes. Variable fonts are especially appropriate for use on the web, since a single file can do the work of multiple conventional fonts, with significant speed gains. All the major browsers now support variable fonts: if this page doesn’t work for you, consider updating your browser.

To get a sense of what Elstob can do, play with the sliders and checkboxes below, and (if you don’t know much about variable fonts) check out the notes on the font’s axes at the bottom of this page. The sample paragraph to the right of the control panel is editable: type or paste in a bit of your favorite text to see what it looks like in Elstob.

For a list of all characters and all features, see the document “Features and Charset.pdf” in the repository.

Size: 1.5em
Spacing: 0em
Weight: 400
Optical Size: 12
Grade: 0

The Elstob font, named for Elizabeth Elstob (1683–1756), a celebrated early scholar of Old English language and literature, is based on the Double Pica commissioned by Bishop John Fell (1625–1686) and cut by Peter de Walpergen, and used for many years by the Oxford University Press. Wherever possible, it is modeled on a specimen book printed in 1925 with type cast in the 1890s from the seventeenth-century matrices; digital images from the 1693 and 1706 Fell specimen books served as backup, and also an early eighteenth-century folio in which a lengthy dedication was printed in Fell’s Double Pica. The Fell types are not a font family in the modern sense; rather, each of the different sizes (Pica, French, Canon, Great Primer, and so on) is at least subtly different from the others in design, and the “English” face is entirely different. For the closest approximation to the original type, set the sliders to Weight 500, Optical Size 18, and Grade 0. Some basic medieval characters: þigeð þær þǣr ȝer ȝernes ful ȝern. Þonne Ðider Æfter Ȝol.

Notes on the Variable Axes

An axis is an aspect of a font that can be varied along a numerical range. A web designer can either choose some combination of axes for static text or vary the axes dynamically (for example, changing the weight of a stretch of type in response to some kind of user action). Each of Elstob’s two faces has three axes:Weight, Optical Size, and Grade.

Weight varies the heaviness of the font along a numerical axis from 200 to 800, where 200 is “Extra Light” and 800 is “Extra Bold.” There are several standard weights between these extremes: “Light” 300, “Regular” 400, “Medium” 500, “Semibold” 600, “Bold” 700. However, there are 601 possible values for Weight.

Optical Size optimizes the type for display at different sizes by varying the x-height, the contrast, and the width of thin strokes. The numbers on the Optical Size axis (6–18) correspond roughly to recommended point sizes: “6pt” (for fine print); “8pt” (footnotes and indexes), “10pt” (block quotes and appendices), “Regular” (main text), “14pt” (subheads), “18pt” (Display text, 18 points or larger). However, there’s nothing to prevent your using any Optical Size you like at any actual point size, if you like the look of it.

Grade is like Weight in that it varies the heaviness of the letters; but it does so without changing their width. Use Grade when you want to change the weight of a stretch of text dynamically (for example, on mouseover) without annoying your readers by forcing the text to reflow. You can also combine Grade with Weight to make weights beyond Extra Bold, but if you take it to extremes, you may lose the counters in some letters and the space between. It is suggested that you set Grade to no more than 0.4 when Weight is 800. The range of allowable numbers on this axis is 0-1.