Danish Typographic Style

In 2001 I attended the ATypI (Association Typographique Internationale) conference in Copenhagen (København if you’re Danish). Traveling to the conference was interesting as this was literally days after 9/11. Not to make light of 9/11 but the plane was practically empty. The flight was pretty great.

KVE Symbols
Kontrapunkt DSB signage
Kontrapunkt’s custom typeface for DSB

Everyone knows Copenhagen is a Mecca for design: Georg Jensen’s cutlery, Hans Wegner’s chairs, Arne Jacobsen … I’ve stayed at the hotel he designed, the SAS Royal Hotel, and if you’re a designer, you might want to check it out. But what about Danish type design?

In 1923 Knud Valdemar Engelhardt (1882–1931) designed the street signs for the Copenhagen suburb of Gentofte. The type design was loosely based on the lettering of two Danish architects of the time: Thorvald Bindesbøll (designer of the Carlsberg logo) and Anton Rosen. The signs were so successful that they’re still in use today after 90 years. The type has a telltale glyph: a lowercase j dotted with a heart (Engel+HARDT). The j appears on most signs since vej means road. As they’ve been so influential, Engelhardt’s letters seem to now instill the very essence of Danish design culture. Engelhardt’s life’s work is listed in the Danish Cultural Canon.

Photographs of Knud V Engelhardt and his Gentofte street signs
Knud V Engelhardt and his lettering for the street signs in Gentofte

Here are a few modern faces that are based on the Danish style that began with Engelhardt and his contemporaries:

Sofie Beier’s Ovink, released through Gestalten.

David Brezina’s Codan: caps only and incomplete but a great start nonetheless.

Kontrapunkt’s custom typeface for DSB (Scandinavia’s largest train operating company) is a perfect example of Danish graphic identity.

Skilt Gothic by Mårten Thavenius, released through Font Bureau.

Dane by Henrik Kubel, published through Playtype.

Ovink typeface specimen
Sofie Beier’s Ovink
Specimen of David Brezina’s Codan typeface
David Brezina’s Codan
a, n, and g characters from Kontrapunkt’s custom typeface for DSB
Kontrapunkt’s custom typeface for DSB
Skilt Gothic Specimen
Skilt Gothic by Mårten Thavenius
Dane typeface specimen
Dane by Henrik Kubel

Some common forms you migth see in these typefaces:

  • a flat apex of the A
  • the widening of diagonal terminals
  • a double-storey g with its loop terminating before it forms the bottom most stroke (Erik Spiekermann coined this a Danish g )
  • a single-story g with a stumpy tail
  • a K with an almost laterally moved crotch, connected to the stem by an extra horizontal stroke
  • widened diagonal connecting strokes forming flat apex or baseline strokes.
  • bulging cross strokes
  • tapered terminals on cross strokes

If I’ve missed any Engelhardt inspired types that you would like to see here, please let me know and we’ll add them to this post.

My attempt to find more on Engelhardt’s work or more generally this specific Danish style of lettering has come up somewhat dry, oddly. The search will inevitably turn to what’s in print, but if anyone reading this happens to know where more info on Engelhardt could be had, your efforts would certainly be appreciated by many.


12 replies to “Danish Typographic Style”

  1. where did that g cut came from?
    • The cut of the g, was made in order to minimize the area used for decenders on signs.

      This was the case on the old streetcars of Copenhagen.

  2. What book is that first screenshot from? It look gorgeous!

    • I did try to find what book that is but was unsuccessful…
    • “Knud V. Engelhardt, Arkitekt & Bogtrykker 1882 – 1931”

      Erik Ellegaard Frederiksen, Arkitektens Forlag 1965

    • Thank you Tot! This goes to the top of my book list.
  3. Great post! Is there a way to obtain the font Kontrapunkt used for DSB? I did some research and it looks like it is called “Via”, but I might be wrong.

    • Thanks Greg. I don’t think that face is available commercially.

  4. Beautiful article! We produce Engelhardt Style Enamel signs on our own and fully agree that he was one of the most influencial designers in denmark!

    Keep up the good work!

    • Great signs!

  5. Great article 🙂


    Just thought that maybe relevant to share a clip of old Norwegian newspaper back in 1930 that has Danish style typeface in its heading.

    I was so surprised to see it this morning while browsing articles about Fridtjof Nansen 😀

    • That headline is Block from Berthold Berlin. Block has many styles, designed between the late 1800s and the 1920s. It was a staple for evey German printer because the rounded terminals and rugged outlines made it pretty indestructible.

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