Skip to main content

Hermann Zapf collection

Identifier: CSC-0135

Collection Scope and Content Note

The Hermann Zapf collection contains materials from 1918 to 2019, with the bulk of the papers dated between 1940 and 2007.

This collection contains materials related to Zapf’s type design, typography, professorship, and authorship, including process work, original lettering, and collected materials. These include correspondence, writings and speeches, clippings, printed materials, photographic material, sketches and drawings, process work, administrative materials, audio, digital material, ephemera, and realia.

The Hermann Zapf collection has been arranged into five series, three of which have been divided into subseries. This collection is housed in 37 archival document boxes, 2 pamphlet boxes (housing lead plates), 3 slide boxes, 10 oversize boxes, 4 flat file drawers, 1 clear punch container, and 1 rolled object. Many materials have been stored according to size and so may be housed with materials of similar size rather than similar content.

Duplicates of Zapf material include Virtuoso broadsides and the Manuale Typographicum brochures and quoted texts in rendered English.


  • Creation: 1918 - 2019
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1940 - 2007


Conditions Governing Access

Access to audio reels cannot be provided on site at this time; access inquiries should be made with the curator. Access to original chalk calligraphy is RESTRICTED due to the impermanence of the medium, but digital images are available. Access to lead plates and punches is at the discretion of the archivist and curator as they are fragile. Some of the digital files are restricted due to copyright law; digital files not labeled as restricted are available for access with permission from the curator or archivist.

Conditions Governing Use

This collection is open to researchers.

Conditions Governing Reproduction and Use

Copyright restrictions may apply. Please contact Dr. Steven Galbraith at for access inquiries.

Biographical Note

“While many calligraphers and type designers of the twentieth century have reached a high aesthetic plane, none deserves more credit for raising these often neglected areas to the level of a fine art than Hermann Zapf. Through his nearly two hundred type designs, several hundred book designs, and superlative calligraphic art, Zapf has enriched the world with a body of work in the letter arts that has scarcely been equaled.”*

Hermann Zapf was born on November 8, 1918 in Nuremberg, Germany during a time of revolution, unrest, and epidemic. From an early age Zapf was inventive; he created secret written codes that constituted his first alphabetic creations. Despite desires to become an engineer, Zapf more practically apprenticed as a photo retoucher, during which he taught himself calligraphy modeled after Rudolf Koch and Edward Johnston’s texts. After completing his apprenticeship, Zapf moved to Frankfurt and worked at Werkstatt Haus zum Fürsteneck (run by Koch’s son) where he practiced typography and wrote songbooks.

Zapf designed his first printing type in 1938 for D. Stempel AG typefoundry and Linotype GmbH prior to being drafted by the German Army to France. Due to health issues and lack of artillery skill, Zapf found himself serving the war effort as the youngest cartographer in the German army. After returning to Germany, Zapf went back to the Stempel foundry where, in conjunction with punchcutter August Rosenberg, produced Feder und Stichel (later released in English as Pen and Graver).

Zapf married Gudrun von Hesse (also a type designer and renowned bookbinder) in 1951, at which time both were teaching. Zapf started teaching in 1946 and continued to teach throughout his career, including typographic computer programming at the Rochester Institute of Technology from 1977 to 1987. Zapf embraced new technologies that revolutionized typography and co-founded Design Processing International Inc. to develop programs for typographic structures.

Zapf’s work also included book designs for publishing houses and widely-used typefaces: Palatino, Zapfino, Virtuosa, Zapf Dingbats, and Optima. His font Optima has the distinction of having been used to etch over 58,000 names on the Vietnam Memorial in Washington, DC.

Zapf has been honored by many awards including the Gold Medal of the Type Directors’ Club of New York (1967), Gutenberg Prize of the city of Mainz (1974), the first Frederic W. Goudy Award from RIT (1969), and the SOTA Typography Award (2003).

For a thorough story of Zapf’s life and career, refer to his narrative in Alphabet Stories: A Chronicle of Technical Developments by Hermann Zapf. Rochester, New York: RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press, 2007.

*The Fine Art of Letters: The Work of Hermann Zapf, Exhibited at the Grolier Club, New York. New York: Grolier Club, 2000 (p. 5).


Approx. 43 Linear Feet (44 document boxes, 8 oversize boxes, 1 rolled object, 1 clear box of punches) : Collection materials are stored in the Cary Collection stacks, range 17A (boxes 1-44, 53) with oversize and duplicative materials stored in the Graphic Design Archives cage range 10A, shelves 10A-27 through 10A-31 (boxes 45-52). Flat file materials are in the Cary Collection stacks flat file case 4.




Hermann Zapf was a German type designer, typographer, calligrapher, author, and professor. He influenced type design and modern typography, winning many awards and honors for his work. Of note is Zapf’s work with August Rosenberger, a prominent punchcutter who cut many of Zapf’s designs.

System of Arrangement

Series I. Professional Work, 1934-2011

Subseries A. Early Work, 1934-1951
Subseries B. Feder und Stichel (Pen and Graver), 1930-1991
Subseries C. Aus Amors Blumengarten, 1938-1949
Subseries D. Manuale Typographicum (volume I), 1950-1972
Subseries E. Book Designs, circa 1958-1960
Subseries F. About Alphabets, 1959-1970
Subseries G. Manuale Typographicum (volume II), 1938-1971
Subseries H. Orbis Typographicus, 1973-1981
Subseries I. Design Processing International, circa 1980-1981
Subseries J. RIT Professorship, 1977-1988
Subseries K. August Rosenberger (book), 1993-1996
Subseries L. Alphabet Stories, 2006-2007
Subseries M. Lawson Center, 2006-2007
Subseries N. Manuale Zapficum (Typophiles Monograph, No. 24), 2008
Subseries O. Typefaces, 1950-2009
Subseries P. Miscellaneous work, 1948-2011

Series II. Correspondence, 1949-2017

Series III. Collected Materials, 1918-2019

Subseries A. Type Specimens, 1940-2002
Subseries B. Zapf’s Ephemera Collection, 1918-2000
Subseries C. Realia, 1940-2019

Series IV. References, 1951-2019

Subseries A. SOTA Award, 2003
Subseries B. Events/Exhibits, 1951-2019

Series V. Digital files from compact discs, 2003-2019

Physical Location

Collection materials are stored in the Cary Collection stacks, range 17A (boxes 1-44, 53) with oversize and duplicate materials stored in the Graphic Design Archives cage range 10A, shelves 10A-27 through 10A-31 (boxes 45-52). Flat file materials are in the Cary Collection stacks flat file case 4.

Flat file rehousing status, July 2022

2 boxes of flats less than 36” were removed from flat files during library renovation. These boxes are storedin a temporary location The remaining flats are stored in the flat files in their original locations.

Custodial History

The Hermann Zapf collection is an artificial collection compiled from various donations. Documented donations were accessioned 1995, 1996, 2000, 2007, and 2008.

Related Materials - books and manuscripts

Books and manuscripts referenced by this document and housed in the Cary Collection can be found in the catalog:

Typefaces, [about 250 cases of type, 600 linear feet of type located in the Press Room; note stand 8 was specifically cast by Rochester Typographic Service in the United States specifically for Zapf]

Palatino, including Italic, Swash, Semibold, and Small Caps fonts, Virtuosa, Michelangelo, Sistina Titling, Optima including Italic, Semibold, and Bold fonts, Melior with its Italic.

Framed print “Standard Lay of the Case”, signed and dated 1978 [located in the Press Room]

“Type Speaks” metal sculpture - For additional information about the metal Type Speaks sculpture, refer to provenance documents in box 2, folder 11 and The Fine Art of Letters: The Work of Hermann Zapf, Exhibited at the Grolier Club, New York (2000), p. 55/91. [located in the Cary Reading Room]

Etched glass panes as maquettes for the Lawson Center [located in the Cary Reading Room]

Guestbook from 1969 Cary Collection dedication with original Zapf calligraphy

Related Collections

For related collections, use the links below or check the RIT library catalog:

Related collections in ArchivesSpace

Frederic W. Goudy Award collection and Symposium videotapes (RITArc-0283)
Gudrun Zapf von Hesse papers (CSC-0134)
Hermann Zapf Collection at Herzog August Bibliotek (Wulfenbüttel, Germany)
Jerry Kelly collection (CSC-0075)
RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press records (RITArc-0717)
Robert L. Leslie collection of Hermann Zapf calligraphy (CSC-0066)
Philip L. Metzger papers regarding Orbis Typographicus (CSC-0067)

Also available, upon request:

Paul Standard papers (CSC-0003)

Type Specimen Pamphlet collection (CSC-0029)

“Typographic Treasures: Gudrun and Hermann Zapf” slides

ITC slides collection [located in the GDA cage]

Processing Information

Processed by Nicole Pease, January-April 2019; finding aid by Nicole Pease, April 2019.

Hermann Zapf collection
RIT Cary Graphic Arts Collection, Rochester Institute of Technology
Nicole R Pease
April 2019
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description
Language of description note
The processing of this collection was made possible by a generous grant from the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.

Repository Details

Part of the Cary Graphic Arts Collection Repository

Rochester NY 14623 US
(585) 475-2408