‘Univers’ is one of the most pretentious names ever given tot a typeface.
But than, it was an ambitious undertaking in the nineteen fifties. Instead of the usual 4 weights, its designer Adrian Frutiger, came up with 21!
The typeface was an assignment from Charles Peignot, director of Deberny & Peignot, the largest type foundry in France. Before the Second World War his firm had missed the rise of machine composing with casted typefaces, like Linotype (line of type ) and Monotype (character by character). After the Second World War Peignot was so lucky as to meet two French inventors who were working on photo composing. According to the legend they had already left to work in the United States. Peignot however went there to and managed to get them back on the plane. Thus Univers became the first typeface to appear on a french photo setting machine.
10 years ago I bought a dozen type specimens in a second hand bookshop in Lyon. Three of them were Univers specimens. The most famous is the one with the inside showing the monotype matrice in which type was casted, the spinning disc for photo composing, and the printers cabinet for hand composing. For a long time I though I was missed 1 weight in my small Univers type specimen collection. Turns out Frutiger carried out only 20 of his 21 planned weights!
The Univers type specimen with the most bright and spectacular cover features a stepswise angled and repeated pattern of characters forming the words Univers, and was designed by Remy Peignot, one of Charles Peignot sons and a good designer in his own right. Remy’s brother started a career as a typography writer: Jerôme Peignot. Famous in France only.