Peignot typeface designed by A.M. Cassandre for Deberny & Peignot
In 1929, Charles Peignot, director of the French type foundry Deberny & Peignot, sponsored A.M. Cassandre's experimental new display typeface called Bifur. Its complex mélange of fat and thin lines and crossbars was a shock to the typographic world. "There were no new or innovative typefaces which existed at the time,” wrote Peignot later. “Bifur created a real scandal... at least in the small world of publishing and printing.” Engraving this face took considerable effort and “Bifur was not a financial success.” It appears that printers and designers were reluctant to break so radically with tradition yet Peignot used every ounce of salesmanship to win the reticent over. An introductory ditty published in the Bifur specimen booklet typified his resolve: "a letter by itself is nothing... Bifur creates words/words that go bang/the most significant is to dare.''
Peignot admittedly challenged people’s tastes: "with Bifur we brought an era of type to an end, but at the same time we proved that ‘functionalism’ pushed graphically to its extreme limit could not effectively be a source of inspiration for the future of typography.'' What’s more “in those happy days one could afford to take a few risks.''
Specimen sheet of Bifur typeface designed by A.M. Cassandre for Deberny & Peignot
This is but one example of Peignot’s influence on type and typography, which made his professional life so important to the history of design. Even though World War II interrupted the activities of Deberny & Peignot, Peignot remained committed to modernism and after the war he embarked on two significant landmark developments. One was to hire Adrian Frutiger, then a young apprentice, to design the 21 variations of Univers. "Univers is not exactly my favorite,'' explained Peignot, "it was an excellent treatment of an existing theme, but not really a creation in the true sense of the world; but I knew that it was a good character for the times and that it would be very successful. It was for me a commercial venture. In fact, it is with Univers that French typography regained its position in the international market.''
The second was Peignot's vision when it came to technology. Forecasting the demise of the metal foundry, he played an active role in finding American sponsors to, as type historian John Dreyfus said, "develop and market the radically new method of photo-typesetting devised during the war by two telephone engineers.'' His machine, known as Lumitype (renamed Photon in the United States) was exhibited in Paris in 1954 where Peignot won the right to construct the hardware and manufacture the typeface discs necessary for its operation. Univers, and later the Meridien typefaces, were perfectly suited for such filmsetting.
But Peignot's involvement did not end with these historical endeavors. He opposed typographic plagiarism, and believed that photo type would make theft by unscrupulous pirates easier. So he sought international legislation to protect type designs and understood the need to educate both the public and designers in typographical matters. In the 1960s, Peignot helped found the Alliance Typographique Internationale (ATypI), an advocacy organization that to this day includes many members of the typographic trades and arts. Because of his continued efforts, at a diplomatic conference in Vienna in 1973, eleven countries signed a treaty for the protection of typefaces. Although Peignot attended that conference, sadly he did not live to see it ratified.
Peignot took ill in 1983 and died shortly after. His contributions to France and the international community earned him his nation's highest award as a Commandeur of the Legion d'Honneur. Though Deberny & Peignot was demolished to make way for real estate developments, the catalogs, specimens and faces he created, as well as the technology he advanced, continue to influence today's practice. But perhaps the most inspirational gift he gave to his colleagues and friends was his willingness to change and be changed. This was typified by a remark he made in an interview only a few years before his death, when asked about Cassandre’s transitional sans-serif typeface, Peignot, which was named for Charles forty years after it was issued. He said: "I'm not entirely finished with it yet... I work on it because it still has the possibility of being a typeface of the future."
Divertissements Typographiques: Sample booklet for Deberny & Peignot, edited by Maximilien Vox, 1935
Divertissements Typographiques: Sample booklet for Deberny & Peignot edited, by Maximilien Vox, 1935