Originally designed in 1996, Mrs Eaves was Zuzana Licko’s first attempt at the design of a traditional typeface. It was styled after Baskerville, the famous transitional serif typeface designed in 1757 by John Baskerville in Birmingham, England. Mrs Eaves was named after Baskerville’s live in housekeeper, Sarah Eaves, whom he later married.
One of Baskerville’s intents was to develop typefaces that pushed the contrast between thick and thin strokes, partially to show off the new printing and paper making techniques of his time. As a result his types were often criticized for being too perfect, stark, and difficult to read.
Licko noticed that subsequent interpretations and revivals of Baskerville had continued along the same path of perfection, using as a model the qualities of the lead type itself, not the printed specimens. Upon studying books printed by Baskerville at the Bancroft Library in Berkeley, Licko decided to base her design on the printed samples which were heavier and had more character due to the imprint of lead type into paper and the resulting ink spread. She reduced the contrast while retaining the overall openness and lightness of Baskerville by giving the lower case characters a wider proportion. She then reduced the x-height relative to the cap height to avoid increasing the set width.
There is something unique about Mrs Eaves and it’s difficult to define. Its individual characters are at times awkward looking—the W being narrow, the L uncommonly wide, the flare of the strokes leading into the serifs unusually pronounced. Taken individually, at first sight some of the characters don’t seem to fit together. The spacing is generally too loose for large bodies of text, it sort of rambles along. Yet when used in the right circumstance it imparts a very particular feel that sets it clearly apart from many likeminded types. It has an undefined quality that resonates with people. This paradox (imperfect yet pleasing) is perhaps best illustrated by design critic and historian Robin Kinross who has pointed out the limitation of the “loose” spacing that Licko employed, among other things, yet simultaneously designated the Mrs Eaves type specimen with an honorable mention in the 1999 American Center for Design competition. Proof, perhaps, that type is best judged in the context of its usage.
Even with all its shortcomings, Mrs Eaves has outsold all Emigre fonts by twofold. On MyFonts, one of the largest on-line type sellers, Mrs Eaves has been among the 20 best selling types for years, listed among such classics as Helvetica, Univers, Bodoni and Franklin Gothic. Due to its commercial and popular success it has come to define the Emigre type foundry.
While Licko initially set out to design a traditional text face, we never specified how Mrs Eaves could be best used. Typefaces will find their own way. But if there’s one particular common usage that stands out, it must be literary—Mrs Eaves loves to adorn book covers and relishes short blurbs on the flaps and backs of dust covers. Trips to bookstores are always a treat for us as we find our Mrs Eaves staring out at us from dozens of book covers in the most elegant compositions, each time surprising us with her many talents.
And Mrs Eaves feels just as comfortable in a wide variety of other locales such as CD covers (Radiohead’s Hail to the Thief being our favorite), restaurant menus, logos, and poetry books, where it gives elegant presence to short texts.
One area where Mrs Eaves seems less comfortable is in the setting of long texts, particularly in environments such as the interiors of books, magazines, and newspapers. It seems to handle long texts well only if there is ample space. A good example is the book /CD/DVD release The Band: A Musical History published by Capitol Records. Here, Mrs Eaves was given appropriate set width and generous line spacing. In such cases its wide proportions provide a luxurious feel which invites reading. Economy of space was not one of the goals behind the original Mrs Eaves design. With the introduction of Mrs Eaves XL, Licko addresses this issue.
Since Mrs Eaves is one of our most popular typefaces, it’s not surprising that over the years we’ve received many suggestions for additions to the family. The predominant top three wishes are: greater space economy; the addition of a bold italic style; and the desire to pair it with a sans design. The XL series answers these requests with a comprehensive set of new fonts including a narrow, and a companion series of Mrs Eaves Sans styles to be released soon.
The main distinguishing features of Mrs Eaves XL are its larger x-height with shorter ascenders and descenders and overall tighter spacing. These additional fonts expand the Mrs Eaves family for a larger variety of uses, specifically those requiring space economy. The larger x-height also allows a smaller point size to be used while maintaining readability.
Mrs Eaves XL also has a narrow counterpart to the regular, with a set width of about 92 percent which fulfills even more compact uses. At first, this may not seem particularly narrow, but the goal was to provide an alternative to the regular that would work well as a compact text face while maintaining the full characteristics of the regular, rather than an extreme narrow which would be more suitable for headline use.
Four years in the making, we’re excited to finally let Mrs Eaves XL find its way into the world and see where and how it will pop up next.