A NOTE ON THE TYPE: The Fonts in Philip Sington’s The Valley of Unknowing

The Valley of Unknowing, a stunning new literary thriller set in the last days of the German Democratic Republic, is typeset with the fonts Drescher Grotesk and Excelsior. These were commonly used typefaces in the German Democratic Republic, featuring in publications ranging from children’s books and high-profile Communist publications to the humble Trabant car repair manual.

Life was frugal for designers (and everyone else) in the GDR. Typeface licenses were very expensive and with little money available to pay for them, type designers were instead ordered to design their own version by state publication authorities. Drescher Grotesk, originally designed by Arno Drescher around 1932 and redrawn by Karl-Heinz Lange as Super Grotesk at VEB Typoart (the state-owned type foundry), was the East German response to Futura. Excelsior, designed for optimal readability, was most likely a very close copy of the original 1930’s version by Chauncey H. Griffith.