Hester Prynne Chooses A Typeface (Or, The Scarlet Letterform)

By: Matthew David Brozik

“On the breast of her gown, in fine red cloth, surrounded with an elaborate embroidery and fantastic flourishes of gold thread, appeared the letter A.”


Well, the joke’s on you, Puritan Bostonites, because while the Reverend Wilsons and Minister Dimmesdales of the world might require me to display upon my ample and enviable bosom a typographic device to brand me as an adulterer, they left a loophole — and being as accomplished at sewing as I am at sexing, I know loopholes — so Hester Prynne gets to pick the font, witches, and I’ll be damned if I’m not going to consider all my options before committing to my red badge of whorage.

Helvetica is the obvious choice, of course. It’s clean and upstanding and easy on the eyes, sort of the way I’m impure and dishonorable and easy for the guys, and on second thought, before you say anything, you can all go to Helvetica.

Bodoni’s a strong contender. Classical. Elegant. Alternating thick and thin strokes. I like strokes. And serifs. I know what you hens are thinking, though: if you like feet so much, why couldn’t you stay on yours? I’d rather be on your husband’s lap, that’s why. (Also, you don’t know where my feet were, and you probably don’t want to know.)

Clarendon is extremely popular and, as it happens, particularly effective with wood type, and I am also extremely popular and particularly effective with wood…so maybe this one is too on the nose. And by “nose,” I mean your husbands’ reproductive organs, ladies of Massachusetts and southern New Hampshire.

The geometric efficiency of Futura, rejecting as it does the grotesques of yore by incorporating near-perfect circles, triangles and squares, appeals to my longing for a future in which man has discarded his monstrous compulsion to judge, and instead each of us is cherished for our imperfections, plus it also has a certain forwardness that speaks to the brazen hussy in me.

You know what might be a fun challenge? Besides “Reverse Parishioner,” I mean. Edwardian Script. I’d have to get it just right, though, or it would be difficult to read, and menfolk would be constantly leaning in close to my chest to get a better view, and you don’t want that. And I don’t want anyone mistaking my A for, say, a Q. Hester Prynne is no Quitter.

16th-century French artisan Claude Garamond worked as an engraver of punches — the masters used to stamp matrices, the molds used to cast metal type. Garamond worked in the tradition of what is now called old-style serif letter design, which produced letters with a relatively organic structure resembling handwriting with a pen. And what’s my favorite piece of equipment? The pen is, of course.

“Bembo” hits a bit too close to home. Hester Prynne does a lot of things, but irony isn’t one of…Ah, screw it. Bembo’s fine. Somebody hand me my thread and a needle, please? But be careful — Miss Prynne doesn’t want to have her afternoon plans frustrated by a little prick.



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