The Typographic Hub

Old type body sizes

24th August 2015

Before the point system was invented, typefaces of particular sizes were given names that were derived from the jobs they were most frequently used on.

‘Canon’  [48 pt] got its name from the fact that the leading lines or paragraphs of the Canons of the Church were printed in this size of type. ‘Paragon’ [20 pt] was a favourite body size with the early printers and got its name from the supposed beauty of the face. ‘Great Primer’ [18 pt] was the type-size used for The Primer, an English form of Public Prayer allowed by Henry Vlll for public use. ‘English’ [16 pt] was the size of type most frequently used in the law books and Acts of Parliament in the early days of printing. ‘Pica’ [12pt] was the size used in the Ordinal of the early Church, pica being the Latin for pie that is a table showing the order of the services of the Church. ‘Bourgeois’ [9 pt] derived its name from Bourges, the birthplace of Geofroy Tory a celebrated French typographer of the 15th century. ‘Brevier’ [8 pt] means small and refers to the large amount of this size of type that could be got into a brief space. Other type sizes were named more fancifully and with out obvious reason: ‘Mininon’ [7 pt]; ‘Nonpareil’ [6 pt]; ‘Ruby’ [5.5pt]; ‘Pearl’ [5 pt]; and ‘Diamond’ [4.5pt].