Astrée / Mazarin by Paul Shaw, June 2019

In the years that immediately preceded the Great War, the French typefoundry G. Peignot et Fils issued a trio of typefaces collectively referred to as “Les Cochins”: Le Cochin (1912), Le Moreau-le-Jeune (1912), Le Nicholas-Cochin (1912–1914). Designed by Georges Peignot, these typefaces were modelled after lettering and type of the 18th century ancien regime, especially that of engraver Charles Nicholas Cochin (1715–1790). [1] Les Cochins (along with Naudin and Bellery-Desfontaines, two other types from the Peignot foundry issued in 1911) were viewed as a welcome break in French typography from the influence of Art Nouveau. [2] They were followed in 1914 by a Garamond from Peignot, inadvertently modelled like other “Garamonds” of the time on the types of Jean Jannon. This trend toward a return to the era of French typographic glory was not limited to the Peignot foundry. Around 1913 work had begun at Deberny & Cie on a typeface in the French Renaissance style, but the outbreak of World War I in 1914 delayed its release. That typeface was L’Astrée. [3]

Source material. Letterpress printed specimen published in 1926 by Stephenson, Blake Co. Ltd., Letter Founders, Sheffield and London. Acquired ca. 2002 by Henrik Kubel for the A2-TYPE Specimen Collection.

Source material shown above is from the A2-TYPE Specimen Archive

Astrée was designed by Robert Girard (1883–1955), an engineer by training and the nephew of Charles Tuleu. Tuleu had overseen Deberny & Cie from 1877, the year that Alexandre Deberny died, until 1914 when he took Girard on as a partner and renamed the firm Tuleu & Girard. In 1921 Girard took over the foundry which became Girard & Cie and work on Astrée was resumed. That same year a merger with G. Peignot et Fils, now under the direction of Charles Peignot, was negotiated but not completed. [4]

By the time the merger of the two foundries was finalized on July 1, 1923, L’Astrée had been completed and released by Girard & Cie. An advance showing was provided to Pierre Gusman in the fall of 1922. Writing in Byblis, he described L’Astrée as inspired by the types of Guillaume Le Bé, though there is no documentary evidence to support his assertion. [5] The first specimen book of L’Astrée, titled L’Astrée Caractère Comportant le Romain et Son Italique Gravé et Fondu par Girard & Cie, is precisely dated May 7, 1923, less than two months before the merger. Its colophon indicates that the type was engraved—probably pantographically—by Paul Bourreau and cast by Pochet (no first name provided). [6] Astrée (called L’Astrée by the French) was named after the 17th century pastoral novel L’ Astrée (1607-1627) by Honoré d’ Urfé.

L’Astrée initially consisted of a roman and an italic design, each available from 6 pt to 36 pt Didot. Initials (titling capitals) were available in 48 pt and 60 pt Didot. L’Astrée roman included small capitals, several ligatures (Qu along with quaint ct and st), and a swash e; and the italic had the same plus a broader range of swash letters (A, D, M, N, P, R, T, and V). Contemporary French commentators wee particularly excited about the Qu ligature which allowed the Q to have a luxuriant tail. The most notable features of L’Astrée were the open-loop of g and the high arm of r, reminiscent of Cheltenham. [7] The latter feature is the one aspect of the typeface that Gusman criticized.

Soon after the merger of G. Peignot & Fils and Girard & Cie, the newly named Deberny & Peignot exported the “Le Cochin collection” of types and Naudin to England and the United States with immediate success. This must have caught the attention of type executives in both countries because plans were soon made to make L’Astrée available as well. By sometime in 1924 Stephenson, Blake & Co., Ltd. had begun work on a licensed copy. [8] Their version, renamed Mazarin after Cardinal Mazarin (1602–1661), the chief minister to Louis XIII and Louis XIV, was ready by March 1926, though the first specimen was not published until two months later. [9]

The editor of The British Printer, upon seeing an advance showing of Mazarin, declared, “It is obviously difficult in the year 1926 to produce a type which strikes a fresh note, but this has undoubtedly been achieved. It would of course be easy to make a new type which is a freak, but as will be seen from the lines shown on this page, Mazarin is particularly pure in its form, with the additional advantage of possessing the necessary weight and strength required in modern printing of almost every kind. The roman has great beauty and distinction, and probably the italic is even better—the design possessing beauty as well as originality.” [10] The four-page printed specimen that he saw was included in the May issue of the journal as a special insert alongside one from H.W. Caslon for Le Cochin. [11]

Stephenson, Blake followed the Mazarin insert in The British Printer with a more elaborate 24-page specimen booklet later that year. Its size range went up to 72 pt. [12] Apparently they planned to export the type to the United States as several American trade journals commented favorably upon both Mazarin and the booklet in the spring of 1927. The editor of Printed Salesmanship, commented, “This is a very graceful face, forceful but not clumsy, with distinct characteristics, but not undue eccentricities.” [13]

At the same time that Stephenson, Blake was licensing L’Astrée as foundry type for the Anglo-American market, Mergenthaler Linotype was planning to adapt it for machine composition. Although a 1924 issue of The Linotype Bulletin announced that L’Astrée would be ready next year, the linotype version of the face was not issued until the second half of 1926. [14] The delay was probably due to licensing negotiations with Deberny & Peignot combined with the need to work on other new types first.

This was because E.E. Bartlett, Director of Linotype Typography at Mergenthaler, had spent 1925 organizing an International Typographic Council. The Council—consisting of Bartlett and Harry L. Gage from Mergenthaler Linotype; George W. Jones of Linotype & Machinery, Ltd. in England; David Stempel of D. Stempel AG and Mergenthaler Setzmaschinen-Fabrik in Germany; Raffaello Bertieri, editor of Il Risorgimento Grafico in Italy; and Charles Draeger of Draeger Frères, a leading French printer—was officially announced in January 1926. At that time, Mergenthaler also announced that as a result of this internatinal cooperation they would be making a group of new types: Cloister Old Style [sic], Baskerville, Narciss, Garamond (from Stempel), Moreau-le-Jeune, and L’Astrée. [15] In response to this announcement The American Printer remarked that L’Astrée “has obtained a wide use in Europe and will doubtless find great popularity in this country.” [16] Mergenthaler touted the type’s French heritage, even as it anglicized the name: “Astrée is the final and happy result of a great modern revaluation of its [France’s] own typographical history which has taught its designers what was sound and therefore to be kept alive, and what was unsound and therefore to be eliminated….The French genius for elegance has in this type achieved the feat of producing an elegance that is the same in every and any national environment….” [17]

In 1925 Melbert B. Cary, Jr. established the Continental Typefounders Association with the goal of importing European types that had been specially cast on American body and American height to paper. The company became famous for making Koch Antiqua (Eve Antiqua), Neuland, and Kabel—among other types—available to American printers. [18] Beginning in the spring of 1927, it also imported L’Astrée. The specimen book that it published was printed in France with design, typography and colors closely mimicking those of the one that Girard & Cie had issued in 1923. [19] Its comments on L’Astrée also repeated the prevailing views of the trade journals. “The roman has undeniable individuality without being in the least freakish,” it asserted. [20] Cary was much more enthusiastic about the italic, noting its technical as well as aesthetic merits: “The crowning glory of Astrée, however, is its italic. It is a highly spirited piece of drawing, and its production in type represents a mechanical triumph as well. To provide for the kerns of unusual length, he italic has been cut extremely deep, so as to give strength to the overhanging portions of the face.” [21] Continental’s decision to import L’Astrée may have preempted any plans that Stephenson, Blake may have had to make Mazarin available in the United States as there is no evidence of the latter being used by American advertisers or printers.

According to the 4th edition of the Continental Typefounders specimen catalogue (1930), L’Astrée was first used in the United States to set a Grolier Club book titled Gazette Française in 1926 and that, “Since then it has been used extensively for both book and commercial printing.” In the previous edition the company had boasted that “Advertisers, agencies and composition houses have enthusiastically welcomed ASTRÉE into the felllowship of leading type designs.” [22] Yet, despite these claims and the widespread praise the typeface received the typeface—whether called L’Astrée, Astrée, or Mazarin—seems to have made little long-term impact in any of its three principal markets beyond. Mergenthaler never dedicated advertisements to Astrée as it did with Cloister Old Style, Narciss, and Garamond. [23] And by 1935 it had disappeared from the company’s Digest of Linotype Faces. [24] Similarly, L’Astrée and Mazarin were no longer included in the post-World War II catalogues from Continental Amsterdam (the successor to Continental Typefounders) and Stephenson, Blake catalogues, respectively. [25]

In 1984, Charles Peignot, recalling his early days as the head of Deberny & Peignot, said that L’Astrée had “une carrière modeste”. [26] But L’Astrée must have done well enough initially in France since Deberny & Peignot extended the modest family with a “noire” (bold) version in 1930. At the same time the initiales were also extended to include sizes from 8 pt to 36 pt Didot and two new sizes (24 and 30 pt Didot) were added to both the roman and italic. The new family was prominently displayed in 1935 in volume II of Spécimen Général des Fonderies Deberny et Peignot. But this was probably the last hurrah for L’Astrée. [27]

The failure of L’Astrée (and its American and British versions) to achieve sustained popularity can be attributed to two things. First, it was overshadowed by the various Garamonds that dominated interest in classical types in the 1920s.

This is evident in Mergentaler’s emphasis on the Garamond they licensed from Stempel over Astrée as well as the continued release of such faces throughout the decade. Second, the type was easily forgotten as modernistic or Art Deco types came to dominate the typographic conversation after 1927. [28] Ironically, this trend actually began two years earlier when Charles Peignot designed Sphinx as a deliberate response to the mania for typographic revivals. [29] In this environment L’Astrée was neither as “pure” as Stempel Garamond, nor as quirky as Le Cochin, let alone as “fresh” as types such as Broadway, Parisian, Boul Mich and the Nubian Series of type.

In the 1927 L’Astrée specimen, Cary declared the type, “is new, well-designed, and effective. There are not many more requirements that can be asked for in a typeface.” [30] The same can be said for the new A2-Mazarin designed by Henrik Kubel. Kubel has rescued Mazarin (née Astrée) from undeserved obscurity, offering it as a lively alternative to the plethora of Garamonds that still hold sway in the design world. Nearly a century after its initial release, Girard’s design has a new chance to make an indelible mark.



1. “History of Deberny et Peignot II” (2001–2002); “Les Peignot: Georges, Charles” by Charles Peignot in Communication et Langages, vol. 59, no. 1 (1984), pp. 66–67 and 70–71.

2. Histoire de l’Imprimerie par l’Image: L’Histoire et la Technique, Tome II by Marius Audin (Paris: Henri Jonquières Editeur, 1929), p. 82.

3. The date “vers 1913” is cited in a quotation from Charles Peignot provided in an email from Jean Francois Porchez, 14 May 2013. Also see Spécimen Général des Fonderies Deberny et Peignot, Tome I (Paris: Deberny & Peignot, 1926): ”Dernier directeur de Deberny, Robert Girard avait dessiné l’Astrée, peu avant la guerre…”

4. “History of Deberny et Peignot I and II” (2001–2002)

5. “Joseph Gillé, Fondeur du Roi et Joseph-Gaspard Gillé, membre de l’Athénée des Arts” by P. [Pierre] Gusman in Byblis vol.1 (1922), p. 187.

6. L’Astrée Caractère Comportant le Romain et Son Italique Gravé et Fondu par Girard & Cie (Paris: Girard & Cie, 1923), colophon.

7. L’Astrée Caractère Comportant le Romain et Son Italique Gravé et Fondu par Girard & Cie (Paris: Girard & Cie, 1923).

8. Mazarin was used on the spine of the 1924 Stephenson, Blake & Co., Ltd. catalogue, but did not appear inside. The catalogue was issued in May 1924.

9. “Trade News” in The British Printer vol. XXXVIII, no. 228 (March/April 1926), p. 308.

10. “Trade News” in The British Printer vol. XXXVIII, no. 228 (March/April 1926), p. 308.

11. “Mazarin: A Series of Old Face Types from six to seventy-two point with intermediate sizes in process of completion from the Letter Foundry of Stephenson, Blake & Co. Ltd.” insert in The British Printer vol. XXXVIII, no. 229 (May/June 1926).

12. Mazarin (Sheffield & London: Stephenson, Blake & Co., Ltd., 1926).

13. Printed Salesmanhip vol. 49, no. 2 (April 1927), p. 186.

14. The Linotype Bulletin vol. XVIII, no. 3 (1924), p. 36.

15. The Linotype Bulletin vol. XVIII, no. 7 (1926) and The American Printer vol. 82, no. 4 (February 20, 1926), pp. 52–54.

16. The American Printer vol. 82, no. 4 (February 20, 1926), p. 53.

17. The Linotype Bulletin vol. XVIII, no. 7 (1926), p. 108.

18. Melbert B. Cary, Jr. to P.J. Conkwright 19 April 1938 in Princeton University Special Collections C0665 P.J. Conkwright Correspondence, Box 2, Folder 3. The date of the founding of Continental Typefounders is often mistakenly given as 1926.

19. L’Astrée (New York: Continental Typefounders Association, 1927).

20. L’Astrée (New York: Continental Typefounders Association, 1927).

21. L’Astrée (New York: Continental Typefounders Association, 1927).

22. Specimen Book of Continental Types Imported Exclusively by the Continental Typefounders Association, Inc. 4th ed. (New York: Continental Typefounders Association, Inc., 1930).

23. This statement is based on a survey of volumes of The American Printer and Printed Salesmanship from 1926 to 1929.

24. A Digest of Linotype Faces (Brooklyn: Mergenthaler Linotype, 1935).

25. For example see the 1953 Stephenson, Blake & Co., Ltd. specimen book.

26. “Les Peignot: Georges, Charles” by Charles Peignot in Communication et Langages, vol. 59, no. 1 (1984), p. 74.

27. Spécimen Général des Fonderies Deberny et Peignot, Tome II (Paris: Deberny & Peignot, 1935), pp. 18–26.

28. This sudden shift in interest in“modernistic” types is evident in both the advertising and editorial pages of The American Printer, Direct Advertising, and Printed Salesmanship beginning in 1927 and continuing into the early 1930s.

29. “History of Deberny et Peignot IV: Deberny et Peignot, 1924-1938” (2001–2002)

30. L’Astrée (New York: Continental Typefounders Association, 1927).

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