An independent archive of typography.

Rotenburger Ölfabrik invoice, 1935

Contributed by Florian Hardwig on Dec 9th, 2016. Artwork published in .
Rotenburger Ölfabrik invoice, 1935 1
Photo: Florian Hardwig. License: All Rights Reserved.

So far, all episodes of the Weekly Invoice series included at least one sans serif by Cologne-based designer Jakob Erbar (1878–1935). This invoice, issued in his year of death by an oil factory in northern Germany, is the last one in this sub-series for now. It features what is probably the fanciest display extension of the Erbar-Grotesk series. Lux is a two-lined typeface, with heavier strokes to the right (in verticals, diagonals and bowls) or to the inner side (in circular letters). Horizontals tend to be weighted towards the outside — in ‘L’, the lower line is thick, in ‘T’, it’s the upper one — but there are exceptions to the rule. Compiled into words, the glyphs add up to a fascinating interplay of light and dark.

Lux (top, Ludwig & Mayer) and Zeppelin (bottom, Gebr. Klingspor) were both released in 1929. In Jakob Erbar’s design, a continuous white heartline takes precedence over the black, see letters like ‘A’, ‘E’, or ‘R’.
Samples from Klingspor-Museum and Hoffmanns Schriftatlas. License: All Rights Reserved.

Lux (top, Ludwig & Mayer) and Zeppelin (bottom, Gebr. Klingspor) were both released in 1929. In Jakob Erbar’s design, a continuous white heartline takes precedence over the black, see letters like ‘A’, ‘E’, or ‘R’.

Lux is very similar in concept to Rudolf Koch’s Zeppelin. It’s not quite clear which came first. According to the card index of the Verein Deutscher Schriftgießereien (an association of German foundries), the name “Lux” was registered as early as March 1927. In the trade journal Gebrauchsgraphik, Zeppelin was first advertised in July 1929 (as “our new Kabel Shadow”). Lux didn’t make an appearance before the October issue of the same year. Obviously, Lux is based on Erbar-Grotesk (minus the straight-spine ‘S’, plus the “kicking” ‘K’ and ‘R’ from Phosphor), while Zeppelin is derived from Kabel. Apart from that, the main differences are that Koch’s design is darker, with a more pronounced contrast and less white between the strokes, and that it features a lowercase.

The invoice doesn’t have any umlauts in Lux: “ÖL” (oil) is spelled “OEL”. The font was equipped with umlauts, see the sample above, but maybe the printer hadn’t ordered those. Or there were only one or two sorts per size — too few to typeset “AUTO-ÖL”, “STAUB-ÖL” and “LEIN-ÖL” — so all umlauts were dissolved for the sake of consistency. A more plausible explanation is that those perky dots on uppercase letters were still considered indecorous. While minuscule umlauts have been in general use since the 16th century, capital ones are a much more recent invention, see Ralf Herrmann’s article (in German). An Ngram query for Oel vs. Öl shows that the latter spelling emerged only in the late 19th century. By the mid 1930s, the two versions were almost equally common.

Rotenburger Ölfabrik invoice, 1935 2
Photo: Florian Hardwig. License: All Rights Reserved.

The other typefaces in use are Venus, a grotesk by Bauer that was very popular in the first half of the century, in halbfett and breit halbfett (“RECHNUNG”), and Feodora, used for the location and for “Erstklassige Qualität”. This sans by the Wilhelm Woellmer foundry is distinguished by a petite x-height. Its byname Kartenschrift suggests that it was actually not intended for the use on trivial bills for greasy products, but rather on festive cards.


  • Lux
  • Feodora
  • Venus
  • Venus Extended



Artwork location

4 Comments on “Rotenburger Ölfabrik invoice, 1935”

  1. Hoorah for another Weekly Invoice!

    On Kartenschrift: American Victorian-era typefaces in small sizes but display styles often had “card” in their name (e.g. Card Bodoni, Card Gothic, Card Litho). I assume it refers specifically to the kind of engraved lettering found on calling/visiting cards, invitations, and stationery of the day.

  2. Riccardo Sartori says:
    Dec 11th, 2016 11:29 am

    I’m drawn by the contrast between the invoice’s and rubberstamps’ typography. The latter looking, in my eye at least, far less dated.

  3. Thanks, Stephen! Yes, the German Kartenschrift refers to the same thing. Stylistically, the typefaces with this byname range from Old English and scripts to roman caps and novelty sans serifs, both decorated (handtooled, hatched etc.) or plain. Feodora was produced in sizes from 6pt up to 36pt.

    A dedicated specimen by Schelter & Giesecke from the early 1920s presents “eine Auswahl an Kartenschriften für Familiendrucksachen, Geschäftsanzeigen und dergleichen” and shows wedding invitations, birth and death notices, New Year’s greetings as well as calling cards, ads, or menus. A similar, partly overlapping German term is Circular-(or Zirkular-)Schriften intended for newsletters.

    The Dutch term is Kaart, as in Amsterdam’s Kaart Antieke (1909), the inspiration to Trio Grotesk; or their Kaart Gothiek (1913), which is — like Ludwig & Mayer’s Kartenschrift Meta, Brötz & Glock’s Kartenschrift Amor, and Berthold’s Kartenschrift Komtesse — a version of ATF’s Wedding Text.

  4. Riccardo, that’s an interesting observation. The rubberstamp at the bottom uses something like Aurora-Grotesk VII (1912) for “Rechnung”. The smaller letters are similar to the many generically named Grotesks made by numerous foundries in the 19th century, characterized by narrow proportions and a tailed ‘a’. The reason why these may appear less dated — although they are older — is that this no-nonsense* branch of the sans serif tree was later rejuvenated by the so-called neo-grotesque, which became so dominant in the second half of the 20th century. The same thing in extended and condensed weights of Helvetica wouldn’t look much different.

    *) Including no pursuit of pure geometry, no overly long extenders, and certainly no thick-thin multiline variations.

Post a comment