Civil Type and Kis Cyrillic

In 2002, an Eng­lish-lan­guage col­lec­tion of art­icles about typefaces and al­pha­bets from around the world was pub­lished un­der the title Lan­guage Cul­ture Type: In­ter­na­tion­al Type Design in the Age of Uni­code (com­piled by John Berry). The book, which came out in the wake of the AtypI buk­va:raz! com­pet­i­tion, con­tained an es­say by Vladi­mir Ye­fimov on the his­tory of Civil Script and mod­ern Cyril­lic type based on his­tor­ic­al forms—Civil Type and Kis Cyril­lic. Today, 10 years after re­lease, the art­icle is not only still rel­ev­ant, but more cap­able than ever of rous­ing both pro­fes­sion­als and those read­ers who are in­ter­ested in the his­tory of Cyril­lic and Civil Type. Those who knew Vladi­mir will re­mem­ber his tal­ent for quietly and pa­tiently, time and time again, talk­ing about our let­ters as an as­set, rather than the oner­ous leg­acy of Peter the Great. Al­low us to in­tro­duce you to the first part of the es­say on the con­tro­ver­sial re­form.

3 September 2013


Vladimir Yefimov


Maxim Zhukov,
Misha Beletsky

he re­form of Cyril­lic type took place in Rus­sia dur­ing the reign of Tsar Peter (1689–1725). The old poluustav type was pre­served only for re­li­gious lit­er­at­ure, while for all oth­er pub­lic­a­tions, Peter in­tro­duced a new style that im­it­ated the forms of con­tem­por­ary West­ern type; in later days, the new type be­came known as Civil Type (grazh­danskiy shrift). The re­form par­tially altered the struc­ture of the Rus­si­an al­pha­bet, too: the use of European (Ar­ab­ic) nu­mer­als was in­tro­duced, and punc­tu­ation and caps us­age were put in or­der. Thus, Cyril­lic took on the form of ro­man serif type, in much the same way that Mus­covy was dressed up in European clothes. In fact, the in­tro­duc­tion of Civil Type meant the re­vi­sion of the Cyril­lic al­pha­bet’s struc­ture and the re­styl­ing of its let­ter­forms based on the shapes of West­ern (Lat­in) let­ters. Nev­er­the­less, from the point of view of mod­ern type design, the re­formed Cyril­lic type in­tro­duced by Peter could have been of a high­er qual­ity, had the de­velopers of the Civil Type re­lied on the best ex­amples of West­ern typefaces of the 17th and early 18th cen­tur­ies.

Tsar Peter and the Pre­requis­ites of the Re­form of Cyril­lic Type

In 1689 the sev­en­teen-year-old Peter was de­clared sole tsar and ruler of all Rus­sia. From the very be­gin­ning of his reign, all his un­be­liev­able en­ergy was dir­ec­ted to re­form­ing the Rus­si­an state: its army, its eco­nomy, its gov­ernance, its cul­ture. As a res­ult of these su­per­hu­man ef­forts, over a reign of more than 30 years, Peter man­aged to change the course of Rus­si­an his­tory com­pletely, trans­form­ing Rus­sia from a closed, self-con­tained Asi­an coun­try in­to a more open state that was ori­ented to­ward Europe. Al­though these re­forms were for­cibly spread from the top, and they cost a lot of vic­tims, the Rus­si­an Em­pire be­came a fact of European his­tory. Peter’s re­form of Cyril­lic type of 1708–10, which brought the Cyril­lic al­pha­bet closer to the form of ro­man, played a very im­port­ant role in this ori­ent­a­tion of Rus­sia to the cul­ture of the most de­veloped coun­tries.


Peter I in Hol­land. Un­known en­graver. Etch­ing. 1717. The Na­tion­al Lib­rary of Rus­sia.

At the end of the 17th cen­tury, poluustav was the only style of Cyril­lic print­ing type. It had changed very little since the middle of the 16th cen­tury, from the time of the Rus­si­an print­ing pi­on­eer Ivan Fe­dorov. In its struc­ture it was a form of me­di­ev­al hand­writ­ing. Poluustav was rather black in col­our and very or­na­ment­al, but not very use­ful for the needs of the new era. The char­ac­ter set of the al­pha­bet no longer matched the phon­et­ics of the liv­ing Rus­si­an lan­guage, and it con­tained a lot of ad­di­tion­al dia­crit­ic­al marks (stresses, marks of as­pir­a­tion, ab­bre­vi­ations), which con­sid­er­ably com­plic­ated the work of the com­pos­it­or. In ad­di­tion, nu­mer­als were tra­di­tion­ally de­noted by let­ters with spe­cial marks (tit­los), which made read­ing sci­entif­ic and tech­nic­al texts dif­fi­cult. Pub­lic­a­tions prin­ted in poluustav looked like me­di­ev­al hand-writ­ten books, and in their ap­pear­ance they were very dif­fer­ent from European books of the 17th cen­tury. However, in the ab­sence of any oth­er type, poluustav was be­ing used for print­ing both re­li­gious and sec­u­lar lit­er­at­ure, in­clud­ing primers and text books, as well as the first Rus­si­an news­pa­per, Vedo­mosty, which was pub­lished at the very be­gin­ning of 1703.

In 1703, Le­ontiy Mag­nit­sky’s Arif­metika (Arith­met­ic) was pub­lished; it in­cluded in­form­a­tion on al­gebra, geo­metry, tri­go­no­metry, and tables of log­ar­ithms. In that pub­lic­a­tion, European (so-called Ar­ab­ic) fig­ures were used for the first time in­stead of Slavic tsi­fir’ (de­nota­tion of nu­mer­als by let­ters). The main text was com­posed in poluustav, but for math­em­at­ic­al terms Lat­in and Greek fonts were used. None of these fonts matched with each oth­er in either col­our or style. It was prob­ably in com­par­ing this book with West­ern ones that Peter got the idea of re­form­ing Cyril­lic and bring­ing it closer to the Lat­in al­pha­bet, i.e., to aban­don poluustav and cre­ate a “clear­er”, light­er style of typeface, which came to be called Civil Type.


Page from Le­ontiy Mag­nit­sky’s Arif­metika (Arith­met­ic). Mo­scow. 1703. Mo­scow Uni­versity Lib­rary. Elec­tron­ic copy—Lib­rary of MC­CME.

In his re­form of print­ing type, Peter I had an au­gust pre­de­cessor, who was prob­ably also an ex­em­plary mod­el. The French king Louis, le Roi Soleil, in the second part of his reign also dealt with ty­po­graph­ic re­form. He ordered the es­tab­lish­ment of a Roy­al Com­mis­sion for the stand­ard­isa­tion of craft, which at its first meet­ing in Janu­ary 1693 began with the reg­u­la­tion of ty­po­graphy. For this pur­pose the en­gin­eer Jacques Jaugeon de­signed, and the punch­cut­ter Phil­ippe Grand­jean de Fouchy cut, the so-called Ro­main du Roi (the King’s Ro­man) as an “ideal al­pha­bet”. In 1702 that font was used for the lux­uri­ous il­lus­trated book Médailles sur les prin-ci­paux évène­ments du règne de Louis le Grand at the Roy­al Print­ing House in Par­is. Peter had a copy of this book in his lib­rary; per­haps these activ­it­ies of Louis’s served as a mod­el for the Rus­si­an tsar. But in its shapes the Ro­main du Roi was not as dif­fer­ent from earli­er types as the Civil Type was; it was a vari­ation of con­tem­por­ary serif type, an “old-style”.

Be­sides, the French king was not think­ing of chan­ging all the fonts in France at once: he just wanted a dis­tinct­ive new type for his own print­ing house. The Rus­si­an em­per­or had more hol­ist­ic in­ten­tions.


The title page of the book Medailles sur les prin­ci­paux evene­ments du regne en­ti­er de Louis le Grand, prin­ted in roy­al an­ti­qua (Ro­main de Roi). Par­is. 1723. Na­tion­al Lib­rary of France, BnF.

Nev­er­the­less, Peter’s ty­po­graph­ic re­form in Rus­sia was not as nat­ur­al as, for ex­ample, the in­tro­duc­tion of ro­man type in Italy at the end of the 15th cen­tury. Ro­man type was based on the hu­man­ist minus­cule—the hand­writ­ing of edu­cated people of that time. Civil Type had no uni­fied, settled hand­writ­ing as its basis. There were sev­er­al kinds of hands in use at that time: a tra­di­tion­al curs­ive writ­ing with flour­ishes, a slower writ­ing (the so-called civil hand) used for of­fi­cial doc­u­ments, and a lot of trans­ition­al forms. The de­vel­op­ment of Rus­si­an curs­ive hand­writ­ing styles was con­nec­ted to, and in­flu­enced by, the Ukrain­i­an and West-Rus­si­an hands, not to men­tion the Lat­in ones; however, there was as yet no com­monly ac­cep­ted uni­fied style. The type re­form was based on roy­al fancy, which could not be ar­gued with, rather than on ma­ture pub­lic ne­ces­sity. The same ideo­lo­gic­al motives un­der­lay Peter’s de­crees that men should shave their beards, smoke to­bacco, and wear Dutch clothes, his con­struc­tion of a European-style cap­it­al in the middle of forests and swamps, and his pub­lish­ing of books com­posed in a Cyril­lic equi­val­ent of ro­man type: the tsar wanted his coun­try to look European. And maybe the forced re­form of Rus­si­an type was caused by his de­sire to have Rus­si­an books, in form and struc­ture, im­it­ate the books pub­lished in Europe.


The civil hand. 1703.


Curs­ive. Cer­ti­fied Charter Con­firm­ing the Elec­tion of Mikhail Fe­dorovich Ro­man­ov as Tsar of Mo­scow State. XVII cen­tury. RSL.

The type re­form of 1708–1710 was not Peter’s first at­tempt to lat­in­ise the Cyril­lic al­pha­bet. The forms of Civil Type were preechoed by the en­graved let­ter­ing on book titles, geo­graph­ic­al maps, and oth­er print, as well as by the types of Dutch print­ers, who at Peter’s re­quest prin­ted Rus­si­an books and maps in the late 17th—early 18th cen­tur­ies. Both pro­to­types presen­ted an un­easy com­bin­a­tion of cer­tain Lat­in cap­it­al let­ters, whose shape was sim­il­ar to the Cyril­lic ones, and spe­cif­ic Cyril­lic glyphs taken from the lower­case poluustav of the 17th cen­tury.


Am­s­ter­dam Cyril­lic caps of Thes­ing’s print­shop, 1699-1707.

The lower­case let­ters of the Dutch typefaces were re­lated to both the civil hand and poluustav. This was prob­ably the reas­on why Peter fi­nally took a dis­like to Dutch print­ing and made the de­cision to move the design of the new type to Rus­sia.

The Num­ber and the Form of Pet­rine Civil Type Char­ac­ters

As a res­ult of Peter’s re­form, the num­ber of char­ac­ters in the Rus­si­an al­pha­bet de­creased from 45 to 38. Char­ac­ters in­her­ited from the Greek al­pha­bet like w (omega) and j (psi) and lig­at­ures o (ot) and n (os); h (yus, large) and m (yus, small), and also a vari­ant of the z (zemlya), were dropped. In­stead of the є char­ac­ter (open e) the let­ter э was in­tro­duced, and the char­ac­ter y (ya) was re­placed by the let­ter я. Dia­crit­ic­al marks, ab­bre­vi­ation marks, and Slavic tsi­fir’ (de­nota­tion of the fig­ures by let­ters) were aban­doned; European ((“old-style”) fig­ures and punc­tu­ation marks were in­tro­duced; and the use of cap­it­al let­ters was sys­tem­at­ised. In the books set in Civil Type, stand­ard (ro­man-style) caps mark the be­gin­ning of sen­tences, names, and some im­port­ant no­tions; the use of poluustav caps be­came lim­ited to the ini­tial cap­it­als. Com­pos­it­ors could di­vide the long words (and they are many in the Rus­si­an lan­guage!) with hy­phens. Thus, the ap­pear­ance of the Pet­rine book be­came very sim­il­ar to that of the European one.

The forms of the type ap­proved by Peter are fairly con­sist­ent in both its vari­ants (1708 and 1710). The pro­por­tion of its char­ac­ters, the con­trast, the re­la­tion­ship of the cap-height and the x-height, the char­ac­ter of round forms, the shape of serifs, and oth­er de­tails are all clearly in­flu­enced by the old-style Dutch (Baroque) ro­man, es­pe­cially when com­pared to poluustav. It be­comes es­pe­cially clear in the char­ac­ters com­mon to both Lat­in and Cyril­lic al­pha­bets and in the ini­tial ver­sions of n, p, m. Most of the char­ac­ters that are spe­cif­ic to the Cyril­lic al­pha­bet are also styled after West­ern mod­els. Some glyphs of the new type, or their de­tails, have a shape very close to the let­ters of Rus­si­an curs­ive and “civil” hands. The legs of К, к and Я, я have a softly curved sinu­ous shape re­sem­bling the form of the sim­il­ar stroke of the Ro­main du Roi R. Sev­er­al glyphs of the new typeface re­tained the gen­er­al form of the poluustav, though even these glyphs have some­what West­ern­ised shapes.

However, in spite of the ap­par­ent sim­il­ar­ity to the Baroque Dutch ro­man, on closer ex­am­in­a­tion the Civil Type is sig­ni­fic­antly dif­fer­ent; some re­search­ers even re­gard it as a kind of Trans­ition­al style (or Réale). In its col­our it is a bit light­er than most of the con­tem­por­ary Dutch types; its serifs are rather fine and al­most un­brack­eted, like the serifs of the Ro­main du Roi. In the large size, only some of the let­ters re­semble the con­struc­tion of their Dutch ro­man coun­ter­parts, and even these have con­sid­er­able dif­fer­ences in the de­tails. The new , without a ball ter­min­al and with the top of the bowl bul­ging, does not re­semble its typ­ic­al West­ern re­l­at­ive at all; such a shape only oc­curs in hand­writ­ten samples of Gio­vanni Francesco Cresci, dated 1570.


Civil Type, large size, 1708.

In the Dutch ro­man of the late 17th—early 18th cen­tury, the M (sim­il­ar to Cap­ital­is Mo­nu­mental­is) al­most al­ways has in­clined lat­er­al stems, and its middle di­ag­on­als meet at the base line. In the Pet­rine type, the side stems of the M are ab­so­lutely ver­tic­al, and the di­ag­on­als meet al­most in the middle of the char­ac­ter height. Such a struc­ture can be found only in the M of Jan Thes­ing’s print­shop in Am­s­ter­dam, where Rus­si­an books were prin­ted at the re­quest of Peter the Great, and in Rus­si­an geo­graph­ic­al maps, en­graved book titles, and cal­en­dars of the peri­od. Forms of C without the beak on the bot­tom ter­min­al and double-sided beaks of C, S, s could be found in West­ern ro­mans from the be­gin­ning of the 18th cen­tury, but they are not very typ­ic­al of those types, and they have, again, ana­logues in the en­graved in­scrip­tions on Rus­si­an maps and cal­en­dars. In ro­man type, the double-sided beaks in C and es­pe­cially in S first ap­pear in earn­est at the end of the first third of the 18th cen­tury, and a form of M with ver­tic­al side stems can be found only in the mid-18th cen­tury.

On closer ex­am­in­a­tion, the design of some let­ters in the Civil Type is dif­fer­ent from the struc­ture of sim­il­ar Lat­in char­ac­ters. For ex­ample, in the let­ters А, У, у, Х, х there are no in­tern­al serifs at the ends of di­ag­on­al strokes. And the end of the left top stroke in the ini­tial vari­ants of П, n, P, p, m is not at all sim­il­ar to the Lat­in ana­logues. A per­son fa­mil­i­ar with Lat­in script would nev­er draw let­ters of such a shape. One can ima­gine that the de­sire to draw those let­ters in the style of a Lat­in type, with a tri­an­gu­lar entry serif, ran in­to an ab­so­lute ig­nor­ance of its design pat­tern.

These de­vi­ations from the con­ven­tion­al West­ern glyph pat­tern can­not be just ac­ci­dent­al. For the Dutch crafts­men who en­graved punches for the Rus­si­an tsar, it would have been much easi­er to use the fa­mil­i­ar forms of Lat­in let­ters. Ap­par­ently, the reas­on had to do with the ori­gin­al design mod­els of those glyphs.

All of this ap­plies to the large size of the Civil Type (equal to ap­prox­im­ately 36 point). In the fonts of the me­di­um size (ap­prox­im­ately 12 point) and the small size (ap­prox­im­ately 10 point), A, П, P, T, n, p, m show the well-known forms of the Dutch ro­man. The shape of a and y in the me­di­um and small sizes is also very close to the ro­man. Only X, x per­sist­ently has no serifs. It is in­ter­est­ing to note that К, к in the large size has an up­per di­ag­on­al stroke end­ing with a double-sided ho­ri­zont­al serif (like the one in the cor­res­pond­ing ro­man char­ac­ter), while sim­il­ar let­ters in the me­di­um and small sizes at this point have drop-shaped end­ings.

These de­vi­ations from the con­ven­tion­al West­ern glyph pat­tern can­not be just ac­ci­dent­al. For the Dutch crafts­men who en­graved punches for the Rus­si­an tsar, it would have been much easi­er to use the fa­mil­i­ar forms of Lat­in let­ters. Ap­par­ently, the reas­on had to do with the ori­gin­al design mod­els of those glyphs.

A Brief His­tory of Cyril­lic Type

Based on Peter’s sur­viv­ing cor­res­pond­ence with his as­so­ci­ates, the first draw­ings of the new Rus­si­an let­ters, in three sizes, were made in Janu­ary 1707 by a mil­it­ary en­gin­eer and drafts­man whose name was Kuh­len­bach; he was serving at the Rus­si­an mil­it­ary headquar­ters un­der the com­mand of Prince Men­shikov. This was dur­ing the Great North­ern War against Sweden, when the headquar­ters was con­stantly re­lo­cat­ing, de­pend­ing on where mil­it­ary op­er­a­tions were tak­ing place. The sketches of the new let­ters were handed to Kuh­len­bach by Peter him­self at the end of 1706, when he ar­rived at headquar­ters, which was then loc­ated at Zholk­va near Lvov. It is quite pos­sible that Peter made the sketches him­self. Des­pite a very wide range of design ref­er­ences for the Civil Type (West­ern ro­mans, the Rus­si­an “civil hand”, poluustav), its au­thor showed re­mark­able cre­ativ­ity and in­vent­ive­ness in de­vis­ing the char­ac­ters that were spe­cif­ic to the Cyril­lic al­pha­bet, and achieved con­sid­er­able visu­al in­teg­rity. None of the known en­grav­ing artists con­tem­por­ary with Peter could have been the au­thor of the sketches, al­though the form of some let­ters in the Civil Type re­sembles the le­gends on etch­ings by Ad­ri­aan Schoone­beeck, Peter Piquart, Alexey Zubov, and oth­er en­gravers of the Pet­rine peri­od. These en­gravers cer­tainly knew the struc­ture of the let­ter­forms, and would have placed the serifs in the right places. Of course no one would have dared cor­rect the draw­ings of the tsar him­self: that is why Kuh­len­bach copied them most care­fully. The sim­il­ar­it­ies to the Dutch ro­man in the small sizes of the Civil Type can be ex­plained by the fact that in small sizes, dif­fer­ences of form are harder to no­tice, so Kuh­len­bach drew them in a more con­ven­tion­al style.


De­tail of the title page of Bruce’s Cal­en­dar. En­grav­ing, 1709.

Work­ing from the sketches he re­ceived, Kuh­len­bach pre­pared art­work for 32 lower­case let­ters and four cap­it­als (А, Д, Е, Т) in three sizes. Art­work for the oth­er cap­it­als was nev­er com­pleted—most likely for lack of time—and they had to be pro­duced based on sketches of the lower­case let­ters, blown up to the cap-height. Ini­tially Peter wanted to in­vite Dutch crafts­men over to Mo­scow, so they would both pro­duce a new type on the spot, and set up a print­ing op­er­a­tion mod­elled on West­ern prac­tices, and then train Rus­si­an print­ers. However, hav­ing a punch­cut­ter move to Rus­sia proved too ex­pens­ive: at the time there were only two such spe­cial­ists in Am­s­ter­dam, both of whom were over­loaded with work and not eager to go to faraway Mo­scow. So the de­cision was made to have the en­tire set of punches and matrices in three sizes man­u­fac­tured in Am­s­ter­dam, based on Kuh­len­bach’s draw­ings. Sim­ul­tan­eously, cop­ies of the draw­ings were giv­en to the crafts­men of the Mo­scow Print­ing Yard for par­al­lel man­u­fac­ture of the new let­ters.


Am­s­ter­dam Civil Type lower­case, 1707.

Ac­cord­ing to the in­form­a­tion con­tained in Peter’s let­ters, in June 1707 he re­ceived a prin­ted spe­ci­men of the me­di­um-size type, and in Septem­ber the proofs of the large and small sizes. The speed of man­u­fac­tur­ing and the tech­nic­al qual­ity of the punches, matrices, and sorts of the new type speak well of the Dutch punch­cut­ter’s skills (we do not know his name). However, the crafts­man did not even try to make sense of the let­ter shapes he was cut­ting: he care­fully re­pro­duced Kuh­len­bach’s pat­terns, re­tain­ing all the ab­surdit­ies of the ori­gin­als, in­clud­ing the ab­sence of serifs in some glyphs, and the strange shapes of a, p, n and m: he might have thought those forms were spe­cif­ic to Cyril­lic al­pha­bet.

At the same time, at the Mo­scow Print­ing Yard, the let­ter-founders Mikhail Ye­fre­mov, Grigory Al­ex­an­drov, and Vas­ily Pet­rov were mak­ing their own vari­ant of the new type ac­cord­ing to the draw­ings they had been sent. But when the Mo­scow let­ter-founders’ ef­fort was com­pared with the spe­ci­men sent from Am­s­ter­dam, it seemed less suc­cess­ful, and their work was stopped un­til the Dutch fonts could ar­rive in Rus­sia. At the end of 1707, three spe­cially in­vited Dutch print­ers, to­geth­er with the type and their print­ing press, reached Mo­scow via Arkhangel­sk. The first book com­posed with the new Civil Type, Geo­metria Slavensky Zem­le­mer­ie, was prin­ted in March 1708; it was fol­lowed by sev­er­al oth­ers.

But the de­vel­op­ment of the new type was not fin­ished. After some hand com­pos­i­tion tests, the tsar de­cided to change the form of a few let­ters, and to add sev­er­al miss­ing let­ters from the tra­di­tion­al Rus­si­an al­pha­bet. But when Peter sent sketches of the ad­di­tion­al let­ters to Mo­gilev (where the Army headquar­ters had moved) in April 1708, Kuh­len­bach failed to no­tice any dif­fer­ence between them and the ori­gin­al let­ters, so he simply re­peated the ori­gin­al designs of these char­ac­ters, based on the old sketches. Un­sat­is­fied, Peter sent the sketches back again and ordered him to do the work anew. Fi­nally, based on new draw­ings that Kuh­len­bach made in Ju­ly 1708, Peter ordered that ad­di­tion­al let­ters should be cut in Mo­scow (at the Print­ing Yard) and sim­ul­tan­eously in Am­s­ter­dam.


The title page of Geo­metria Slavensky Zem­le­mer­ie. Mo­scow. 1708.

In Mo­scow, in the au­tumn of 1708, 21 up­per­case let­ters and 21 lower­case let­ters were cut in the me­di­um size, and 17 lower­case let­ters in the small size. They were man­u­fac­tured by Grigory Al­ex­an­drov and Vas­ily Pet­rov, let­ter-founders at the Print­ing Yard—the best crafts­man, Mikhail Ye­fre­mov, hav­ing died the pre­vi­ous spring. In Am­s­ter­dam in 1709, 18 ad­di­tion­al lower­case let­ters were cut in all three sizes. Some of these let­ters were vari­ants of ex­ist­ing ones; oth­ers were let­ters that had been miss­ing earli­er. In the new vari­ants, most of the odder fea­tures of the let­ter­forms were made less ec­cent­ric, and in gen­er­al the type be­came more pla­cid. But in the pro­cess, some of the let­ter­forms lost a part of their ex­press­ive­ness. For ex­ample, the lower­case д now simply re­peated the up­per case, and a charm­ing hand­writ­ten form with a loop at the bot­tom was re­jec­ted. If at the start the cap­it­al let­ters had been based on the lower­case let­ter­forms, then after the proofread­ing some lower­case let­ters (д, и, п, т) ended up based on the up­per­case let­ter­forms. And lower­case let­ters from the me­di­um size were simply used as cap­it­als for the small size (25 let­ters out of 34 are the same in their form).

In Pet­rine books, among the lower­case let­ters in the large size one can also find cap­it­al А, Б, Д, Е, Т made in Mo­scow that are equal in height to the lower­case let­ters. Some re­search­ers pre­sume that they were small caps. But I be­lieve that these are the rem­nants of Peter’s ex­per­i­ments aimed at in­creas­ing the num­ber of type sizes. (It is un­likely that at that time the tsar un­der­stood the need for small caps, if in­deed he had any concept of them at all). As a res­ult of all these changes, the Cyril­lic ro­man in­cluded mainly rect­an­gu­lar forms, and its lower­case let­ters be­came hardly dif­fer­ent from the up­per­case ones.


Ad­di­tion­al Am­s­ter­dam Civil Type lower­case, 1709.

It took the crafts­men in Hol­land about a year to man­u­fac­ture the ad­di­tion­al let­ters. Dur­ing the same peri­od, the Mo­scow let­ters were re­done sev­er­al times: there were at least four such rounds of proof­ing and cor­rec­tion. Peter was en­gaged in cor­rect­ing the Civil Type dur­ing the most dra­mat­ic events of the Great North­ern War, in which the land forces of the Swedish king Carl were de­feated on 27 June 1709 at the Battle of Poltava. The Dutch punches of the ad­di­tion­al let­ters fi­nally ar­rived in Mo­scow in Septem­ber 1709. It was prob­ably in Oc­to­ber that the last proof of the new al­pha­bet, with all the fi­nal, cor­rec­ted let­ters from both Am­s­ter­dam and Mo­scow, was prin­ted. On 18 Janu­ary 1710, Peter vis­ited the Print­ing Yard and ap­proved im­prints of the al­pha­bet. Then he did the fi­nal proof—cross­ing out the poluustav char­ac­ters and the char­ac­ters o (ot), w (omega), and j (psi), and the first ver­sions of the new type char­ac­ters—and wrote with his own hand on the in­ner side of the case: “Симы литеры печатать исторические и манифактурныя книги. А которыя подчернены, тех вышеписанных книгах не употреблять” (Use these let­ters for print­ing his­tor­ic­al and tech­nic­al books. And those which are crossed out do not use [in] the above de­scribed books). The first page of this mod­el al­pha­bet is dated: “Дано лета Господня 1710, Генваря в 29 день” (29 Janu­ary 1710). The re­form of the Cyril­lic al­pha­bet was fi­nally com­plete—al­though the early forms of the new let­ters, re­jec­ted by the re­form­ing tsar, were still in use along­side the ap­proved ones up un­til the 1740s, when new Cyril­lic types were de­veloped.

Since European old-style nu­mer­als were in use in Rus­si­an books even be­fore the Pet­rine re­form, it is quite pos­sible that they were not spe­cially ordered. More likely, the tsar’s agents in Europe pur­chased punches and matrices of nu­mer­als and punc­tu­ation marks, to­geth­er with fonts of ro­man type, along with oth­er equip­ment, ma­ter­i­als, books, and lux­ury products. It is also pos­sible that West­ern mer­chants brought them, at Peter’s re­quest. We know that the let­ter-founder Mikhail Ye­fre­mov was cast­ing ro­man fonts, which must have been of for­eign ori­gin, as early as 1703. In the first books com­posed in the new fonts, at least three sizes of minus­cule nu­mer­als from sev­er­al types were used, as well as ro­man peri­ods, com­mas, colons, semi­colons, hy­phens, brack­ets, and braces. The fact that in the earli­est pub­lic­a­tions they do not al­ways match the size of the rest of the text and do not al­ways align to the baseline proves that in the early days, nu­mer­als from oth­er ro­man fonts of sim­il­ar sizes were used. Al­though this has nev­er been prop­erly in­vest­ig­ated, one can sup­pose, judging from later pub­lic­a­tions, that by the end of Peter’s reign, when there were already sev­er­al print­shops in St. Peters­burg, the new cap­it­al of the coun­try, Rus­si­an crafts­men had learned how to man­u­fac­ture their own nu­mer­als and punc­tu­ation marks.


First page of fi­nal Azbuka with Peter’s cor­rec­tions, 1710.

Peter’s re­formed Cyril­lic type was later called grazh­danskiy shrift (Civil Type) be­cause it was used for the com­pos­i­tion of sec­u­lar lit­er­at­ure. Dur­ing the reign of Peter the Great, the Civil Type was used in the print­ing of over 400 books; the Church Slavon­ic poluustav in its pre-re­form shape was used only for the print­ing needs of the church.

Since the Pet­rine type re­form, the lat­in­ised form of Cyril­lic has been tra­di­tion­al in Rus­sia for nearly 300 years, and Cyril­lic type has de­veloped in par­al­lel to Lat­in, re­peat­ing vir­tu­ally all the stages of its de­vel­op­ment and changes of style: Clas­sic­al, Ro­mantic, Art Nou­veau, Con­struct­iv­ist, Post-Mod­ern­ist, etc.

To be con­tin­ued.

  1. Bringhurst, Robert. The Invisible Hand. Part I. Neoclassical Letterforms (Serif, No. 4, Claremont, Calif., 1996)
  2. Haiman, György. Nicholas Kis. A Hungarian Punch-Cutter and Printer (San Francisco, 1983)
  3. Kaldor, Ivan. The Genesis of the Russian Grazhdanskii Shrift or Civil Type, (The Journal of Typographic Research, Vol., No.4, 1969; Vol., No.2, Cleveland, 1970)
  4. Shitsgal, Abram. Repertuar russkogo typografskogo grazhdanskogo shrifta XVIII veka. Ch. I. Grazhdanskiy shrift pervoy chetverti XVIII veka 1708–1725 (Moscow, 1981)
  5. Shitsgal, Abram. Russkiy grazhdanskiy shrift 1708–1958 (Moscow, 1959)
  6. Shitsgal, Abram. Russkiy typografskiy shrift. Voprosy istorii i praktika primeneniya (Moscow, first edition 1974, second edition 1985)
  7. Stauffacher, Jack. The Transylvanian Phoenix: the Kis-Janson Types in the Digital Era (Visible Language, Vol., No.1, Cleveland, 1985)
  8. Yefimov, Vladimir. Dramaticheskaya istoriya kirillitsy. Velikiy petrovskiy perelom (Da!, No. 0, Moscow, 1994)
  9. Zhukov, Maxim. The Peculiarities of Cyrillic Letterforms: Design Variations and Correlation in Russian Typefaces (Typography Papers, No. 1, 1996. University of Reading, Great Britain)
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