n the late 1930s, old Egyptiennes (or Italiennes) returned to the collective consciousness of European printers and type houses — perhaps because political news were front and center — especially in France where the Le Figaro newspaper was seeing record circulation numbers. In 1939 both Monotype and Lettergieterij Amsterdam thought of the same idea: Make a new typeface similar to the reverse stress slab shapes that make up the titles of newspapers like Le Figaro and Le Frondeur.
Both foundries intended to call their new type Figaro. Monotype finished theirs first, so they ended up with the name, and their type was already published when Stefan Schlesinger finished his take for the Amsterdam foundry. Schlesinger’s type was renamed Hidalgo (Spanish for a lower nobleman, ‘son of something’) and published in 1940 as ‘a very happy variation on an old motif’. Although it wasn’t a commercial success at the time, it was well received and considered subtler and more refined than the similar types available, Figaro and Playbill. In the Second World War, the Germans banned the use of the type, and Hidalgo never really recovered.
Upon closer inspection, Schlesinger’s work on Hidalgo was much more Euro-sophisticated and ahead of its time than the too-wooden cut of Figaro and the thick tightness of Playbill. It has a modern high contrast, a squarer skeleton, contour cuts that work similarly outside and inside, and airy and minimal solutions to the more complicated shapes like G, K, M, N, Q and W. It is also much more aware of, and more accommodating to, the picket-fence effect the thick top slabs create in setting.
Basilio (named after the singing teacher in Mozart’s Figaro) is the digital revival and major expansion of Hidalgo. With nearly 600 glyphs, it boasts Pan-European language support (most Latin languages, as well as Cyrillic and Greek), and a few OpenType tricks that gel it all together to make a very useful design tool.
Stefan Schlesigner was born in Vienna in 1896. He moved to the Netherlands in 1925, where he worked for Van Houten’s chocolate, Metz department store, printing firm Trio and many other clients. He died in the gas chambers of Auschwitz in 1944.
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