Hoefler & Frere-Jones – Mercury Display

Hoefler & Frere-Jones - Mercury Display

A succinct family of display faces, Mercury answers the call for a contemporary serif that’s smart, quick, and articulate.

The signature typeface we designed for Esquire magazine began its life as a would-be historical revival, but developed into one of our most avowedly modern type families. During its initial design exploration, Mercury was envisioned as a revival of the work of Johann Michael Fleischman (1701-1768), a German punchcutter denizened in Amsterdam, whose unrevived typefaces had so expressively captured the drama and tension of the Dutch baroque. As Mercury’s design developed, it began to draw upon the work of other contemporary punchcutters: both the sparkling display faces of Jacques-François Rosart (1714-1774), and the progressive italics of Pierre Simon Fournier (1712-1768), were inspirations in Mercury’s evolving design.

The more time we spent with these historical models, the more it became clear that none of them truly possessed the qualities that were so exciting about the genre as a whole. As a collection, these faces were vibrant: tightly wound, yet quiet, using the tension between introverted and extroverted gestures — and between black letterforms and their white counters — to create a sort of “excited calm” on the page. It was these qualities that we hoped to capture in Mercury, so ultimately we chose to ignore the dictates of historical form and follow a more personal and expressive path instead.

Mercury debuted in the pages of Esquire in 1996, and though it had been designed to serve merely as an everyday headline font, it quickly became an indispensable part of the magazine’s painterly editorial openers. The sharp corners and tightly coiled curves that made Mercury lively at headline sizes made it irresistible in outsize typographic collages, and hinted at what we thought could potentially be a vibrant and hard-working text face as well. Rather than compromise the design’s crisp features, we explored these ideas separately, in what would become one of our most substantial type families: the high-performance Mercury Text collection, designed to thrive under all kinds of adverse conditions.


Hoefler & Frere-Jones - Mercury Display
Hoefler & Frere-Jones - Mercury Display
Hoefler & Frere-Jones - Mercury Display
Hoefler & Frere-Jones - Mercury Display
Hoefler & Frere-Jones - Mercury Display
Hoefler & Frere-Jones - Mercury Display
Hoefler & Frere-Jones - Mercury Display

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