The Ampersand

Zapfino, feeling special.

I like drawing the ampersand. It’s the character that when you’re designing a typeface seemingly gives you the greatest artistic freedom. It’s big and swooshy, with lots of room for playing with curves, swirls and if you’re feeling special, lots of fine, delicate lines. But why? Why does this, and no other character, allow so much freedom? Well, the ampersand is hardly ever used in body text any more. It used to be - Gill used it frequently to adjust line length* when setting text - but modern usage has it pretty much limited to combining pronouns in titles, company names and credits. So when we design an ampersand, we can design it with a general assumption that it’ll be used in display sizes and weights, and we can fill it with beautiful refinements and detail, knowing that any uses at body sizes will be rare enough not to be a serious problem. Well, perhaps. There are plenty of typographers who feel that the ampersand should again be used in English as a legitimate replacement for the word ‘and’, and mourn the demise of it in common use. After all, until relatively recently the English language was considered to have 27 characters in its alphabet, with the ampersand right after z. A good thread to read on the topic is here.

Logos for E&A, Victoria and Albert Museum, Herb Lubalin’s ampersand and Mother & Child Logo and ampersands from Goudy Old Style, Hoefler Text Italic and Bell MT Italic.