The Gills Sans typeface family was created in 1928 by Eric Gill who was a calligrapher, wood engraver and sculptor, before bringing his creative typography skills to Monotype in the 1920s.
Gills Sans is a sans serif font that is considered the quintessential British typestyle. Its origins of the font can be traced to Gill’s teacher, Edward Johnston, and the typeface he designed in 1918 for the signage of the London Underground Railway. Gill studied under Johnston at London’s Central School of Arts and Crafts before becoming his apprentice and assisting in the creation of Johnston Sans.
This led Stanley Morison, an advisor and typographic consultant for Monotype who oversaw the creation of many fonts for the Monotype typeface library during this time. After reviving several classic type styles, he wanted to release a modern face to be the British counterpart to the German Futura. He recognized the talent of Gill, in that Gill used many of the same letterforms as Johnston’s signage typeface and commissioned him to complete the new font family.
Gill originally designed the typeset in all uppercase letters, designed to be used for headlines and advertisements, but was easily legible and found much success as body text as well. The lowercase characters were not added until the following year in 1929. Over the course of the 1930s, much time was spent developing additional weights and variations.
Gill Sans saw initial success in the year following its release when it was adopted as the standard typeface for the London and North Eastern Railway (LNER). The font could be seen in all collateral associated with the company including dining car menus and time tables. In 1935 Gill Sans reached bookshelves around the world as the new jacket design for Penguin Books. British Railways began using Gill Sans in all printed media beginning in 1948.
Due to the Roman character shapes, unique proportions, clean lines, and legibility, Gill Sans has stood the test of time. It has been nicknamed “the English Helvetica” due to its lasting popularity around Europe.
The font is recognizable in many popular logos of today including the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), which has used Gill Sans as the corporate typeface since 1997. Rolls Royce, Tommy Hilfiger, and eHarmony are also notable uses of the font that are still seen today.