Clarendon is the name of a slab serif typeface that was released in 1845 by Thorowgood and Co. (or Thorowgood and Besley) of London, a letter foundry often known as the Fann Street Foundry. The original Clarendon design is credited to Robert Besley, a partner in the foundry, and was originally engraved by punchcutter Benjamin Fox, who may also have contributed to its design. Many copies, adaptations and revivals have been released, becoming almost an entire genre of type design.
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Clarendon has a bold, solid structure, similar in letter structure to the "modern" serif typefaces popular in the nineteenth century for body text (for instance showing an 'R' with a curled leg, and ball terminals on the 'a' and 'c'), but bolder and with less contrast in stroke weight. Clarendon designs generally have a structure with bracketed serifs, which become larger as they reach the main stroke of the letter. Mitja Miklavčič describes the basic features of Clarendon designs (and ones labelled Ionic, often quite similar) as: "plain and sturdy nature, strong bracketed serifs, vertical stress, large x-height, short ascenders and descenders, typeface with little contrast" and supports Nicolete Gray's description of them as a "cross between the roman [general-purpose body text type] and slab serif model". Gray notes that nineteenth-century Ionic and Clarendon faces have "a definite differentiation between the thick and the thin strokes", unlike some other more geometric slab-serifs.
Slab serif typefaces had become popular in British lettering and printing over the previous thirty-five years before the original Clarendon's release, both for display use on signage, architectural lettering and posters and for emphasis within a block of text. The Clarendon design was immediately very popular and was rapidly copied by other foundries to become in effect an entire genre of type design. Clarendon fonts proved extremely popular in many parts of the world, in particular for display applications such as posters printed with wood type. They are therefore commonly associated with wanted posters and the American Old West. A revival of interest took place in the post-war period: Jonathan Hoefler comments that "some of the best and most significant Clarendons are twentieth century designs" and highlights the Haas and Stempel foundry's bold, wide Clarendon display face as "a classic that for many people is the epitome of the Clarendon style."