Sorry to overshare, but as the season of valentines approaches I've been on the hunt for a graphic Cyrano de Bergerac; a font made to whisper poetry while I bashfully stand off to the side hoping that this year I wrote the perfect rhyme. Prospects were looking grim until Canadian Typographer Claude Pelletier showed up with free font Champignon and its flirty brother, Champignon Swash (together in one download). The designer's italic duo seems destined for romancing, even though the style's background is all business.
The Champignons are the digital descendents of Spencerian lettering, named for Platt Rogers Spencer, the father of proper penmanship. Mr. Spencer believed in writing business communication quickly, precisely, and by hand. His lettering method was the standard for professional correspondence until the invention of the typewriter in the 1920s. After his death in 1864, his sons published the Spencerian Key to Practical Penmanship, a volume that became a classroom standard until it was replaced by the simpler Palmer method. Pelletier brings Spencer's no-nonsense principles of legibility on screen without losing the little touches that give the Champignon fonts their handsome personality, such as when the cap R preserves the talented penman's ability to create a visually striking letter in two controlled strokes. Even the lowercase p descends and rises with deft precision. Spencer would be proud.
There can be major drawbacks to bringing lettering styles online. Prepare for some handiwork of your own. Champignon and Champignon Swash have extravagant ascenders and descenders, which crop off if the text is set with tight leading. The word spacing needs tightening to hold phrases together and the letter spacing bears watching as caps often need a push to marry up with the lowercase. Periods and commas are over-scaled and need to drop in size wherever they go.
Champignon comes with full upper and lowercase sets, old style numerals, and diacritics. Punctuation styles promise an expressive pay-off: The parentheses lean towards each other ready to hug witty asides, and the question mark is poised to be the perfect gentleman even when asking the big questions. The ampersand appears to be off dancing the Tarantella. Avoid using this last mark more than once or it will steal the show. There's a slightly quieter version in the Swash set.
Champignon Swash provides some puzzling alternatives to the main set with lowercase letters that loom and curl like monkey tails and an uppercase that functions like a small cap set. To use Swashes to your advantage, set your text in Champignon first and then break out this second set for the final flourishes. Keep the point size at 72 and above, and practice restraint. A little goes a long way when you're dressing text in this style.
Pelletier has generously placed Champignon and Champignon Swash in the public domain using a General Public License (GNU). You are free to use the works in personal and commercial projects; just don't sign yourself as the fonts' creator. It didn't work for Cyrano's friend Christian de Neuvillette, either.
I'm feeling more confident as the daunting day of hearts and flowers draws near. The Champignons are sure to have my back and perhaps yours, too, as we sally forth to delight a special someone. Now where the heck is that rhyming dictionary?