Futura is the fully developed prototype of the twentieth century Geometric Sanserif.
The form is ancient, Greek capitals being inscribed by the Cretans twenty-five hundred years ago at the time of Pythagoras in the Gortyn Code, by the Imperial Romans, notably in the tomb of the Scipios, by classical revival architects in eighteenth century London, which formed the basis for Caslon’s first sanserif typeface in 1817. Some aspects of the Geometric sanserif survived in the flood of Gothics that followed, particularly in the work of Vincent Figgins.
In 1927, stimulated by the Bauhaus experiments in geometric form and the Ludwig & Mayer typeface Erbar, Paul Renner sketched a set of Bauhaus forms; working from these, the professional letter design office at Bauer reinvented the sanserif based on strokes of even weight, perfect circles and isosceles triangles and brought the Universal Alphabet and Erbar to their definitive typographic form. Futura became the most popular sanserif of the middle years of the twentieth century.
Ironically, given its generic past, Futura is the only typeface to have been granted registration under copyright as an original work of art, and, further irony, given the key part played by the Bauer letter design office, the full copyright belongs to Renner and his heirs. This decision in a Frankfurt court implies that a further small group of older typefaces may also be covered by copyright in Germany, particularly those designed for Stempel by Hermann Zapf. This situation appears to be limited to this small group of faces in this one country, although protection of designers’ rights in newer typefaces is now possible in France and Germany through legislation deriving from the 1973 Vienna Treaty for the protection of typefaces.
Mergenthaler’s Spartan is a close copy of Futura; Ludlow’s Tempo is less close.