Thomas Phinney: Font Detective 2: Extra Bold

Thomas Phinney is the Sherlock Holmes of the design world. His use of logic, extensive typography knowledge, history of ancient typographical machines and their uses are no match for any expert forger. Not even the government. Thomas Phinney talks about his three favorite font detective cases; the California frontier mailbag, a fake rabbi, and falsified memos from the Bush Administration’s National Guard Service.

Photo credit: Amber Gregory

The Presidential Plot

Typography is like a fingerprint. Few mysteriously missing spaces and degraded letterforms noticed in a memo created by the Bush Administration National Guard Service found it’s way to Thomas Phinney’s detective desk., Thomas noticed that the font was similar to Times New Roman, and after careful detective work of superimposing all fonts that look like Times New Roman, he realized the memo was originally written on a typewriter, and whoever forged it used Times New to fill in the blanks. Thomas Phinney tells the audience “If you ever want to forge an old document, buy a typewriter.”

“If you ever want to forge an old document, buy a typewriter”

The Respected Rabbi Case

This case was introduced to Thomas Phinney from a family that approached the Type Directors Club which Thomas is a part of. A family had doubts about their respected Rabbi, “who was this man?” they wondered. Rabbi Melvyn May was his name. He was influential in New York in the early 2000’s. He performed the blessing to open the house of representatives in 2002. People confided in him and trusted him for his general wisdom. But not everyone was convinced.

Thomas Phinney

Thomas Phinney

Typographer / Vice President @ FontLab (Portland, Oregon)

Thomas Phinney is President of FontLab. Previously he worked at Extensis (web fonts and font management tools) and Adobe (as product manager for global fonts and typography). Thomas is also a type designer, teacher, writer, and consultant on fonts and typography. He teaches type design with Crafting Type and has been a repeat guest lecturer for MA Typeface Design at the University of Reading. Since 2004 he has been a board member of ATypI, the international typography association. His typeface Hypatia Sans is an Adobe Original with over 3000 glyphs per font. Thomas lives in Portland, and in his leisure hours plays table tennis and board games.

Things got weird when the Rabbi showed up at the families house in the middle of the night waving his rabbinical ordination certificate to prove to them that he in fact was a real Rabbi. That’s when Thomas got to cracking on the case. First, he wanted to fact check the Rabbi’s resume. As he suspected, it didn’t sum up. Next, he contacted the rabbinical college that issued the certificate. The college was permanently closed. Even more suspicious. Third, Thomas noticed that the certificate was hand-lettered in calligraphic type. Except for one little detail! The Rabbi’s name. Now Thomas wondered, what was the typeface his name was set in? Aha! A Microsoft owned font called Monotype Corsiva. Case solved!

Thomas Phinney is a typographical detective by night and Vice President of FontLab by day. He is a typographical expert, his recent typeface is the Kickstarter-​​funded Cristoforo. He’s originated the Adobe typeface Hypatia Sans, and many more. You can also see him testifying in court as an expert witness in forgery cases. 


Text — Victoria Tsiganenko