A Type House Divided
by Bill Hayes
In A Type House Divided, New York magazine reports on the major fight between two of the most successful typographers, Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones.
Because Hoefler and Frere-Jones were both avid collectors of rare type books and regularly bid for the same volumes, they often crossed paths. Every year or so, Hoefler and Frere-Jones would grab a meal and talk about how great it would be if they worked together. According to Frere-Jones, in 1999, Hoefler asked him to dinner at the Gotham Bar and Grill and proposed a 50-50 partnership called Tobias and Jonathan’s Excellent Adventure LLC. They’d get more business together than they would alone; their talents would complement each other. According to Frere-Jones, the deal was basically this: Frere-Jones would make the fonts, and Hoefler would use his client-hustling skills to sell them. (Hoefler, in legal papers, denies that this oral agreement ever existed.)
Frere-Jones moved to New York and brought his rare type books with him. He also agreed to bring 11 fonts to the company, a good chunk of his Boston output. He and Hoefler called these the Dowry Fonts “because this was going to be like a marriage,” Frere-Jones says.
Although he says now that the fonts were worth more than $3 million, he signed an agreement that transferred them to the Hoefler Type Foundry for a sale price of $10. The agreement also spelled out that he and Hoefler were “independent entities,” not partners. Frere-Jones didn’t consult a lawyer; he says he gave the fonts away for $10 because “I was giving them to my own company,” and he signed the agreement about being an independent entity because he was just trying to keep things moving. Unfortunately for Frere-Jones, Hoefler is now using that agreement and Frere-Jones’s employment contract to contend that Frere-Jones was always an employee, not a partner, even though Hoefler’s own statements give a different picture of the arrangement. For instance, in an email to an advertising agency in 2002, Hoefler wrote, “Since 1999, Tobias has been a partner at The Hoefler Type Foundry.” And here’s Hoefler writing to Frere-Jones about a brainstorm related to an exhibit of type-specimen books: “It’s possible that your partner is a genius.”
After Frere-Jones sold his fonts, Hoefler renamed the company. It was now Hoefler & Frere-Jones, H&FJ for short. They drew an elaborate custom ampersand and etched it above the door between their names. [more]