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A Complicated Delivery

Typographically, the Euro symbol had a difficult birth. Instead of defining a currency symbol, the European Commission dictated a logo. The inclusion of the character in computer fonts is being delayed. Both copywriters and designers struggle with inadequate solutions. The five-year history of the Euro mark, or: How typeface designers and corner-store owners restore the health of a character.

We all have witnessed it: the birth of a new letter. It took quite some time to be delivered. First, it made its appearance in newspapers and trade journals, then on the information leaflets disseminated by the banks. At last, the first live performances in ads, on department store displays, at vegetable markets and in the shop around the corner. By now, it has found its place on the computer keyboard and schoolchildren are taught how to write it. The Euro sign €. When history is in the making, details often tend to get blurred. Most of us will be more concerned with the introduction of the new, almost pan-EU currency than with the state of health of the sign accompanying this monetary reform. Typography fans, however, pay close attention to how the history of semiotics blinks her eyes. After all, the Euro should be spared the fate of the dollar, whose $ mark is surrounded by legends, while the story of how it found its definitive form has fallen into oblivion. And as the Euro’s several fathers from the very beginning have been covering its childhood behind a propaganda smoke screen, the time is ripe for committing to paper the five-year history of the Euro sign.

First occurrence and presentation

We owe the Euro sign’s birth to the coincidence of a number of rather accidental circumstances. After its decision to launch the new currency, the European Council at first did not address the question whether, like the dollar, the yen and the pound sterling, it should be accompanied by a currency symbol of its own. At the beginning of December 1996, two officials from the body responsible for the European Commission’s communicational affairs, feel the need for an emblem to be used in the Euro launch campaign. In a meeting with Commission member Yves-Thibault de Silguy, the idea springs up to utilize the selected motif as the character designating the future currency. The design is printed on blue cashmere shawls to be handed out at the European Council’s meeting in Dublin on December 13, 1996. The symbol meets with instant success and on the following day the Euro sign makes its first appearance in the press: a ring segment open on the right and crossed by two horizontal bars. On July 15, 1997, the European Monetary Institute confirms that “there is a need for a distinctive codified symbol of the common currency” and pledges support for the symbol presented by the European Commission. As little as one week later, the Commission publishes a note on the Euro signet, pre-emptively asking “every currency user” to employ the symbol “whenever an unmistakable mark is needed for the designation of monetary amounts within Europe, such as on price lists and invoices, checks and other legal instruments.” A short while later, the signet’s two images available for download from the EU web server cause no little agitation within the ranks of an expectant graphics design community.

A color picture shows the Euro sign in yellow on a dark blue background, i.e. in the EU’s heraldic colors, followed by their exact composition for printing: 100% yellow for the sign, 100% cyan plus 80% magenta for the background. That’s the way to present a logo, but not a brief for a printable letter. Does the EU expect its citizens to have all future price tags printed in blue with yellow lettering?

The European Commission’s 1997 official specification: a colorful logo instead of a concept for a currency symbol.
Even stranger the second figure, an engineering drawing showing the Euro glyph and its dimensional numbers. Compasses? Set square? Protractor? For the observant public, it all adds up. The diagram amounts to a standard, feasible perhaps for a logo, but not for a print character. By now it is obvious that the EU have not done their homework. Instead of providing a specification for typographers, designers of forms or billboards, and other commercial artists, they have published their internal specifications for the Euro campaign.

Had the Eurocrats consulted a typeface expert, they would not have failed to learn the difference between a character’s graph and its ductus. In a letter—and that’s what the Euro sign is intended to be—its skeletal shape (graph) and actual form (ductus) are two different things. The base form of, for instance, capital A is one and the same in all roman typefaces, while its execution by typeface designers is not predetermined at all, except for the required harmony with the rest of the characters from its family. It is precisely to this principle that we owe the cherished variety of typefaces—while in appearance they may widely differ, they all are readable.

Thus, it would have sufficed had Brussels provided us with a black-and-white sketch and a statement to the effect that the new currency symbol consists of a C-shaped arc crossed by two horizontal bars. That’s it! Width, breadth of stroke and execution of the Euro sign should depend on its intended use.

The outcry this backfiring EU action provoked among typographers worldwide is echoed by some of their initial comments, such as the ones posted in the comp.font newsgroup. Here are some extracts:

“It’s a logo, not a letter.”

“Being too wide, it’s unusable for tables.”

“Width, breadth of stroke and style are not elements of the A-ness of an A.”

“I don’t fear that Europeans will fail to develop this sign into something useful—probably within only a few months of its launch.”

The Berlin-based typeface designer Erik Spiekermann recently summed up the type design community’s feelings vis-à-vis the Euro sign in the preface to a FontShop publication: that the European Union’s currency sign is a product of mere chance.... While the ECB may continue to believe that they have a workable logo, typeface designers have interpreted the standardized Euro mark as merely a brief for conceiving a typographically functional Euro sign.

The Euro sign’s creator speaks up

The hype the EU cooks up in praise of its Euro sign specification does not render it any more useful. “The Euro’s graphic symbol resembles an E crossed by clearly marked horizontal parallel strokes. It is reminiscent of the Greek letter epsilon, thus pointing to the cradle of European civilization and the first letter of the word ‘Europe’. The parallel bars symbolize the Euro’s stability.” Fanciful as this account may be, it is unfortunately way off the mark: when e, along with the rest of the Greek minuscules, came into use in the Byzantine Empire around 800 A.D., European script history, anyway an offspring of the Roman capitalis quadrata, had long since outgrown its cradle and, with the imminent arrival in Moravia of Cyril & Co, was about to grow a clone of substantial clout.

In March 1999, a dpa news flash contradicts the fairytale of the deliberate invention of the Euro signet. Under the headline “Euro sign inventor fallen into oblivion”, the German press reports that the symbol’s designer has been tracked down. A photo shows the then 85-year-old Arthur Eisenmenger, the European Community’s former senior art director. Shortly before retiring in 1974 from the Luxemburg-based Office for Official Publications, Eisenmenger designed the synthesis of the letters C and E that twenty-four years on was to be rediscovered. “Using Indian ink and without giving it much thought, I drew the now notorious logo on an eight-inch-wide cardboard sheet.” Then, the design was put on ice.

Eisenmenger, also the author of the EU’s star-spangled banner, assured dpa that he did not sire his child as a currency symbol: “At that time, nobody even dreamed of the Euro.” The signet’s ultimate promotion to the rank of “a symbol of the cradle of European civilization” makes him laugh: “None of that ever crossed my mind.” Eisenmenger’s revelations confirm the long-standing suspicion that the Euro sign was a child of chance. The author had accomplished the fusion of the letters E and C “without giving it much thought.” No wonder that, without adaptation, it was unfit for visual communication in print or on the computer screen, as proven by the ungainly role it played in the Euro launch campaign.

Specification for Euro symbol construction
Typeface designers don’t play along

During the next months, typeface designers dedicate themselves to the task of improving the model provided by the EU. Not only must the Euro mark be included in the specifications of all typefaces to be newly developed, but also myriads of existing fonts have to be supplemented with a typographically adequate symbol.

Berlin typographer Henning Krause likens the emergence of a brand new sign to the situation of an orchestra compelled to integrate a new instrument. Where in the pit should it be placed? With the strings, the woodwind, the brass or the percussion? Up front, in the back, left, center, right? Which parts of the score will it play? Musicians are anxious: which material fits it best as for good looks and ease of play? Ash, oak, beech, or fiberglass?

All questions dealing with the instrument as such, i.e. with the Euro sign’s shape, are to be answered by the typeface designer. In line with a long-established division of labor, the issue of placement within the orchestra is dealt with by the operation system and printer driver programmers. Let’s begin with the typeface designers.

The Roman character canon is part of our common cultural heritage and, like an evergreen, is time and again newly interpreted and published. The music parabola still holds: the aficionados are familiar with the melody lines, the harmonies and the orchestration, so that the discourse will focus on the interpretation of the piece in question, i.e. on the typeface’s appearance and communicative power.

Civil disobedience: the more unconventional the typeface, the greater the Euro mark’s divergence from the EU standard.
Any statement about the aesthetic quality of a typeface is open to debate. This, however, does not concern us here. What we are concerned with are the aesthetics of a Euro sign to be integrated with a font that already exists. Henning Krause’s office Formgebung specializes in “retrofitting” with the Euro mark the corporate typefaces of big companies. Krause lists five objective criteria for assessing both the quality of the “Euro solutions” presently abounding in an inflationary way and the sign’s quality as a member of a given set of characters:

1. The Euro sign is not a capital C crossed by two bars. It is narrower and bears a close relation to the currency symbols ¥, $, ¢ and £.

2. As usual with currency symbols in professional body types, the Euro sign is slightly lower and lighter than the capital letters.

3. As for breadths and ends of strokes, the Euro sign is closer to the Greek letter e (epsilon) than to capital C.

4. The horizontal strokes should be sufficiently spaced so as to avoid, at small point sizes, the formation of a fat bar.

5. Contrast, grey value, serifs, etc. should be chosen so as to make the Euro sign fit in the rest of the typeface.

For typeface designers, the Euro sign’s double stroke is a tough nut to crack. By its very nature, it forms the character’s visual center of gravity, rendering it, if no corrective measures are taken, very “black.” For this reason alone, the sign’s breadth of stroke has to be reduced and the gap between the two strokes widened. Of course, some typeface designers will decide to merge the two bars, even though this is not crucial, as in the vertical dimension there is sufficient space to accommodate two separate strokes. In this respect, it differs from the dollar sign, whose vertical double bars were merged early on.

The characteristics of a properly designed Euro mark:
  1. Affinity to the shapes of other currency signs
  2. Slightly smaller and lighter than the capital letters
  3. Nearer in shape to lower-case c than to capital C
  4. Of equal width with the numerals
  5. Cross strokes sufficiently spaced
  6. Contrast, grey value, serifs, etc. like with the rest of the characters in the typeface

For 99% of the major body types, a strictly circular Euro sign is unusable. Indeed, the only typeface I can think of that might include the Euro sign virtually as specified by the Commission, is the sans-serif type ITC Avant Garde, notably its Book variety. In addition, the fact that the double stroke protrudes at the left renders even wider a character that, due to its round shape, is already of considerable width.

A currency sign’s width is dictated by the space occupied by a typeface’s numerals. This is particularly true for typefaces intended for use in company reports as well as for all correspondence types (such as Courier) and fonts used in accounting. Documents from these domains routinely include tables where the currency symbol is required to fit within the column width. From this, it does not follow automatically that the Euro sign should be exactly as wide as a numeral, but together with the free spaces preceding and following the sign it must occupy the same area.

To each their own: famous body types and their adaptations of the Euro sign.

When designing Euro signs for body types, i.e. faces intended for use in books or long texts, designers enjoy more freedom. Such typefaces often employ medieval Arabic numerals that, with their ascenders and descenders, are more pleasing to the eye and, having different widths, harmoniously fit in with the text matter. Here, the Euro sign as well may step out of line. So much for looks.

Apple and Microsoft are taking different paths

Apart from the Euro sign’s shape, another question emerges within the context of writing and typographic design on the computer: where should the new character be placed in the character table and where on the keyboard? While for the Windows operating system Microsoft presented an exemplary solution, namely the assignation to the new sign of the key combination AltGr + E (decimal position 128), Apple replaced the former currency symbol with the Euro, a solution one could live with, as nobody ever used the currency symbol. But instead of just assigning it a position on the keyboard, with the introduction of Mac OS 8.5, of new printer drivers and a new Symbol font, Apple overshoots the mark: any character at the currency symbol’s position is automatically replaced by a generic Euro sign from the updated Symbol font. Thus, unfortunately one of its most influential addressees answered the EU’s original message favorably by taking it at face value and spreading a dysfunctional sign all over the globe.

This is all the more annoying as Apple early on informed typeface publishers of its intention to re-assign the currency symbol’s position to the Euro sign, while hiding from them the truth that they need not bother to adapt the new sign to the Macintosh platform so dearly loved by the designer community. In practical terms, Apple’s system policy may have as a consequence that, while writing in a typeface with a typographically correct Euro sign, the user can see the correct sign on the screen, only to find it replaced, on the hardcopy, by the generic logo smuggled in by the printer driver.

Thus, for a change Microsoft has to be praised for the disregard of technical standards the company is so notorious for. By adopting a customized encoding of Mac typefaces or toggling a substitution switch of the LaserWriter 8 driver (by manipulating with ResEdit the PRFS resource), users can convince even Apple printers to insert at the proper place a properly designed Euro mark. However, such an insular solution comes at the price of sacrificing cross-platform compatibility.

Typeface publishers and their Euro sign solutions

Many typeface users will remember 2001 as the year of the Euro sign chaos. Apart from the sign’s controversial shape and position within font tables, the Euro’s launch is shadowed by a third storm cloud: the update policy of the typeface companies, i.e. the publishers of TrueType and PostScript fonts. At present, we owe them the existence of four different roads leading to a typographically functional Euro sign.

1. Euro sign collection fonts. This is the emergency solution provided by Adobe, Elsner + Flake, Linotype Library, and others. One font comprises from 20 to 100 differently shaped Euro signs from which users may pick the ones most suited for use with their fonts. This solution’s only advantage is that for the most part such Euro font sign collections are distributed for free. The necessity of frequent font changes and the fact that in the end none of the signs provided may truly fit in are reasons enough to search for a better approach. However, even this solution is better than the use of the unmitigated Euro sign à la EU.

2. Font updates. Provided they are readily available, this is the proper road to follow. Font updates cost from zero (FontFont) to 50% (Agfa-Monotype, Linotype) of the typeface’s original price, the only hitch being that many typeface publishers have hopelessly fallen behind with their updating efforts. Another reason for this, apart from Apple’s muddled system policy and Microsoft’s obstinacy, is the chaos caused by Adobe: initially, the Euro sign had to be designated as “Currency” in order to be treated properly by the Adobe Type Manager (ATM), while from the ATM 4.6 version on is has to bear the PostScript name “Euro”.

3. New typefaces. Starting from the year 2000, all newly designed typefaces should include an appropriate Euro sign. While this may not help those users that have to make do with their existing font libraries, others see it as a welcome occasion to critically go through their outdated typeface stock and to replace it with more recent, aesthetically more convincing data. Special mention is due to the novel interpretations of such Linotype classics as Neue Helvetica, Frutiger, Univers and Syntax, all of which have been subject to general revision (mostly performed by their original designers), extension and inclusion of an appropriate Euro sign. These new editions are available for the Mac and Windows on attractively priced hybrid CDs coming with multi-user licenses for at least five computers.

4. Design and inclusion of a Euro sign. Without doubt, this is the ideal solution, comparable only to a made-to-measure suit. It guarantees not only the inclusion in the existing typeface of a typographically perfect Euro sign, but also compatibility with all digitally stored documents. For who knows what else has been improved on the occasion of the updates mentioned above under 2? Even a single corrected kerning value may result in a different line arrangement, when the updated typeface is being applied to an existing document.

We owe it to the unruliness and professional pride of the typeface design scene that henceforth the Euro sign needs not be an alien element in printed matter or electronic documents. It is up to the user to make the proper choice as to the acquisition and use of typefaces. In the months to come we will be pleased to encounter a vast variety of boldly designed Euro marks. Contributions will come not only from professional typeface designers, but also from innumerable laypersons who in commerce and industry will be writing the price tags.

How to make your computer fit for the Euro

Since January 2002, we pay our bills with Euro notes and coins. High time to let your computer know how to represent the new currency mark. In order to display the € on the screen, the operating system must be aware of the sign. A simple test will reveal whether this is the case: under Windows, simultaneously press the “Alt” key and type the number combination “0128”. European Macintosh users type “Alt Shift D” or, under OS 9 or OS X, “Alt E”; other Macintosh users type “Option Shift 2”. If the Euro sign is displayed on the screen, everything is fine. If not, you should take action.

Users working with Windows 3.x or Windows 95 must manually convert their computers to the use of the new sign. To this end, Microsoft on its homepage has provided for download a number of files.

Windows NT version 3.1, too, for conversion to the Euro requires an update. Windows NT 4.0 has only been adapted to the new currency from service pack 5 on. The relevant files are also available for download from the Microsoft web site. All subsequent Windows versions, i.e. Windows 98, Windows 2000, Windows ME and Windows XP, support the Euro.

Since the introduction of MacOS 9, the sign has been accessible on a European keyboard through the key combination “Alt” plus “E”, and on other keyboards through the key combination “Option Shift 2”. TrueType fonts (only suitcase fonts) automatically employ the Euro sign that comes with the font. With PostScript typefaces (suitcase plus printer font file), the LaserWriter 8 driver may replace the included Euro sign with a generic Euro sign from the “Symbol” font. The problem can be fixed by updating both the Adobe PostScript driver and the Adobe Type Manager to their most recent versions.

On the Web
To have the Euro sign represented in the browser, the source sign, according to HTML standard 4.0, should read “€”. In addition, the browser must have been provided with a typeface that includes the Euro sign.

Online references to the Euro sign

European Union:

European Parliament:

European Central Bank:

German Ministry of Finance:

Austrian Ministry of Finance:

Association for European Politics:


Euro information:

Noted type authority Jürgen Siebert is marketing director of FontShop Germany and co-author of Emotional Digital.

English Translation by Klaus Rupprecht

On an old typewriter and in word processing applications, the Euro sign can be simulated thus: write C, insert a protected backspace, write =.

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