Font Gods Hoefler & Frere-Jones Split in Nasty Corporate Divorce

Few graphic-design institutions are (or were) as highly regarded as Hoefler & Frere-Jones, a small New York City type foundry whose perfectly crafted typefaces—including Gotham, Whitney, and Champion—saturate media, advertising, entertainment, and politics. Obama tapped the company to create a custom font for his second presidential campaign. Now the two sides of the ampersand are at war over who actually owns the company.

Tobias Frere-Jones quit earlier this month, and yesterday filed a lengthy complaint against his now-former colleague Jonathan Hoefler. The document alleges that when Hoefler recruited Frere-Jones—and his existing “dowry fonts”—to join what was then (and remains, legally) the Hoefler Type Foundry, Hoefler orally promised Frere-Jones a 50 percent stake in the company. After supposedly delaying for several years, by Frere-Jones’s account, Hoefler reneged in October 2013 and transferred the stake to his own wife.

The complaint was set in Arial, a universally despised ripoff of Helvetica.

Frere-Jones’s filing starts right off by calling Hoefler’s conduct “the most profound treachery” and goes on to paint himself as a trusting design genius wronged by his vulgar and untalented associate: “Hoefler’s principal role was to run the business side of the company and use his ‘client-hustling skills’ to sell Frere-Jones’s work.”

Hoefler responded to the complaint today through a statement from the company’s general counsel, which reads, in part:

Following his departure, Tobias filed a claim against company founder Jonathan Hoefler. Its allegations are not the facts, and they profoundly misrepresent Tobias's relationship with both the company and Jonathan. [...] It goes without saying that all of us are disappointed by Tobias's actions. The company will vigorously defend itself against these allegations, which are false and without legal merit.

The statement was set in Mercury, a typeface Hoefler created in 1996 for Esquire.

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[Photo credit: Associated Press]