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Hoefler & Frere-Jones, The Beatles Of The Type World, Are Breaking Up

Tobias Frere-Jones says “treacherous” Jonathan Hoefler cheated him of his half of one of the world’s most famous type foundries–a company that has worked for everyone from Nike to the New York Times.

Hoefler & Frere-Jones, The Beatles Of The Type World, Are Breaking Up

Hoefler & Frere-Jones–perhaps the world’s most renowned type foundry whose fonts have been seen everywhere from the pages of GQ to Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign–is splitting up. And it’s a nasty parting–the legal equivalent of a knife fight in the street.

Founded in the early 1990s by now legendary type designers Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones, Hoefler & Frere-Jones has developed a number of the most popular new fonts to come out in the last 20 years. The company’s body of almost 800 fonts includes the architecture-inspired Gotham and the eponymous Hoefler Text, a font developed for Apple to demonstrate advanced type technologies. The type foundry boasts a list of famous clients as long as your arm, including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, Sports Illustrated, Rolling Stone, Tiffany, Nike, Hewlett-Packard, and many, many more.

But all is not well at Hoefler & Frere-Jones. In a lawsuit filed yesterday in New York–the paperwork of which is somewhat ironically set in Arial–Frere-Jones claims that his partner has cheated him out of half the $3 million company.

According to the suit, Frere-Jones believes that Hoefler tricked him into transferring ownership of several fonts, including Whitney, to Hoefler & Frere-Jones in exchange for 50% equity of the company. But this agreement was never formalized in writing, and on October 21, 2013, Hoefler–who had previously told Frere-Jones that he was “working on it” and to “stop harassing him” about his equity–formally reneged on the deal.

“In the most profound treachery and sustained exploitation of friendship, trust and confidence, Hoefler accepted all of the benefits provided by Frere-Jones while repeatedly promising Frere-Jones that he would give him the agreed equity, only to refuse to do so when finally demanded,” the suit says.

Profound treachery! Those aren’t words bandied around by someone who thinks this can be resolved with a hug. For type lovers, though, watching two of the world’s most famous type designers going for each other’s throats this way after such a productive partnership must seem like the Beatles breaking up.

You can read the full complaint here. And stay tuned to Co.Design for more.

About the author

John Brownlee is a design writer who lives in Somerville, Massachusetts. You can email him at john.brownlee+fastco@gmail.com.