Falschungserschwerende Schrift

German car license plate, c. 1980, 11.3 x 46 cm
Following a spike in automobile thefts through the early 1970s— many of which involved tampering with stolen tag numbers to elude police detection — the German government commissioned a new license plate typeface. It was December 1977, and Germany was still raw from a recent rash of hijackings, murders and suicides associated with the Red Army Faction. [...]

Born awkwardly between eras — drawn by hand in order to be better read by machines — the falschungserschwerende Schrift font bears the marks of both 19th-century guild-enshrined handcraft and 20th-century anonymous automation. And like any technology, it is bound by the political determinants of its design: while its original “tamper-proof ” premise may have proved a MacGuffin, these weird-looking letters are an early product of our contemporary surveillance state. What reads to us as a clumsy lack of formal continuity is exactly what makes it legible to a computer. It is an alphabet whose defining characteristic is precisely that it has no defining characteristic, other than having no defining characteristic.

–“Falschungserschwerende Schrift,” Benjamin Tiven, Bulletins of The Serving Library #3, 2012

Go back