Bell MT is a distinctive text typeface with a long pedigree. It is a distinctly English typeface, designed in the late 18th century for use in printing Bell’s British Library. Bell MT works well in books and periodicals that demand a note of elegance but also the utilitarian virtue of fairly compact letters that can fit a lot of text into a restricted space. It was described by type historian Stanley Morison as “a very compact but highly legible type.”
The original type was cut by punchcutter Richard Austin for the publisher John Bell. Austin’s letters featured a brightness and brilliance that was rare at the time; the sharpness of his serifs prefigured the trends of “modern” typefaces with their high contrast between thin and thick strokes and their distinctively “bright” appearance on the page. Bell has been described as the first “modern” typeface, at a time when the transition from old-style to modern was under way.
Morison calls Bell “as undeniably English in appearance as Baskerville, though its proportions are deliberately French” (i.e., based on the narrower proportions of the typefaces then beginning to appear in France).
Bell was issued by the Monotype Corporation in 1931, as part of Monotype’s program of type revivals under Stanley Morison. It was digitized and given additional weights in 1990 by Patricia Saunders of the Monotype drawing office. The current offering from the Microsoft Cloud Fonts Service includes a regular, italic, and bold, but no bold italic.