Typography in Pop Culture: Cooper Black

cooper black in use

Typography in Pop Culture | Entry 3:

Cooper Black

Cooper Black is discreetly one of the most utilized typefaces in the United States. Since it’s creation in 1920, the font has been found in a wide variety of pop culture artifacts. Oswald Bruce Cooper of Chicago created the typeface based on his hand-lettering skills. Cooper Black is extremely heavy with consistent weight, which is fitting because it was intended for farsighted advertising. Cooper Black was revolutionary in being the biggest and boldest typeface so it instantly took off, especially in the advertising industry. Tootsie Roll was one of the first business to take ahold of Cooper Black. Below is their ad from March 1920. Cooper Black is still the typeface for Tootsie Roll packaging.

cooper black in use

There was a revival of the design in the 60s/70s but this time it was used more in business design than in commercial contexts. Archie and Garfield used Cooper Black for their titles. Cooper Black seemed to represent a bubbly, child-like sentiment by being used for candy and comics, however, perhaps the most iconic moment for the typeface was the Beach Boys’ album Pet Sounds released in 1966. The font has seemed to take on a dual identity of both serious and childish. Cooper Black was so popular that it became the go-to for DIY style. Even today you can see Cooper Black on trucker hats or on the classic Vote for Pedro shirt in Napoleon Dynamite.

The typeface’s music career didn’t end with the Beach Boys. Cooper Black has taken on a reputation in the hip-hop community as well, perhaps because of it’s resemblance to graffiti style lettering. Cooper Black was used in multiple hip-hop album’s artwork of the late 20th century but it has also made a comeback in recent years. Using Cooper Black may be how newer artists are paying tribute to their roots of old school hip-hop, such as in the case of The Black Keys. Their album art for Brothers is exclusively typographic reading “This is an album by the Black Keys. The name of this album is Brothers” in white and red Cooper Black on a solid black plane.

However, the use of Cooper Black in hip-hop may also be referencing the good, fun ol’ days of Tootsie Pops and comic books or youth in general. Tyler, The Creator has made Cooper Black fundamental to his Odd Future brand while also making it about bright patterns, vibrant hues, and childish imagery. Tyler, The Creator has even made an explicit Garfield reference as the comedic character “Barfield.” You can find Cooper Black in use again with Odd Future member Frank Ocean who uses Cooper Black simply yet creatively on his cover for Channel Orange. Frank has also referenced childhood and loss of innocence numerous times in his career, such as the lyrics, “I ain’t a kid no more, we’ll never be those kids again.”

Cooper Black is and has been everywhere. It is even a preset typeface for Microsoft Word. It seems to have taken on not one particular style but many, ranging from business to bubbly. You can see all the references to Cooper Black in use below:

cooper black in use

Click here to see more examples of Cooper Black in use.