Skip to main content

Hoefler and Frere-Jones set for $20 million court battle over share in iconic type foundry

Hoefler and Frere-Jones set for $20 million court battle over share in iconic type foundry


Frere-Jones alleges he was conned out of 50 percent stake in company

Share this story

Hoefler & Frere-Jones (H&FJ), one of the most respected type foundries in the world, is now the subject of a multi-million dollar legal battle between its eponymous type designers Jonathan Hoefler and Tobias Frere-Jones. The New York City foundry owns and sells licenses for well-known font families like Whitney and Gotham, and has also designed typefaces for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Wired, Esquire, HP, Nike, and others.

Frere-Jones sold fonts 'worth $3 million' for $10

The lawsuit was filed by Frere-Jones, who claims that Hoefler essentially tricked him into believing he would become an equal partner in H&FJ, previously known as the Hoefler Type Foundry (HTF). Frere-Jones joined HTF in 1999, and claims he was promised equal equity and his "name above the door" in exchange for transferring the rights for some of the typefaces he designed, including Whitney, to the company. In 2004, Frere-Jones sold the typefaces to HTF for just $10. At the time, Frere-Jones claims, their royalty value stood at $3 million, and the designer says he never would have transferred the rights if not for the agreement that he would become a 50-50 partner.

According to the lawsuit, first reported by Quartz, the partnership was only agreed verbally, but Frere-Jones cites a public relations release commissioned by Hoefler's wife which reads:

"Jonathan Hoefler, Principal of The Hoefler Type Foundry, and Tobias Frere- Jones, Type Director of The Hoefler Type Foundry, announced today that they have entered into an agreement to become equal partners and to rename the business Hoefler & Frere-Jones Typography."

"I'm working on it. Stop harassing me."

Frere-Jones claims Hoefler "repeatedly acknowledged his obligation" to transfer a 50 percent stake in the company, but never did so. The pair's relationship began to sour last year, when Frere-Jones alleges Hoefler scheduled a deal completion date of July 31st 2013. On that date, Frere-Jones says he followed up with Hoefler, who allegedly responded "Stop it. I'm working on it. Stop harassing me." It is unclear from the filing if this response was written or verbal.

Almost three months later, it's alleged that Hoefler "explicitly reneged on his personal agreement" to transfer 50 percent of the company for the first time. Frere-Jones says he has been told and believes that the shares in question have now been transferred to Hoefler's wife, Carleen Borsella. Frere-Jones is seeking at least $20 million in compensation.

"These allegations ... are false and without legal merit."

Update: The type foundry at the center of the allegations has released a statement regarding the lawsuit. The statement refers to Tobias Frere-Jones as "a long-time employee" and says his allegations "are not the facts and they profoundly misrepresent Tobias's relationship with both the company and Jonathan [Hoefler]." It goes on to say that the company will "vigorously defend itself against these allegations, which are false and without legal merit."

The statement adds that the world-famous Hoefler & Frere-Jones brand is simply a name that the Hoefler Type Foundry has been doing business as. Moving forward, the company will now do business as "Hoefler & Co.", and the newly named type foundry is keen to note it "will continue to be a great place for design ... continuing to create the kinds of typefaces that designers have come to expect from us for more than 25 years."