Leeds Playbills website

The amazing Leeds Playbills website contains nearly 5,000 medium-to-high resolution scans of vibrant playbills dating from the late 1700s up through the 1990s. The database, part of the Leodis digitization project, represents all the playbills in the Local Studies Library collection, with samples from a variety of historic theatres in the city of Leeds, as well as a group of related circus bills. Interestingly, the project is funded by the UK National Lottery‘s Big Lottery Fund (formerly the New Opportunities Fund).

Many of the prints showcase an impressive array of large and ornamented types. Not surprisingly, the circus bills are among the most vibrant on the site, many utilizing multiple colors with chromatic typefaces, illustrations, and sensationalist prose. There are also a few non-typographic lithographs with elaborately colored lettering and illustration.

Other than the obvious wow factor (!!!), the prints are interesting for several typo-historic reasons. First of all, they show many typefaces that aren’t seen as frequently on this side of the Atlantic, and perhaps even in the UK. Furthermore, it shows the type in real-world use (not as in self conscious type specimens), revealing how the printers organized the information through variations in letter style and layout. One advantage of the higher resolution enlargements is that you can get a sense of how much care was put in to the printing of each piece (the range is wide). Many of the bills also have a credit line citing which print shop ran the job, allowing an evaluation of each shop in comparison with others, and giving info about which venues employed which printers. Finally, some of the items give an interesting view in to the practice of updating information by pasting on additional slips of paper or overprinting.

Unfortunately the small thumbnail images make browsing a bit tedious, and some of the full-resolution images show streaking from faulty scanning equipment. The site does have some useful functionality though, including the ability to filter content according to dates, keywords, and venues.

While wide time range is represented, the most interesting material to me, typographically, is that from the mid-to-late 1800s — coincidentally also the same period in which wood type was at its height of production and use. I’ve compiled a collection of details from some of the more interesting samples below, each linked back to the original page where you can access an enlarged, un-cropped, view.

Gifts ideas for woodtypers

It’s getting to be a bit late for holiday gift suggestion lists, but I figured I’d do one of wood type / decorative lettering wares. Many of these items have been shown elsewhere, and the list is nowhere near complete, but it’s a good starting point. With that said, here are a few suggestions…

Greeting cards from RIT

I’ll start with a topic very close to my heart: the book Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type, Borders, &c., Manufactured by Wm. H. Page & Co… This mind-blowing object, published in 1874, is something that I have much, much, much, more to talk about than I will go in to now. Instead, in the interest of time, I’ll just note a great set of greeting cards published by the RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press that feature scaled-down reproductions from the book.

William Page chromatic wood type specimen cards

Also available are similar cards featuring reproductions from a great French lettering manual, Nouvel Album de Letters Peintes.

French lettering manual cards

You might as well check out all the cool stuff that the press sells related to printing history. It’s a great source of cheap but awesome gifts.

Both sets of 4.25″ × 6″ cards are sold in packs of 8 — 2 each of 4 designs, with envelopes. I’ve purchased several batches myself over the past few years.

$7 from the RIT Cary Graphic Arts Press

Wood type monogram coasters

There are tons of products available online that are printed using wood type (I’ll show some more below). The thing I personally like about this set of coasters from Marquand Books is that the type isn’t intentionally “distressed”, as is so common with many similar products. Instead, the letters are printed cleanly in solid black.

I can’t say that I would ever really use my own set of hand-printed coasters; but whatever, it’s wood type!

Wood type letterpress monogram coasters

They also offer some wood type doorknob hangers, but I like the coasters much better myself.

The 3.5″ square coasters come in a nice little packaged set of 9 — 3 each of 3 colors (orange, green, and blue).

$8.50 from Marquand Books

Decorative lettering bags

Similar to the cards show above, this bag from Blue Q reproduces alphabets from beautifully colored French chromolithograph lettering samples. Unfortunately it’s sold without any proper credit to the original source, but I think it might be from Modeles de Lettres, 1884.

Blue Q Alphabet Shopper bag

Blue Q also has the cool HI/BYE shoulder bag featuring decorative lettering by the talented Ray Fenwick.

Blue Q HI/BYE bag by ray Fenwick

Both bags are made with recycled woven polypropylene.

$11.99 / $9.99 (respectively) from Blue Q

2010 calendar

This calendar was printed by Allen Stump at his a Mano Press. Calendars are great for end-of-year gifts, but they’re ten times better if printed with the same wood type collection I encountered on my visit with Allen over the summer.

Calendar from the a Mano Press

Calendar from the a Mano Press

There are other worthy items from the a Mano Press available on their Etsy shop.

The wirebound caledars are 12½″ square, printed in multiple colors on a pair of Vandercooks.

$20 from the a Mano Press on Etsy

PLINC Eventide M print

House Industries has been doing some great stuff with the prestigious library of Photo-Lettering Inc since they acquired the materials in 2003. One highlight of such work is this silkscreen-printed poster featuring a chromatic glyph from PLINC’s Eventide alphabet, originally designed by Paul Carlyle, digitized by Jeremy Mickel, and printed on this poster by hand with metallic inks by David Dodde.

PLINC Eventide M poster print

The hand-numbered  26″ × 20″ poster is printed on 130# acid-free cover weight paper. I picked up a copy for myself when House was selling them at the TDC recently.

$40 from House Industries

Daily Drop Cap poster

The first alphabet of Jessica Hische’s Daily Drop Cap project that I wrote about previously has found its way on to a poster.

Jessica Hische's Daily Drop Cap poster

The 15″ × 22″ poster is an archival Giclee print on Velvet Fine Art paper and comes signed by Jessica.

$100 from Jessica Hische

POP! Goes The Weasel poster print

For people looking for kid-related gifts, this poster from Richard Ardagh and New North Press shows three variations of the traditional nursery rhyme, each set in a variety of 19th-century display type styles.

New North Press - POP! Goes The Weasel poster print

They made a video showing the process of printing the posters, accompanied with an endearingly British singsong take on the rhyme.

There are a few other prints offered from the same collaboration that are worth checking out too.

The 560 mm × 760 mm (≈22″ × 30″) poster was hand-set and printed in an edition of 200.

£75 from New North Press

Marquee alphabet lights

We enter a higher price bracket with these large-scale lighted marquee letters from Urban Outfitters. I promote this item somewhat begrudgingly since I’m not particularly a fan of some of the practices of Urban Outfitters. However, these letters are too cool to leave out and I couldn’t find any info about how to get them otherwise.

The particular shape of serifs used for these letters designate them as being of a “mansard” style. William Page patented and sold wood fonts of this style in 1879 as “№ 121”, but a thorough history requires more details than I’ll go in to here.

Urban Outfitters marquee alphabet light (K)

The metal letters vary in width from character to character, but are all 24″ high × 4″ deep.

$178 from Urban Outfitters

Alpha Coffee Table

I don’t have any expectation that anyone will actually buy this after reading about it here, but I include it for the sake of relevance. The top of this table from Crate & Barrel is composed of wood type — or, actually, a solid piece of wood that’s been carved, painted, and finished to make it look like wood type. According to the product description, the table was designed  by “a London graphic designer with a penchant for, and a large personal collection of, antique printers’ blocks”. I can’t say I know who that is, but if I don’t know them already, they sound like someone I could have a good conversation with.

Crate & Barrel Alpha Coffee Table

The table has a steel base and glass top that covers the letters; it measures 36″ wide × 36″ deep × 17″ high.

$599 (on sale from $899!) from Crate & Barrel

Alphabet Drawers

Also in the realm of things I know people will think is cool but won’t actually ever buy is this big chest of wood type inspired drawers from Kent & London. In fact, there’s a good chance you may have already seen this on design and type blogs already, but I’m including it here for its notable relevance.

The letter style used on the front of each drawer approximates one offered in wood type by a huge number of manufacturers, most of them calling it, simply, “Gothic“. Similar to the “mansard” mentioned above, a whole article could be written about this style, but I’ll refrain for now.

Kent & London Alphabet Drawers

The solid oak chest measures 800 mm high × 1200 mm wide × 300mm deep (≈32″ × 47″ × 12″)

£2,700 from Kent & London

Support the Hamilton Wood Type Museum

Coming back to the real world… if conspicuous consumption and material possessions aren’t your thing, you can always take the charity route and support this deserving organization on someone else’s behalf.

Membership to the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum is available on a number of levels which include things that you can wrap and give to people if you want, like digital fonts, printed specimen sheets, books, shirts, etc. Members also get reduced studio rental cost incentives.

Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum t-shirt

Hamilton Wood Type Museum specimen sheet print

If you aren’t the membership kind of gift giver, the museum also sells a variety of other wood type products.

Various member levels are available from the Hamilton Museum

Help restore the Gastrotypographicalassemblage

Another charity gift option is to help fund the restoration of Lou Dorfsman‘s amazing wall of lettering. I won’t go in to much detail describing it here (I’m hoping to do a related report at some point in the future), but this piece of wood type-ish design is more than worthy of the care and restoration that the Center for Design Study is working towards giving it.

Lou Dorfsman's Gastrotypographicalassemblage wall at CBS

This short interview with Dorfsman gives a good idea about what you’d be helping to preserve.

Donations of any size can be made to the Center for Design Study

Yee-Haw wood type prints

I’ll end this list of gift ideas with the items I’d like the most… This series of 3 specimen posters (1, 2, 3) was printed by Yee-Haw Industries and features  a huge variety of wood type faces. I saw all 3 of the prints at Yee-Haw’s Chelea market show in October, and have been wanting them ever since. They definitely aren’t cheap, but after having printed a similar specimen poster myself over the summer, I can fully appreciate the amount of work it takes to produce something like this. These images definitely don’t do the prints proper justice, but I’ll show them all regardless.

Yeehaw Industries wood type specimen poster

Yeehaw Industries wood type specimen poster

Yeehaw Industries wood type specimen poster

Yee-Haw has tons of other wood type stuff in their Etsy store (18 pages worth!), so definitely check that out as well.

Also, if you’re in the New York City area this month, Yee-Haw will be up from their home in Knoxville to sell stuff at a bunch of different craft fairs, flea markets, etc, including a pop-up shop at Chelsea Market (where their show is still up). Instead of repeating all the details, I’ll just direct you to their official announcement.

The color posters above are printed 2-color on 30″ × 42″ archival acid-free 100% cotton paper with deckled edges.

Please buy me all of them.

$500 each from Yee-Haw Industries on Etsy

I could keep going with more suggestions, but this list is already too long. If you’re left still wanting more, try a search on Etsy for “wood type” and you’re bound to find something good. Please feel free to share any other suggestions you might have in the comments.

Happy holidays!

Wayzgoose Weekend at Hamilton Wood Type Museum

Hamilton Wayzgoose Weekend poster by Celene Aubry on Flickr

Hamilton Wayzgoose Weekend poster by Celene Aubry on Flickr

Next weekend, November 20–22, the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum will be holding its first ever Wayzgoose Weekend, with an impressive line-up of guest speakers and events…

Matthew Carter will be introducing his first wood typeface, a chromatic latin-serif face called Carter Latin. The project has been in various states of development since at least 2003, but Hamilton has recently incorporated some digital technologies to solve issues of ink trapping and registration that had delayed previous tests done with less accurate pantograph routers.

Carter Latin

Prototype font of Carter Latin, photographed in May 2009

Richard Kegler (founder of the P22 type foundry) will be sharing “his thoughts on the state of type” (according to the official program). In conversations I had with Richard recently, he said he’d probably also be talking a lot about the Western New York Book Arts Collaborative that he started in Buffalo, New York.


Designer Juliet Shen will also present a Lushootseed alphabet typeface she developed for the Tulalip Lushootseed Native American tribe in Washington state. Hamilton is cutting a new wood font of Juliet’s typeface to help give the “opportunity for this tribe to ‘manipulate’ their language by printing in their own font”. Last month, at the ATypI conference, Juliet presented some of the work she’s done on the typeface for the endangered language, but she didn’t go in to any details about the wood type project. I’ll be interested to see more info on that.

Prototype for a wood Lushootseed typeface

Prototype of a Lushootseed typeface designed by Juliet Shen for the Tulalip Tribes Lushootseed Department

Other than that, type designer Sumner Stone will join the presenters for a round-table discussion; a dinner party will take place at the Lighthouse Inn; the new Typeface documentary film about Hamilton will be screened; and several workshops and presentations using the museum’s amazing collection will be held by Richard Zauft (President of the Boston Society of Printers, Co-editor of Hamilton Wood Type: A History in Headlines, and Associate Vice President for Academic Affairs at Emerson College), Paul Brown (current Printer in Residence at Hamilton and Associate Dean of Art at Indiana University), and Jim Moran (Hamilton’s “Printer and Archivist” — though a more appropriate title would be something like “Director”, or “Guy-Who-Keeps-The-Place-Running”).

Finally, other than an open house, print swap, and general nerdery with fellow woodtypers like David Shields and Allen Stump (among other expected attendees), I am especially looking forward to some quality time with master type cutter, former type shop foreman, and unofficial Hamilton mascot, Norb Brylski.

Norb Brylski, master router

Norb Brylski and the pantograph routers at the Hamilton Wood Type Museum

See the official program for a full schedule of the weekend’s events (also available as a PDF).

What: Hamilton Wood Type Museum’s first ever Wayzgoose Weekend
When: November 20–22, 2009
Where: Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum; 1619 Jefferson Street, Two Rivers, WI 54241 [map]
Cost: $75 ($91 with dinner)
Registration: Available online (or via the printable PDF registration form)
Accommodations: Available through the Lighthouse Inn, or try 1-Plus Rentals

The Rob Roy Kelly American Wood Type Collection website

Rob Roy Kelly American Wood Type Collection website

A remarkable new website for the Rob Roy Kelly American Wood Type Collection has just been launched, built on research and work by David Shields.

First, an abbreviated history of the collection: Rob Roy Kelly, throughout his many years of dedication to the study of wood type, amassed an invaluable collection of wood printing material. In 1966, when Kelly could no longer maintain his massive collection, it was sold to the head librarian of the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Later that year it was again sold to the University of Texas at Austin, where it now remains (for the full story, see the official history). David Shields, who is currently the main caretaker of the RRK collection, has spent considerable amounts of time researching the history of the wood type industry in America, focusing specifically on information related to the collection.

David summed up the newly launched site to me via e-mail as “a history of the collection, a list of Kelly’s publications, as well as a portfolio of specimen pages for all of the types in the collection with updated history of each of the types cross-referenced with all manufacturer names and final Hamilton production numbers” … In other words, this resource presents the kind of information that type historians wish existed for every type collection.

Those that are interested can browse the site themselves, but I figured I’d point out some of the more notable elements here…

Rob Roy Kelly Collection - Doric & Doric Shade

The specimen pages with detailed, updated, and cross-referenced information about each typeface present a vast improvement in the quality of collected information about any of the often-elusive histories of these designs than has ever been available before in one place. This is no doubt one of the largest aspects of David’s research so far.

Timeline - wood type specimen books

Two industry-wide timelines are also invaluable resources: one summarizing the history of American wood type manufacturers, and another exhaustive listing of wood type specimen catalog publications. The manufacturers timeline is available in an interactive web-based format, and the catalog listing is presented in a standard text list (complete with bibliography), but the most informative presentation of both sets of information is as printable, high-resolution timelines, both included in a PDF document.

Given the obscurity of so much of the history of wood type, there is surely the possibility of information missing from both timelines (if you know of anything, I’m sure David would love to hear about it), but I can’t express how remarkable it is to see a collection of information like this with such a broad contextual scope. It’s the only presentation to date showing such succinct snapshots of the entire industry.

Rob Roy Kelly Collection - Endcut type

Another element of the site worth noting is the section discussing various methods of wood type production. The descriptions and comparisons of end-cut, die-cut, and veneer type don’t go into too much detail about the technical processes involved, but they do present a considerable amount of the history associated with each method.

Finally: One of, if not, the most notable aspects of this resource, is the fact that it was published digitally, online, and made freely available for all to access. Research materials and information are so often limited by physical location and various administrative access restrictions. There are certainly good reasons for this — indeed, certain parts of the RRK collection will probably never be available online — but I think that by making a substantial chunk of his research so accessible, David can only inform a larger number of people, and perhaps, in turn, inspire them to address things he hasn’t yet been able to.

When founding Woodtyper, I dedicated the journal to Rob Roy Kelly with the stated mission of “attempt[ing], in my own way, to at least begin to pick up where he left off”. However, if any one person in the world could be named as the upholder of Rob Roy Kelly’s legacy right now, it would undoubtedly be David Shields.