Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Favorite Wood Type Faces

It’s hard to pick a favorite wood type because it’s all so fascinating! Most wood type is old, a relic of a time when casting large sizes of metal type was difficult to achieve without bubbles or other imperfections in the molten lead. To add to the challenge, large metal type was heavy and hard to manipulate in forms. Specialized manufacturers of wood type sprang up and did a booming business throughout the 19th and early 20th century.

One of my favorite wood types, Gothic Flourish, is shown below. It was manufactured by Hamilton Wood Type circa 1892. I love the odd squiggly letters with long tails that extend into each other.

Another favorite is the Tuscan Antique that makes up the words “Amazing Hours” shown on the poster below. There were many varieties of Tuscan manufactured in wood ― this one dates back to 1859.

Most wood type manufacturers stamped their name into the capital A’s of a font. Here’s an example from Cooley of New York.

I love wood ornaments, too, though they’re pretty hard to find. The random corners and decorative ornaments shown below all came to us from S.G. Adams, an old St. Louis printing firm. Unfortunately, we don’t always have four corners, which means we either need to make multiple impressions or improvise.

It’s fun to collect certain characters in wood. The piece below shows part of our collection of wood ampersands. Of all the characters, I think the ampersand is my favorite, maybe because it’s so swashy and carefree. That and the Q, which seem to be a different design in virtually each font of type made.

Sometimes you’ll find a piece of wood type with a letter on both sides. Usually you can tell which side was hand carved. If the printer ran out of a letter, he’d whittle the needed character on the back of another piece of wood type, and no one would be the wiser once the job was printed.

Wood type is a natural for printing posters. Below are some examples of posters printed by us and by members of our national APA printing group:

Wood type is so tactile, so beautiful in its own way. To me the carefully carved designs on old oiled wood are an art form in themselves. Happily, wood type is now being manufactured in the 21st century and used in letterpress design. But I still treasure the delightful old stuff in our basement. How I wish it could talk and share a little of the history of where it’s been!