William Morris has predicted that typography will cease to exist during the next century, and he may be right in the forecast. I see it threatened by the camera, the etching fluid, and by the (at present) harmless and inoffensive ‘typewriter,’ in the keyboard of which lies the germ of something much greater in the future.”1
The original mission of The Type Heritage Project [THP] was to discover and document, in a series of scholarly textbooks, the sources of existing digital display fonts originally designed between c1800 and World War I: Pre-digital tradename(s), year of issue, name and nationality of the designer and/or design owner.
In the process of planning these volumes, a chicken ‘n’ egg dilemma arose: Dozens of types that “belong in” them have not been digitally archived for posterity. Computer-worthy revival of these wood and metal typefaces is more urgent each year as letterpress resources become concentrated in museums or regional workshops sponsored by historical societies.
To preserve these treasures for study by future type historians and “real-world” use by graphic designers, THP recruits and connects international revival developers and equips them with specimens of important 19th- and early-20th century display types.
Historical Importance of Display Types
The Industrial Revolution began in England during the late 1700s and spread to western Europe and North America. It created new commercial competition that led to advertising with a new kind of large, distinctive type called “job fonts” for projects of one or a few pages instead of books intended exclusively for scholars.
Because they were large and distinctive, these new types “unleashed” written words from the pages of academic volumes and presented them in plain view of ordinary people, who began to recognize them. They soon “broke the phonetic code” established by ancient Indo-European scribes when they agreed that alphabets would represent uttered sounds of local languages.
While Arabic numerals (playing cards, lottery tickets, etc.) had been comprehended by the illiterate for centuries, now letters were interpreted as symbols for vocal sounds that build words expressing thoughts. By the mid-1860s (after the US Civil War), literacy and expectation of The Right to Public Education were relatively commonplace throughout Western Civilization.2
For the first time in history, there were two kinds of printing and two kinds of fonts for two kinds of reading. Local printing shops emerged to serve the ad hoc needs of businesses, organizations and the general public.
A new popular-publishing industry flourished with newspapers, magazines and literature. Novelists, poets and playwrights succeeded as self-employed professionals—no longer dependent on private patrons.
At the same time, visual artists served new commercial demands for literary illustration, greeting cards, business stationery and advertising images for posters, packaging, travel guides, calendars and almanacs. Their creative hand-lettered alphabets influenced, and in turn were influenced by, designs produced by the type industry.
Based on many years of spare-time research, a series of textbooks about these exciting typefaces and their designers is planned. Volume I explores Quintessential Victorian Display Faces, a spectacular trove of innovative gems.
This site is intended to supplement the THP textbook series with background context interpreting all volumes and to become a history-intensive hangout for a community of researchers, revival font developers and diverse forum participants.
There is so much more to come—please visit again soon!