The Type Heritage Project [THP] began “accidentally” in the early 1990s, when I identified a digital font from a bargain-bin CD as Art Gothic# shown in The Solotype Catalog.1 I wanted to know more! I wanted to know everything about metal and wood display type—starting with exactly who designed the spectacular letterforms of Art Gothic# (Gustave F. Schroeder/Central Type Foundry, USA 1884).2
Curiosity steadily snowballed into a quest that has monopolized my “spare time” ever since. The first thing I learned is that the most readily available information is vague, contradictory, unintentionally erroneous—even intentionally misleading or downright false.
Why? Because traditional type history is about ownership of tradenames, the once-current sources for purchasing letterpress fonts, and subjective definitions of the word “design” in terms of type-technology formats—not about who first imagined the shapes of the letterforms.
By the 1970s, 19th-century typefaces had been bought, bartered, consigned or copied for 150+ years and repeatedly renamed in the process. Any tradename might apply to multiple faces and, even more likely, any face might be known by multiple tradenames.
There is No Such Thing as an international database of type specimens, their tradenames and histories. It was clear that if I wanted definitive answers, I must find them for myself. So…
I undertook the challenge of tracing and recording the key data: pre-digital tradename(s), name and nationality of the original designer and/or design owner, year of the earliest specimen personally examined or reported by a credible authority.
Until matching a digital revival with a named analog ancestor, there was no way to organize and build information about it (on good old-fashioned, crash-proof index cards). The first step was analyzing and classifying the “old-looking” digital fonts in my own library along with screenshots of countless more commercially available. Memorizing their fieldmarks for recognition by any name in any context, I was ready to begin this compelling task.
Comparing digital revivals with specimens of metal and wood letterpress faces, I cross-referenced the information recorded by 19th-century eye-witnesses William E. Loy, Henry L. Bullen, Theodore L. De Vinne and 20th-century historians Nicolette Gray, J. Ben Lieberman, Rob Roy Kelly, Mac McGrew, Friedrich Bauer and others.
Most importantly, I compiled their research chronologically, integrating it with US design patents (apparently not available to earlier historians) and with producer advertisements or “new typeface” reviews published by such prestigious professional journals as Hailing’s Circular, The Inland Printer, The British Printer, Archiv für Buchdruckerkunst und verwandte Geschäftszwiege|Archiv für Buchgewerbe, The American Bookmaker, etc.
Here and there, I collected scattered minutia that, when woven together, tell some fascinating tales topped by surprises that complement or contradict information published by even these revered authorities—and marveled at what they might have done with the power of computers and the Internet at their disposal.
By now, I have matched some 1,500+ digital revivals with dated specimens published in producer catalogs, international professional journals, ephemera and USPTO applications. Along the way, I realized that this information is valuable to future type historians.
What if no one else takes the time and trouble to dodge the detours and dead-ends of existing type history before The Truth is forever forgotten, rewritten or buried in the corporate catacombs of a few (and ever fewer…) digital foundry giants who now own rights to their tradenames?
Convinced that the history of early display type is endangered in the 21st century more than ever, I decided to publish what I have learned. Now that research is in the final stages, the next step is assembling digital specimens to illustrate a series of scholarly textbooks. Volume I explores quintessential Victorian display faces, a jackpot of innovative gems.
In the process, I recognized the urgency of digitally preserving these treasures to serve the curiosity, study and use of/by future generations, as letterpress resources become increasing rare. It is my intention to recruit, encourage and advise digital-revival developers and to support their important work by providing working specimens.
Since launching this site in Summer 2011, THP has partnered with revival developers in the US, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, England and The Philippines. A busy forums website débuted in 2013 connects them and coordinates their work. Soon, THP will sponsor The Type Heritage Bazaar, an eCommerce venue serving the growing market for revivals and supporting their work as well as continued publication of THP research.
A few years ago, a colleague arranged an online introduction to the very man who started it all—Dan X. Solo [1928–2012]. Dan became a super-supportive friend who proclaimed the THP series “as indispensable as Mac McGrew’s American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century.”
A globe-scouring curator of letterpress type since 1942, Mr. Solo supplied numerous rare specimens for McGrew’s “bible” and reviewed the text for accuracy. He graciously volunteered the same expertise to THP, as well as his unique digital revivals.
Thank you for your interest in my work,
- Solo, D.X. (1992): The Solotype Catalog of 4,417 Display Typefaces, pages 10 and 44. Dover Publications, Inc. (Minneola, NY). N.B. Cited as “Solotype” in references throughout.←
- Mullen, R.A. (2005): Recasting A Craft|St. Louis Typefounders Respond To Industrialization, page 137. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale.←