Paul Shaw, a New York-based type historian, led a study session at the California Historical Society devoted to an overview of nineteenth-century American type specimens from the Kemble Collections on Western Printing and Publishing. The group of design professionals, including Stephen Coles, associate curator and editorial director at Letterform Archive, began by looking at several specimens from seminal foundries in Philadelphia, New York, and Boston dating from the 1820s. Later specimens from the same firms showed the rapidly changing tastes in typographic styles as well as the huge growth in the sheer number of typefaces being manufactured.
Specimens of Printing Types made at Bruce’s New York Type Foundry, 1882; Kemble Z250.B7
Shaw and his colleagues were especially intrigued by the 1882 George Bruce’s Son & Co. of New York type specimen book. Nearly all of the texts that showcase the more than 2,000 typefaces contain snippets of information on printing history, including notes about papermaking, press censorship, newspapers, bookselling, libraries, type design, ink manufacture, printing office practice, the invention of presses, and much more. This book stood in strong contrast to several from the L. Johnson Foundry of Philadelphia that were bursting with humorous names and comic phrases. In fact, one of the things that Shaw stressed during the study session was reading the type specimens and not just looking at them, that is, to consider what they say as well as how they look.
Specimens of Printing Types, Plain and Ornamental: Borders, Cuts, Rules, and Dashes from the Foundry of L. Johnson & Co., 1859; Kemble OV Z 250.J6 1859
Although the study session emphasized nineteenth-century specimens, the last set of items the group examined was the complete run of The American Chap-Book, designed and written by Will Bradley, often described as the grandfather of American graphic design. These twelve small booklets (published from September 1904 to August 1905) were stunning for their design, color, and illustration. They were an exciting contrast to the more than twenty type specimens the group had previously seen where fewer than ten pages were in color.
The American Chap-Book, American Type Founders Co., 1904-1905; Kemble Z250.A52B
Paul Shaw’s study session opened up new worlds of possibility in a genre of books that appear to most people to be no more than compendiums of plain and fancy type styles. The Kemble Collections are ripe for researchers with a sharp eye and an inquisitive mind. Learn more