The 20th Century "Antique" Type Revival

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It is also perhaps not without significance that in the mid-1960's we found ourselves quite plainly in the midst of a neo-Victorian revival... - Paul Hayden Duensing. Type Specimen Bibliography [1972].

1. Introduction

For most of the 20th century (and almost universally for the first half of that century) the ornamented typefaces of the 19th century were despised. They weren't simply forgotten or ignored, but rather were held up as examples of the Bad Old Days so as to show how far we had come.

To take but one representative example (many could be found), in his comprehensive and influential book Printing Layout and Design (London: Virtue & Co., Ltd., 1934), Vincent Steer holds up for scorn "a few of the milder Victorian monstrosities in type design" which were "hideous to the extreme" before going on to discuss "enlightened" type design (p. 3). (Of course, the types he shows as bad examples are, to a 21st century eye, utterly charming.)

But this dogmatic and negative view began to be challenged only a few years later by a small, but always dedicated and frequently articulate, group of scholars, collectors, enthusiasts and, sometimes, corporations. They managed to make this type not only respectable, but to some extent available.

This 20th century type revivial is now a part of history, and as such deserves to be documented as typographic history. It remains significant, as well, because a number of the typefaces re-created in metal type at that time are once again becoming available from those matrices. As 19th century typemaking and artistic printing is re-evaluated as a high point, not a low, in typographic history the thin line of its transmission through the 20th century becomes, in retrospect, very important.

Here are a few of the more significant items of importance to this revival.

2. People

Additionally, I have seen references to, but know little about the following:

(The Erie, Harris, and Whitbeck collections are now part of David Greer's collection. He has printed specimen books highlighting them, and has put photographs of these specimen books online at

3. Companies

3.1. Companies in the 20th Century

3.2. Companies in the 21st Century

4. Books

Don't let the fact that there seem to be quite a number of books listed here fool you. Throughout the 20th century, Victorian display type was thoroughly marginalized. Consider, for example, the noted fine printer Joseph Blumenthal (founder of the Spiral Press). He may be taken as an indicator of sophisticated typographical taste in the 20th century. In his Art of the Printed Book, which he intended as a general survey of all of the "masterpieces of typography through five centuries" from 1455 to 1955, he has not a single illustration of the use of Victorian display type. Not one.

4.1. General Works and Surveys

The order here is chronological (so as to show, roughly, how this field developed).

Barnhart Brothers & Spindler. Type Faces. Chicago: Barnhart Brothers & Spindler, 1925.

In their final catalog before being absorbed fully into ATF, BB&S, under the direction of Richard N. McArthur, revived a number of their 19th century ornamental faces. This wasn't really a full-scale revival, but it was an interesting precursor to it, coming as it did more than a decade before Nicolette Gray's work.

Gray, Nicolette [sic]. XIX Century Ornamented Types and Title Pages (London: Faber & Faber Ltd., 1938.)

Gray, Nicolete [sic]. Nineteenth Century Ornamented Typefaces (London: Faber & Faber, 1976, and Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1976.)

A reprint, with better illustrations and a chapter on American faces by Ray Nash.

Hornung, Clarence P. Handbook of Early Advertising Art, Mainly from American Sources: Typographical and Ornamental Volume . (NY: Dover Publications, 1947.)

Hornung, Clarence P. Handbook of Early Advertising Art, Mainly from American Sources: Pictorial Volume . (NY: Dover Publications, 1947.)

Butler, Kenneth B. and George C. Likeness. Practical Handbook on Display Typefaces for Publication Layout. (Mendota, IL: Butler Typo-Design Research Center, 1959.)

Shows a number of antique revival faces relatively early in this movement, including several by Harry Weidemann

Lewis, John. Printed Ephemera. ([location?]: W. S. Cowell Ltd., 1962.) Reprinted in paperback (London: Faber & Faber, 1969)

Kelly, Rob Roy. "American Wood Type." Design Quarterly, No. 56 Minneapolis, MN: Walker Arts Center, 1963.

Kelly, Rob Roy. American Wood Type: 1828-1900 ("Volume One") Limited Edition. NY: 1964.

Silver, Rollo G. Typefounding in America, 1787-1825. (Charlottesville, VA: Published for the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia by the University of Virginia Press, 1965.)

Kelly, Rob Roy. "Wood Letters in the 20th Century." Matrix 7. Rochester, NY: Office of Educational Research, Rochester Institute of Technology, 1965.

This Matrix should not be confused with the Matrix published by the Whittington Press.

Kelly, Rob Roy. American Wood Type: 1828-1900 ("Notes on the Evolution of Decorated and Large Types and Comments on Related Trades of the Period.") First Edition. NY: Van Nostrand, 1969.

Still in print as of 2010

Annenberg, Maurice. Type Foundries of America and their Catalogs. (Baltimore: Maran Printing Service, 1975.) Reprinted, with additions by Stephen O. Saxe, by Oak Knoll Press (New Castle, DE, 1994.)

Annenberg, Maurice. A Typographical Journey through The Inland Printer: 1883-1900. (Baltimore, MD: Maran Press, 1977.)

Kelly, Rob Roy. American Wood Type: 1828-1900 ("Notes on the Evolution of Decorated and Large Types and Comments on Related Trades of the Period.") First Paperback Printing. NY: Da Capo Press, 1977.

Kelly, Rob Roy, ed. Wood Type Alphabets: 100 Fonts NY: Dover Publications, 1977.

Harris, Elizabeth M. The Fat and the Lean: American Wood Type in the 19th Century . Washington, DC: National Museum of American History / Smithsonian Institution, 1983.

Catalog of an exhibition of the same name.

Saxe, Stephen O. "Nineteenth Century Type Collections in America." The APHA Newsletter. No. 71 (May/June 1986): 9-10 (whole issue).

Gowan, Al. T. J. Lyons: A Biography and Critical Essay. (Boston: The Society of Printers, 1987).

Original print run still not sold out in 2012; sigh.

McGrew, Mac. American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century. Second Edition. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books, 1993.

"McGrew" is the essential desk reference for 20th century American metal type. It contains a useful appendix of "Antique Typefaces" available as metal type in the 20th century. It is impressive the degree to which the faces shown center around Harry Weidemann, John S. Carroll, and Charles Broad's Typefounders, Inc. [of Phoenix]. The bulk of the "Phoenix" types went from there to Los Angeles Type Founders, then to Barco/F&S, and finally to Skyline Type Foundry, LLC, where they now reside and are the subject of an intensive casting program.

(The "first edition" of McGrew was a privately circulated draft intended to help him gather more material. The Oak Knoll "second edition" is really the only edition (unless you're collecting the history of typographical documentation.))

Kelly, Rob Roy. American Wood Type: 1828-1900 ("Notes on the Evolution of Decorated and Large Types and Comments on Related Trades of the Period.") Second Paperback Printing. Saratoga, CA: Liber Apertus Press, 2010.

4.2. Specific Collections and Type for Sale

The order here is alphabetical by collection and chronological (when things are dated) within collections.

(No, I don't have all of these. I haven't even seen some of them. But if I don't make a note of them, I won't remember to look for them.)

[Bowne] Saxe, Stephen O. Specimen Book: Nineteenth Century Foundry and Wood Type in the Collection of Bowne & Co., Stationers . NY: Bowne & Co., 1985. 125pp.

Identifies and shows ca. 155 metal and 85 wood fonts of type (but the Phillips collection is not included).

Harnish, Herb Handset Printing Types.

Harnish, Herb Specimen Showings of Printing Types of the Pumphandle Press, Est. 1938 .

[ Kelly] Shields, David. "Considering Rob Roy Kelly's American Wood Type Collection." Printing History, New Series No. 7 (January, 2010): 21-36.

[ Lyons] Preliminary Showing[:] Printing Types of Yore #1 (Boston, MA: T. J. Lyons Press, [no date, but printed when telephone exchanges were written out in full: "STADIUM 6510"])

Photographs of this specimen, by David Greer, are online at

[ Lyons] Typograph: A Compilation of Nineteenth Century Type Faces, Borders and Ornaments . (Boston: T. J. Lyons, 1958). 70 loose sheets.

[ Lyons] T. J. Lyons Antique Type Collection [Vol. 1]: Twenty Typefaces Selected from the Distinguished Type Library of the T. J. Lyons Press of Boston, Massachusetts. Faithfully Reproduced on Film by Visual Graphics Corporation for Use on the Photo Typositor. (North Miami, FL: Visual Graphics Corp., 1967). [n.b. designed by Bill Commerford]

[ Lyons] [T. J. Lyons Antique Type Collection, Vol. 2] Twenty Selected Typefaces from the Distinguished T. J. Lyons Antique Type Collection, which are Reproduced on Film for Use on the Photo Typositor, Volume II. (North Miami, FL: Visual Graphics Corp., n.d. [but 1968]).

[ Lyons] [T. J. Lyons Antique Type Collection, Vol. 3] Antique Type Samples: Twenty Selected Typefaces from the Distinguished T. J. Lyons Antique Type Collection Reproduced on Film by Visual Graphics Corporation for Use on the Photo Typositor, Volume III. (North Miami, FL: Visual Graphics Corp., n.d. [but 1968]).

[ Lyons] Greer, David F., ed. The Woodtype Collection of T. J. Lyons (Ridgefield, CT: David F. Greer, 1984).

Greer's Specimen No. 3.

[ Lyons] Greer, David F., ed. Wood Border of the T. J. Lyons Collection. (Ridgefield, CT: David F. Greer, 1985).

Greer's Specimen No. 3, supplement.

[ Morgan] Types of the Morgan Press. (Scarsdale, NY: Morgan Press, n.d. (ca. 1955)). 88pp. ca. 700 antique faces, with identifications.

[ Morgan] Morgan Press Types: Specimen Lines from Original Foundry Types in the Morgan Press Collection from 1786 to 1960. (Scarsdale, NY: Morgan Press, 1960)

[ Morgan] Wood Type: Specimens for Reproduction from Morgan Press: A First Showing of Wood Type Specimens. (Scarsdale, NY: Morgan Press, n.d.)

[ Morgan] Morgan Press Wood Type. (Hastings-on-Hudson, NY: Morgan Press, n.d.)

[ Morgan] Wood 2: Morgan Press Wood Type Catalogue. (Hastings-on-Hudson, NY: Morgan Press, n.d.) A digital version of this is online at the Silver Buckle Press of the University of Wisconsin, Madison:

[ Morgan] Alcorn, John. The Headliners Reproduces in Process Lettering Wood & Foundry Type from the Comprehensive and Unique Morgan Press Collection. (NY: Headliners Int'l, Inc., 1964)

Phillips, Frederic Nelson. Phillips' Old Fashioned Type Book. (NY: Frederic Nelson Phillips, Inc., 1945.) 252pp.

[Phillips] Olde Type Faces at Tri-Arts Press, Inc. 331 East 38 St. New York 16, N.Y. from the Frederic Nelson Phillips Collection of Antique, Exotic, [and] Ancient Type Faces, Murr"ee" Hill 6-4242. (NY: Tri-Arts Press, n.d. [dated 1971 in Saxe {APHA 71 (1986)]) 74pp.

[Phoenix/Broad] See various specimens from Typefounders, Inc. [of Phoenix].

[Photo-Lettering, Inc.] Alphabet Thesaurus: A Treasury of Letter Designs [vol. 1]. (NY: Reinhold Publishing Corp., 1960)

Roberts, Jane W.. Old-Time Printing, Type Ornaments, Borders & Cuts in the Colletion of Jane W. Roberts . (Fitzwilliam, NH: Old-Time Printing, 1975). 54pp. spiral bound. 5 3/4 x 3 1/4. edition of 150.

Roberts, Jane W.. Old-Time Printing II: Nineteenth Century Type, Ornaments, Border & Cuts in the Collection of Jane W. Roberts . (Fitzwilliam, NH: Old-Time Printing, 1979). 46 pp.

Roberts, Jane W.. Type Faces: Mostly Twentieth Century. (Fitzwilliam, NH: Old-Time Printing, 1980). 12 pp.

Probably not on 19th century types, obviously, but I needed to make a note of it somewhere.

Roberts, Jane W.. Borders, Etc. (Fitzwilliam, NH: Old-Time Printing, 1982). 46 pp.

Robinson, Elrie. Horse & Buggy Printing. (St. Francisville, LA: By the AAuthor, 1939.) [59 or 60 leaves; edition of 200]

Robinson, Elrie. Horse & Buggy Type. (1950.) 19 leaves.

Solo, Dan X. The Solotype Catalog of 4,147 Display Typefaces. (NY: Dover, 1992)

Solo, Dan X. Victorian Alphabets. (NY: Dover, 1976)

Thorniley, William O. Specimens of Printing Types: 1700 to 1900. (1967)

(I am indebted to Al Gowan's T. J. Lyons: A Biography and Critical Essay and to Stephen O. Saxe's "Nineteenth Century Type Collections in America" (APHA 71) for much of this bibliography.)

4.3. Select 21st Century Works

Things are looking up...

Clouse, Doug and Angela Voulangas. The Handy Book of Artistic Printing: A Collection of Letterpress Examples, with Specimens of Type, Ornament, Corner Fills, Borders, Twisters, Wrinklers, and Other Freaks of Fancy . (NY: Princeton Architectural Press, 2009.)

This is fun.

Clouse, Doug MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan: Typographic Tastemakers of the Late Nineteenth Century . (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2008).

A history of this typefoundry, with an extensive collection of showings of its type and ornaments.

Hudson, Graham. The Design and Printing of Ephemera in Britain and America New Castle, DE / London: Oak Knoll Press / The British Library, 2008.

Hudson's book is of particular value for its careful distinction between lettering and typography (they are not the same!) and the influence of the former on the latter.

De Jong, Cees, Alston W. Purvis and Jan Tholenaar. Type: A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles, Volume 1: 1628-1900 . (Köln: Taschen, 2009.)

The sequel, Type 2 is also good, but deals with 20th century typefaces.

Loy, William E., edited by Alastair M. Johnston and Stephen O. Saxe. Nineteenth Century American Designers and Engravers of Type. (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2009.)

Loy's biographies of type makers dates from the turn of the 20th century, but this edition, magnificently illustrated with type specimens from Saxe's collection, is indispensable.)

Young, Matthew McLennan. The Rise and Fall of the Printers' International Specimen Exchange . New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2012.

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