“Type Vault” at Museum of Printing archives Linotype type drawings collection — over 400,000 sheets

font drawing

Use Helvetica or Times Roman? How about Palatino or Optima? They began life as a drawing for every glyph in a font of Linotype hot metal type. Later they were converted to phototypesetting and then to digital type. They also formed the basis for other typesetting machines and fonts from competitors who “borrowed” the designs.

This precious archive has been in the possession of the Museum of Printing in Haverhill, Mass. for over two decades. Researchers from all over the world have analyzed the large drawings for clues in the evolution of fonts by Dwiggins, Zapf, and many others.

The Museum has broken ground for an environmentally secure archive for this priceless colllection. Within the next two months, the collection will be transferred to air-tight containers from their original boxes into a state-of-the-art facility.

Unlike the British Linotype drawings, the Museum of Printing collection represents 80 percent of the type created and used in the 20th Century. And even as new typefaces are created daily, this collection includes the classics, such as Garamond, Caslon, Baskerville, Metro, Caledonia, and many more. The Museum also has a large collection of drawings from the British Linotype organization, which focused on non-Latin alphabets.

“The long-term goal,” said Museum president and RIT professor Frank Romano, “is to digitize the collection and make it freely available to type designers and others around the world.”

When Adobe released PostScript in 1985, the first fonts were Times and Helvetica, followed by Palatino and Bookman, all licensed from the Mergenthaler Linotype Co. Because they were free, they became de facto standards for typographic communication.

“There was a time when fonts meant pica and elite typewriter fonts. Today, everyone deals with fonts for all communication, on paper or electronically,” added Romano. “Even our DNA is represented by letters, but no one knows what fonts they are.”

The Museum of Printing is open every Saturday, 10am to 4pm or by appointment. There are two libraries, a typographic reference library and a 6,000-book print and type library. Two tons of type ephemera are also archived.

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