Thursday, January 21, 2016


History First:
The origin of modern wood block type spans back to 868CE, primarily for printing art as well as characters from the chinese language. The style of printing moved to Europe when there was a need to print large letters because using metal type was simply more costly as well as had a tendency to be damaged easily. When wood type made its way to the US in the 19th century, a way for mass producing wood type was under way.

In 1827 Darius Wells created a machine called a lateral router (essentially a saw that could cut curved lines into wood) which made cutting block type which could be both a higher quality and allowed for a much better production time. Combined with William Leavenworth’s pantograph, Wood Type could now be manufactured post haste. Wells also published the first wood type catalog (as far as we know), which contained information pertaining the benefits of using wood type over metal or lead.

Left - Case of Woodtype; Right - Modern version of a pantograph
19th century hand carved letter made by Darius wells
Manufacturers, Collectors, and Archivists:
There have been various collectors and manufacturers of wood type in the US since the early 19th century. The designers/craftsmen that worked with Leavenworth and Wells went on to open their own manufacturing shops from which the next generations of type manufacturers was born. By the dawn of the 20th century, a wood type manufacturing company called Hamilton Hollywood Type Co bought out most of its remaining competition. The once booming manufacturing company now functions as a museum which is dedicated to archiving, restoration, and preservation of wood type houses one of the largest collections of wood type in the world (1.5 million pieces).

Modern Wood Type:
The manufacturing purpose of woodblock printing has been utterly halted by the obvious contender; digital typefaces along with modern advances in printing technology. However the value is now held in the physical letters left over from earlier dates as well as some typographers and designers seeking an analog version of printing for its aesthetic purposes or artistic authenticity. Since the reoccurring motifs in today's design trends, wood type and its aesthetic are sure to remain another source of inspiration for modern designers.


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