Letterform Archive is a nonprofit center for inspiration, education, and community.
The Archive was founded by Rob Saunders, a collector of the letter arts for over 40 years, as a place to share his private collection with the public. We opened to visitors in February 2015 and now offer hands-on access to a curated collection of over 40,000 items related to lettering, typography, calligraphy, and graphic design, spanning 2,000 years of history.
So far, the Archive has welcomed over 5,000 visitors from 30 countries, including students, practitioners, and letterform admirers from every creative background. Some come with specific research ideas in mind, while others are simply looking for inspiration. Invariably, thanks to the breadth and accessibility of the collection, they stumble on something unexpected. Serendipity is key to the Archive experience.
In addition to hosting visits and public events, the Archive serves a global community through social media, state-of-the-art photography, and publications. We offer courses and workshops in type design, calligraphy, and typography, some in conjunction with The Cooper Union. We also curate exhibitions of our holdings, organize lectures by visiting artists and designers, and host brunches, dinners, and receptions to showcase new acquisitions or celebrate out-of-town guests.
We hold physical and digital artifacts in a variety of formats, including books, periodicals, posters, sketches, original art for reproduction, and related ephemera, as well as a robust reference library. Together, these works chronicle the history of written communication, from the invention of writing and medieval manuscripts to modernism, the age of print to the present explosion of digital type. See a sampling.
The Archive doubled its holdings in 2015 by acquiring the typeface specimen collection of the late Dutch publisher Jan Tholenaar. Recently donated archives include Emigre, pioneers of experimental digital design; Ross F. George, author of the Speedball textbooks; and Aaron Marcus, a seminal figure in computer graphics. Also featured prominently in the collection are Rudolf Koch, Jack Stauffacher, Irma Boom, and Piet Zwart.
Johnny Avots-Smith, Director of Development and Operations, first fell in love with type when he picked up the photo font discs from his mother’s typesetting machine as a kid. He has spent the last decade working in all sorts of nonprofits: big universities, small theater companies, regional public television stations. He earned his BA and MNA (Master of Nonprofit Administration) from the University of San Francisco and is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE).
Elise Carlton, Office Manager, brings to Letterform Archive a passion for typography and print production informed by her training and experience as a graphic designer. She earned her BA in Sociology from the University of California, Santa Barbara before returning to school in Los Angeles for a BS in Graphic Design. She produced award-winning brand identity and package design at a small agency in Venice, California before joining Letterform Archive, where she supports the daily operations, guest services, and general management of the organization.
Stephen Coles, Associate Curator & Editorial Director, joined the staff after serving on our Board of Directors since its inception. Born in Salt Lake City, he moved to San Francisco in 2004 to serve as FontShop’s creative director. He later worked as an independent consultant, connecting font makers with font users, and wrote the book The Anatomy of Type. With his background in design and journalism, combined with an obsession for type history, Stephen is responsible for the online face and voice of the Archive, and helps to shape the future of the collection. He will continue to publish the influential websites Typographica and Fonts In Use which will now frequently feature content from the Archive.
Rachel Daniels, Photographer, brings years of technical imaging experience to the Archive’s digitization program. Born in Oregon, and raised by a painter / calligrapher / ceramicist mother, and a tinkerer / machinist father, Rachel has always thrived at the crossroads between art and technology. She found her passion for photography early on, which led to a variety of lab work for professional photographers and cultural institutions. Her background in image capture, restoration, and printing, combined with a discerning eye for color and texture fidelity is perfectly suited for our goals in preservation and publishing.
Kate Goad, Assistant Librarian, has a profound interest in book arts, typography, and concrete poetry, stemming from high school where she made art with abandoned Letraset, and later as the editor of a literary magazine where she enjoyed working with designers, artists, and writers. She also gained an appreciation for 20th-century graphic design while at the award-winning studio, Office. Kate earned her MLIS through Drexel University, which will serve her well as she helps to preserve and catalog the collection. She relishes helping people access the things that interest them.
Amelia Grounds, Librarian, earned an BA in art history from Lawrence University, an MA in Later Medieval Studies from the University of York, and an MLIS from University College London. She has worked as a special collections and preservation librarian at a number of institutions in the UK and the US including York Minster Library; University of California Berkeley, Law Library; and the Royal Asiatic Society in London. Her research has focused on the materiality of book history, including bookbinding and the relationship between text and image in medieval devotional manuscripts and early printed books.
Tânia Raposo, Type@Cooper West Coordinator, received her Graphic Design BFA at ESAD.IPL, Portugal and her Type and Media Master’s degree at KABK, Netherlands. She has worked for the studios Itemzero in Lisbon and Atlas in Palma de Mallorca, and is currently a freelance graphic and type designer. Tânia was with Letterform Archive before it was even an official institution, serving as its first curatorial assistant, and she has since taken on the roles of Program Coordinator and Instructor for Type@Cooper West. She is obsessed with type and books, books about type, and all types of books.
Rob Saunders, Curator and Publisher, is a designer, teacher, publisher, and management consultant, who has collected graphic design and letterforms for over 40 years. Rob began his career teaching at The School of the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and Tufts University, while serving freelance clients and agencies, before founding a book publishing enterprise that included Alphabet Press (graphic design), Picture Book Studio (children’s books), and Rabbit Ears Books (book/audio packages), which was eventually acquired by Simon & Schuster. Prior to founding Letterform Archive he served as a creative and marketing consultant with clients in the hospitality, technology, and financial industries.
Hank Smith, Collections Assistant, found his passion for book arts while studying at Reed College (BA in English) and working with fellow writers, collectors, and literary archivists, including David Abel of Passages Bookshop. As a writer of poetry and a bookmaker himself, Hank’s love of language is simultaneously bound in meaning and aesthetics. That’s evident not only in his care for the material at the Archive, but also his own poetry. When not spending time with the written word he’s projecting it from the stage at a reading.
Paola Zanol, Executive Assistant, joined the staff after volunteering for over a year. She was raised in Belo Horizonte, Brazil, by a mother who steeped her in sustainable product design, fashion design, and tridimensional expression. After earning a BA in Fine Arts, she rediscovered her love of letters and sought out a design education at San Francisco City College, where she earned certificates in Visual Media Design, Web Foundation, Illustration, and Digital Media. Among Paola’s many talents are flamenco dancing and Afro-Brazilian percussion.
Mark Dimunation is a scholar and rare book librarian. He began his career at The Bancroft Library at the University of California, Berkeley; was Rare Book Librarian at Stanford University; and then served as Curator of Rare Books at Cornell University. In 1998 he was appointed Chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division of the Library of Congress, where he is responsible for the development and management of the largest collection of rare books in North America.
Karl Hellman is a marketer, management consultant, and author. He has an MS from Northwestern University and a Doctorate in Business Administration from Georgia State University. He is the founder of Resultrek, a global consulting firm serving clients such as JP Morgan Chase, Wells Fargo, UPS, Coca-Cola, and Telefonica, and the author of The Customer Learning Curve.
Jennifer Morla is President and Creative Director of Morla Design in San Francisco, and an adjunct professor at California College of the Arts. With over 300 awards of excellence, she has been recognized by virtually every organization in the field of visual communication. Her work is part of the permanent collections of MoMA, SFMOMA, the Smithsonian Museum, the Denver Art Museum, and the Library of Congress. Jennifer serves on the boards of numerous art and design organizations and has been on the SFMOMA Board for Architecture and Design since 1995.
Megan Prelinger is a cultural historian and the author of two books: Inside the Machine: Art and Invention in the Electronic Age (2015), and Another Science Fiction: Advertising the Space Race (2010). She is also co-founder and information designer of the Prelinger Library, which specializes in 19th- and 20th-century historical ephemera, periodicals, maps, and books not commonly found in other public libraries.
High-fidelity digitization is core to our mission. While there is no substitute for holding a rare book or designer’s sketch in your own hands, we want to offer the Letterform Archive experience to those who can’t visit in person. High resolution photography preserves the collection for posterity, and makes it shareable worldwide through Archive publications, social media, and – in the near future – a comprehensive online archive. See a preview.
We developed our photography standards in consultation with E.M. Ginger of 42-Line, a leader in the digital imaging of rare books and artwork. With raking light, sensitive staging, premium camera equipment, and very high resolution files, we can produce imagery that is as lifelike as possible. Our goal is to capture every paper texture, artist correction, and metal type impression, so each item is documented in its essential form – not as a flat image, but as an object with a story.
“The collection as a whole interrogates design in writing, both man- and machine-made. A 19th-century Korean family tree in Kanji script on yellowed parchment lives next to a 1960s concert handbill with drippy psychedelic font. Man Ray’s scintillating book of poetry and nudes, Facile, sits adjacent to a Victorian children’s penmanship primer.”
“Extraordinary hospitality—ingenious attentiveness to your aesthetic fulfillment—is a hallmark of the Archive. Technically, we are visitors, but we are treated like guests.”
“My discovery of the day was the Vienna Secession’s 1903 Ver Sacrum calendar. I had only seen the November spread reproduced in a book and wasn’t aware that the entire issue is actually a calendar. It’s like [curator Rob] Saunders said, ‘One of the best things about having access to originals is that you realize how great they are all the way through.’ … It’s important to Saunders that the collection is organized in a design-centric manner that’s easy to access and allows for browsing and discovery.”
“From style guides for Coca-Cola, book design in the 16th century, or the hand-written origins of some of the world’s most famed fonts, the Archive collects, preserves, and tells the story of the importance and fascination with letters.”
“The Archive captures not only the beauty of type, but also the cultural significance.”
“It was great to see the progression from manuscript and hand lettering to type, paste-up to print.”
“Letterform Archive is a library, storehouse, salon, repository, studio, shrine, and sanctuary. Holy moley, this place left me speechless.”
“I’ve always been impressed by the depth and quality of what you have there. … You’ve created, and continue to build, something unique and extremely valuable.”
“The Ali Baba Cavern of Type Design. For my research, having a direct, welcoming contact with the team is of tremendous help to pinpoint a resource.”
“Almost as a kind of joke, I asked if the Archive had Bodoni’s Manuale Tipografico. And they did. I paged through it at my leisure, and it was an intoxicating experience.”
1001 Mariposa Street #307
San Francisco, CA 94107, USA
+1 415 802 7485
See Visit for information about visiting the Archive.
All photographs and text on this site are original. You are welcome to share images for non-commercial purposes, provided you credit Letterform Archive and link to letterformarchive.org. Any copyright in the works represented remains with the copyright owner(s).