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 1,400 visitors from 27 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.
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, Development Director, 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 master of nonprofit administration from the University of San Francisco and is a Certified Fund Raising Executive (CFRE).
Camille Brown, Collections Assistant, has always had an affinity for creating and recreating, collecting and repurposing, whether it was secondhand clothes, found objects, or book covers. She earned her BA at Syracuse University, and will soon graduate from San Francisco Art Institute with an MFA. Camille brings her photography skills and a love for design history (especially the functional beauty of mid-century modernism) to Letterform Archive’s digitization and collection efforts.
Kate Goad, Assistant Librarian, comes to Letterform Archive as an experienced administrator in the graphic design field. She previously worked in the publishing industry and has a profound interest in book arts and typography. She holds an English BA from Oklahoma Christian University, where she earned two consecutive national awards for her work as editor of their literary journal. She is currently pursuing her MLIS through Drexel University.
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 history of bookbinding and the relationship between text and image in medieval devotional manuscripts and early printed books. Her expertise in the materiality of book history make her especially interested in exploring and communicating the role of materials and techniques central to the execution of successful design in Letterform Archive’s collection.
Rob Saunders, Curator and Publisher, is a designer, teacher, publisher, and management consultant who has had a lifelong interest in the letter arts. After collecting graphic design and letterforms for over 40 years, he founded Letterform Archive to share the collection. 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.
Jennifer Sime, Associate Publisher, earned a BA in Art History from Barnard College in New York and an MA in History of Art from the Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, Maryland. She has worked in curatorial departments at the Baltimore Museum of Art and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, as managing editor at William Stout Publishers, and, most recently, as executive director of the Book Club of California. Jennifer joined Letterform Archive in 2016 to further the continued growth and visibility of the organization through publications and other projects.
Ivana Xavier, Office Manager, has a passion for nonprofit work and graphic design, and has experience working in administrative and operational management with both nonprofit and business design fields. She earned her BA in Psychology at San Francisco State University, and most recently obtained her Professional Sequence in Graphic Design Certification at U.C. Berkeley Extension.
Stephen Coles is an editor, publisher, and typographer who divides his time between Oakland and Berlin. He publishes the influential blog Typographica, edits Fonts In Use, and is the author of The Anatomy of Type. Previously, he was Type Director at FontShop, as well as a member of their TypeBoard which reviews new typefaces for release by FontFont.
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 resoution 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.
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.”
“Tucked away in a quiet corner of the city, the luminous space of the Archive is … a resource to anyone in the lettering arts. Visitors can consult and touch even the oldest works.”
“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).