William Addison Dwiggins (1880–1956) was among the most influential and innovative designers of the early twentieth century. Letterform Archive holds a large collection of Dwiggins material, including drawings, lettering, original art for reproduction,books, book jackets, typeface proofs, photographs, and correspondence. Much of this collection is featured in the Archive’s first publication, a comprehensive visual biography of Dwiggins, written and designed by Bruce Kennett. We have also presented several traveling exhibitions of the Dwiggins collection in the United States and Europe.
Based in Berkeley, California, Emigre was the first independent type foundry to focus explicitly on technology surrounding the personal computer. Creating more than 600 original fonts, and creating a magazine that quickly became critically acclaimed in its field, Zuzana Licko and Rudy VanderLans were early adopters of digital tools, and their work represents a critical turning point in graphic design.
In 2016 Emigre, Inc. donated a major collection to Letterform Archive, including archival material in various media, such as a complete run of Emigre catalogs, development files for original Emigre typefaces, and audio taped interviews and mechanicals for Emigre magazine. A searchable catalog and digital captures of the collection will eventually be available on this page.
Seattle sign painter and showcard writer Ross F. George (1889–1959) was the inventor of the Speedball pen and author of the first 17 editions of the Speedball textbook (now in its centennial edition). George’s family generously donated an archive of his work to Letterform Archive. The collection includes drawings for original alphabets published in the Speedball textbooks, his pens (including some early prototypes), showcards, and other examples of his lettering and drawing, account books, papers, and photos.
Dennis Ichiyama is a designer and professor of visual communication design at Purdue University. As a student, he studied under Paul Rand at Yale, learning the importance of creating within limitations — a philosophy he carried with him into a long career as a designer and educator. While many of his colleagues showed magazines in their classes, Ichiyama began collecting brand standards guides to illustrate the real-world applications of these skills. In 2016 Ichiyama kindly gifted nearly 200 manuals to Letterform Archive so these capsules of design history could continue to inspire and educate students and professionals.
Once threatened by dispersal, over 60,000 letter templates from the British Linotype company now have a home at Letterform Archive. The drawings take the form of large cards, each with a pencil drawing of a single letter outline, annotated with measurements, character information, dates, and a draftperson’s signature. The collection is a valuable research tool for type designers and students; but it also represents an important chapter of industrialized printing, as the Linotype machine dominated newspaper and magazine composition for nearly a century.
Letterform Archive’s holdings include material from all over the world, but a sizable portion comes from creators in the San Francisco Bay Area, such as Emigre and computer graphics artist Aaron Marcus. Marcus is one of the earliest experts in human-computer interaction and has a distinguished technology career, but he continually explores the fields of culture, language, and visual communication. His recent gift to the Archive includes conceptual art that is both beautiful and thought-provoking. He also donated his eclectic reference library with books that span a wide gamut of art, design, engineering, and semiotics.
Jan Tholenaar (d. 2009) was a Dutch bibliophile who collected the letter arts in a variety of printed formats. His extensive collection of books, type specimens, and ephemera is best-known for serving as the inspiration behind Taschen’s Type: A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles. As Letterform Archive’s largest acquisition to date, Tholenaar’s 15,000 pieces instantly doubled our holdings when they arrived in August 2015. The collection of type foundry ephemera, in particular, is one of the largest in the world and offers a unique view of typographic and graphic design history.
Dutch designer Piet Zwart (1885-1977) was trained as an architect, but is best known as a pioneer of twentieth century experimental typography and photomontage. He preferred to call himself a “form engineer” because he was such a strong believer in functionality, standardization, and machine production. Letterform Archive’s collection features over 150 pieces of rare ephemera, including duplicates from Zwart’s personal archive.