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 was originally founded to give designers access to objects that are often overlooked or inaccessible elsewhere — or, worse, lost to the dumpster. It was soon clear that the need was greater than we imagined. Our audience expanded to creative and curious people of all sorts, as enthusiasm for type and design grew among the general public.
As stewards of important design artifacts we cherish our role in preserving the growing collection, both physically and digitally, as well as sharing it in a way that enriches the community at large. These values inspired design pioneers like Emigre, Aaron Marcus, Jennifer Morla, and Michael Vanderbyl to donate their work, knowing it had a good home in a highly curated collection, but also that it would be seen and used by other designers — and the designer in everyone — for generations to come.
Established on the 40-year collection of founder Rob Saunders, the Archive doubled its holdings in 2015 by acquiring the typeface specimen collection of the late Dutch publisher Jan Tholenaar. Also featured prominently in the collection are Irma Boom, W. A. Dwiggins, Amos Kennedy Jr., Rudolf Koch, Paul Rand, Jack Stauffacher, and Piet Zwart. Learn more about these key collections below.
Arthur Baker was a prolific calligrapher, type designer, and author of over 20 books on the letter arts. He is widely known for his atypical pen-turning method and energetic letterforms. After he passed away in December 2016, Baker’s family donated a major collection of his work to Letterform Archive. The archive includes type design process, paintings, sketches, teaching material, and hundreds of original calligraphic alphabets written on poster-sized sheets.
W. A. Dwiggins
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 publishing 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 every Emigre catalog, development files for original Emigre typefaces, and audio taped interviews and mechanicals for Emigre magazine. Our Online Archive hosts a complete run of the magazine, digitized in high fidelity for on-screen reading.
Ross F. George
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 Y. Ichiyama ID Manual Collection
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.
Linotype Master Drawings
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.
With a 70-year career creating countless iconic posters, books, logos, and other identity work, Paul Rand is perhaps the most celebrated name in North American graphic design. In 2019 we acquired hundreds of items from Rand’s own archive, including process material and personal copies of his work.
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.