News

Nov 28, 2017

The Metal Squad Behind the Deluxe Dwiggins

Rare type and talent went into the making of the letterpress portfolio for W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design.

Dwiggins deluxe letterpress portfolio
Using original Dwiggins typefaces for each piece, Mss. by WAD contains eighteen pages of Dwiggins’s writings (some never before published), printed letterpress from Linotype cast metal slugs, and housed in a handsome portfolio featuring a Dwiggins ornament blind-embossed on the front cover. Twenty-two illustrations, hand-lettered titles, and decorated initials (all made from original Dwiggins pen-and-ink artwork in the files of Boston Public Library) accompany the text, reproduced via high-quality copper photoengravings.

Dwiggins’s visual inventiveness was matched by his verbal wit, and he left behind a number of charming stories and playful but potent essays that helped to define the fields of graphic, advertising, and book design. The deluxe edition of Bruce Kennett’s Dwiggins biography includes a portfolio of Dwiggins’s writings, set in his own typefaces made for the Linotype machine. (The standard edition of the book includes high-fidelity reproductions of these pages.)

In his book’s acknowledgments, Bruce thanks “the Metal Squad who produced the letterpress portfolio (which also appears in the book as the Writings section): Michael Babcock, Darrell Hyder, John Kristensen, and Andrew Steeves, all of whom brought not only their experience and skills, but also their respect and admiration for Dwiggins.” As the final proofs of A Life in Design head to the printer, we look back at the efforts from this team of craftsmen and the methods, both analog and digital, which made the portfolio possible.

Nov 20, 2017

Letterform Archive and AIGA in Minneapolis

Archiving AIGA Medalists exhibit
The Archiving AIGA Medalists exhibit at the AIGA Design Conference in Minneapolis, October 2017. Photo: Frank Aymami Photography, courtesy AIGA.

Our local and global audience is growing steadily, but Letterform Archive is still a fairly young organization, and this year offered many opportunities to introduce ourselves to new audiences beyond the Bay Area. The last few months were particularly eventful, with a whirlwind of collections projects, hosting visits, planning exhibitions, and sending our team off to represent the Archive and show our collection at conferences all around the world. I had the pleasure of working with our curator, Rob Saunders, on a pop-up exhibit for the 2017 AIGA Conference in Minneapolis.

Oct 20, 2017

Lipton Calligraphy for the Dwiggins Spine

W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design deluxe edition
The deluxe edition of W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design with letterpress portfolio, slipcase, and spine foil-stamped in gold.

Bruce Kennett’s biography of W. A. Dwiggins is nearly ready to go to press. A few lucky backers of the project are set to receive the deluxe edition of the book, bound with a leather spine that features gold foil-stamped lettering by master calligrapher, Richard Lipton. This week we talked to Richard about penning the proper spine for Letterform Archive’s first publication.

What’s your relationship to Dwiggins’s work?

Richard Lipton: Like so many graphic designers, calligraphers, and type designers, I had something of a love affair with his multifaceted work. He was a consummate craftsman and there is much to admire in so many aspects surrounding his many interests, accomplishments, and sense of humor.

I came to his work first as a budding calligrapher. I had the opportunity to visit his Hingham studio along with Ed Karr and Jackie Sakwa in the early 1980s and was given a personal guided tour by Dorothy Abbe. I was just fascinated by everything I saw there and heard the admiration in Dorothy’s voice as she described his talent and dedication to everything he touched. There is a warmth and human touch present in all of his work that spoke clearly to the time in which he lived.

Sep 11, 2017

Recasting Electra as Aluminia

Jim Parkinson tells us about reviving Electra for Bruce Kennett’s W. A. Dwiggins biography.

Left: Original drawing for Electra; Right: Jim Parkinson’s pencil sketch on the back of the printed sheet, drawn on a light table to flop the letter before scanning it.
Dwiggins made this puppet — Aluminia — in the 1930s just as his Electra type was being released by Linotype. He imagined her as an agile dancer, and built her from cardstock covered with aluminum foil. Dwiggins used these words to describe his Electra type: “Electricity . . . sparks, energy — high-speed steel — metal shavings coming off a lathe — precise, positive . . . take your curves and streamline ‘em.” Jim Parkinson’s new font perfectly captures these qualities, and we’ve decided to name it Aluminia in honor of Dwiggins’s other creation.

Those of you who have followed the progress of Letterform Archive’s first publication, the forthcoming W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design, already know that this book will be both a celebration of this prolific author, artist, and designer, and also the culmination of forty years of passionate research and collecting by two of his biggest fans — the book’s author, designer, and chief visionary, Bruce Kennett, and Letterform Archive’s founder, Rob Saunders. At nearly 500 pages and including 1,200 illustrations, the book is a labor of love and has received unstinting attention to the writing, editing, design, and production. In keeping with our ambition to present Dwiggins in a publication worthy of him, Letterform Archive also commissioned Oakland-based type designer Jim Parkinson to create a digital revival of Dwiggins’s Electra typeface that honors the design’s original personality and strength. The resulting fonts — which we have named “Aluminia” after one of the marionettes Dwiggins designed and fabricated in the 1930s — will be used throughout the Dwiggins biography and remain available for purchase for a limited time.

For backers who have already purchased the fonts, we expect to deliver these along with your license within the next two weeks. Watch your inbox and, if you haven’t yet responded to our survey requesting your delivery address, please do so as soon as possible, or email us directly at publications@letterformarchive.org.

Now that the fonts are finished, we are making steady progress towards sending the book to press and will soon follow this update with additional news and information. In the meantime, we hope you enjoy this recent interview with Jim Parkinson, in which he shares both the challenges and the delights of this intriguing project.

Aug 22, 2017

This Just In: Elaine Lustig Cohen

A generous donation from Elaine Lustig Cohen’s estate significantly enhances Letterform Archive’s mid-century modern holdings.

Mailing card for
Mailing card for A Millionth Anniversary, Meridian Books, New York, 1958.
Aug 2, 2017

This Just In: Linotype Master Drawings

Once threatened by dispersal, over 60,000 letter templates from the British Linotype company now have a home at Letterform Archive.

Metroblack ‘e’, ‘n’, ‘r’, 6 pt., 1934. Metro was originally designed by W. A. Dwiggins in 1929–30. Read more in our upcoming biography.
Drawing for Metroblack ‘e’, ‘n’, ‘r’, at 6 pt., Linotype & Machinery, Manchester, 1934. Metro was originally designed by W. A. Dwiggins in 1929–30. Read more in our upcoming book, W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design.

In early April 2017, dozens of boxes arrived at the Archive. Each was packed with hundreds of folders containing thousands of large cards. And on each card, a pencil drawing of a single letter outline, annotated with measurements, character information, dates, and a draftperson’s signature.

Jul 13, 2017

The New Face of Letterform Archive

Tânia Raposo and Nick Sherman describe how they took on the challenge of representing 40,000 objects in a single visual identity.

Welcome to the new Letterform Archive

Our new logo and website have been live for a few weeks, but now, after the rush of spring events, we finally have a moment to reflect on the redesign and ask its creators about their process.

Apr 30, 2017

Over 1,000 Backers Helped Us Reach Our Dwiggins Goals

On behalf of Bruce Kennett, Rob Saunders, Stephen Coles, and everyone here at Letterform Archive, I would like to thank all 1,059 backers who helped bring the Dwiggins book project to life and ensure Kennett’s remarkable biography will be published.

W. A. Dwiggins
W. A. Dwiggins, 1941. Photograph by Robert Yarnall Richie.

We are grateful for the outpouring of support, and thrilled to have connected with this worldwide community of Dwiggins fans. If we include the direct, offline orders we received from individuals and institutions who could not use Kickstarter, we surpassed our stretch goal. Therefore, in addition to publishing this book, we are committed to digitizing our entire Dwiggins collection, starting with the rarest materials.

Orders for the deluxe edition have now closed, but in case you or someone you know would like a copy of the standard edition and missed the opportunity to get one on Kickstarter, we have set up a page on Indiegogo InDemand to collect all remaining preorders until we go to press in August.

Apr 22, 2017

The Crew of the Ship Earth

In honor of Earth Day 2017, we bring you this small pamphlet, written and designed by W. A. Dwiggins nearly seventy-five years ago, and published by the Typophiles in 1943. The context for this piece was World War II. Influenced by his Quaker background, Dwiggins created, on more than one occasion, vivid work that advocated for an end to aggression and violence. The message of The Crew of the Ship Earth still resonates today, and it seems appropriate to look again at this tiny pamphlet and appreciate its powerful vision: “… an entirely new mental picture of the world’s population: a picture of all of us together sharing the same needs, the same dangers, the same fate … the same hope … .

Apr 21, 2017

Help Us Digitize Dwiggins

W. A. Dwiggins portrait
W. A. Dwiggins is the subject of our first publication, a comprehensive biography of one of the most innovative designers of the 20th century.

W. A. Dwiggins has a posse. We launched our Kickstarter campaign for A Life in Design on March 27 with the hope of reaching some of his many fans around the world. Here we are, twenty-six days later, and the community has responded in force, manifesting a genuine and widespread interest in the man and his work. While our original fundraising goal represented only a fraction of the actual costs needed to develop and produce this book at a level that does justice to Bruce Kennett’s remarkable biography, we now have received the resources needed to cover our expenses.

Update: The Kickstarter campaign was successful and we reached our stretch goal. You can still preorder the book on Indiegogo InDemand.

As a nonprofit organization, we are committed to using all proceeds to further our mission. Therefore, in response to the phenomenal outpouring of support, we feel compelled to do more. As we head into the last week of the campaign, we’re introducing a stretch goal of $175,000. The additional funds would allow us to digitize the rarest Dwiggins objects in our collection and share them in a public, online gallery of zoomable, downloadable images. While “A Life in Design” includes over 1200 illustrations, it represents only a segment of Letterform Archive’s holdings, which include process work, original sketches, typeface proofs, and other unique material rarely seen outside our doors. A rich web gallery will introduce Dwiggins to designers and makers around the globe. Here’s a sample of what’s possible.

Apr 10, 2017

This Just In: Book Jackets by Philip Grushkin

Philip Grushkin, jacket for “The Disappearance”
Philip Grushkin, jacket for The Disappearance, Rinehart & Company, New York, 1951. Left: Final jacket. Right: Original artwork.

Philip Grushkin was a tour de force in the publishing world. Before launching his prolific career, Grushkin studied under master book jacket designer George Salter. Working largely during the 1940s–80s, he designed book jackets for publishers like Random House and Alfred A. Knopf. He later became an art director, designing hundreds of books for Abrams Art Books.

Letterform Archive acquired a modest portion of Gruskin’s archives in the fall of 2016, complete with original art and mechanicals for several of his dust jacket designs. The collection is a great source of education and inspiration for both students and researchers. Showing final pieces, while highlighting edits and production notes in the process pieces is an excellent tool for explaining pre-digital printing processes to aspiring graphic designers.

Mar 27, 2017

Now Live on Indiegogo: Bruce Kennett’s W. A. Dwiggins Biography, Published by Letterform Archive

Letterform Archive’s publishing program debuts with W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design, a comprehensive illustrated biography of the innovative type designer, illustrator, and lettering artist, William Addison Dwiggins. Written and designed by Bruce Kennett, with a foreword by Steven Heller, this book is essential for anyone interested in graphic design, publishing, and the book arts.

“W. A. Dwiggins: A Life in Design” now on Indiegogo InDemand

After a successful Kickstarter campaign, the book is now available on Indiegogo InDemand. It’s the last chance to preorder before we go to press in August.

Reserve your copy now

About the book:

  • 496 pages
  • 1200 high-res illustrations, all shot under raking light for pop-off-the-page realism
  • The book text will be set by the author in a revival of Dwiggins’s Electra type, made by Jim Parkinson especially for this project. (Early backers will have the opportunity to acquire these types for their own use.)
  • View the prospectus (PDF)
  • Press kit
A sample spread from the type design chapter of W.A. Dwiggins: A Life In Design.
Jan 17, 2017

This Just In: The Experimental Wood Type Prints of Jack Stauffacher

Jack Stauffacher, wood type print, 13’’ x 20’’
Jack Stauffacher, wood type print, 13’’ x 20’’

Jack Stauffacher (who celebrated his 96th birthday in December 2016) has been making books since age 16 — which means 80 years spent practicing and perfecting the interrelated arts of printing, typography, design, and publishing. A 2004 AIGA medalist, the self-taught Stauffacher is one of the most distinguished printers in the United States today.

Last fall, Letterform Archive acquired over 200 of Stauffacher’s wood type prints. These are the product of the printer-typographer’s experiments with the drawers of wood type he inherited at his 300 Broadway studio, located in the North Beach neighborhood of San Francisco.

These wooden letters — many mismatched, not a single complete alphabet among them — provided, simultaneously, a semantic constraint and a material freedom. Stauffacher used the opportunity to create “monoprints,” no two the same. Among his techniques: manipulating the layouts of the letters on the bed of his press between impressions; using solvents and sponges (among other materials) to create unique textural variations and effects with inking; iterating with sub-sets of letters; and inking once, then printing multiple times. The resulting prints offer striking variance in color, shape, texture, and pattern — a particular contrast with Stauffacher’s more traditional editioned productions.

A facsimile edition of these prints is forthcoming from Letterform Archive.

Download a hi-res sampler of images from the collection

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Oct 14, 2016

This Just In: Piet Zwart Ephemera

Piet Zwart, Brochure for Nijgh and van Ditmar, 1931
Piet Zwart, Brochure for Nijgh and van Ditmar, 1931

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. The master set from Zwart’s own archive is at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague.

Letterform Archive’s collection of Piet Zwart was begun thirty years ago, but it has been substantially enhanced by newly acquired material. Starting in 2013 there was a series of five auctions in the Netherlands featuring duplicates from Zwart’s personal archive. We were an active bidder in all five sales.

Our Piet Zwart collection now contains over 120 pieces of rare ephemera. Many are proof copies (printed on one side only) with dates or other notations in his own hand, and almost all have Zwart’s name and address rubber stamped in green on the back.

The items featured in the linked PDF arrived recently from the last of the five auction sales.

Download a hi-res sampler of images from the collection

To receive notifications when our "This Just In" series is updated, please sign up for our e-newsletter. We send occasional updates on upcoming events, workshops, exhibitions, and more.

Sep 10, 2016

An Interview with Aaron Marcus

Letterform Archive gratefully acknowledges Aaron Marcus’s recent generous donation of an archive of his work.

Aaron Marcus, Directions for Genesis 1 and 2, 1973
Aaron Marcus, Soft Where, Inc., Vol. 1, 1975

The newly acquired collection encompasses a broad swath of Marcus’s works and interests, ranging from art and design to physics and computer science. Through his experimental design works and creative explorations, Marcus challenges both our notion of what letters are and how they are constructed. His explorations—through both hand work and computer code—prefigure a computer-assisted approach to creative expression that is widely utilized by artists and designers today.

Sep 1, 2016

This Just In: Identity Manual Collection

Thanks to a generous gift from Professor Dennis Y. Ichiyama, Letterform Archive is excited to add nearly 200 identity manuals to our collection.

Corporate identity manuals

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.

Jun 28, 2016

This Just In: The Albert Klijn Archive

Albert Klijn, sketch for brochure, Venetian blinds.
Albert Klijn, sketch for brochure, Venetian blinds.

Letterform Archive recently acquired an archive of material by and about Albert Klijn (1895–1981), a Dutch graphic designer, painter, typographer, bookbinding designer, and illustrator. The collection includes posters, paintings, advertisements, periodicals, seals and stamps, calligraphy, and a large assortment of ephemera and printed matter.

Klijn studied at the Quellinus School in the Netherlands and is known for designing many items for the city of Amsterdam, including various letterheads, logos, coats of arms, and five Town Calendars (1924–1929). He is most famous for designing the logo for the Municipality of Amsterdam Giro, the first cashless payment system in the Netherlands. Klijn worked for the interior designer Theo Nieuwenhuis from 1866–1951 and ran the studio for Advertising Art with his brother Willem Klijn (1892–1961).

In 1923, Klijn designed the cover for issue number forty-one of the highly revered art magazine, Wendingen. The archive includes several process pieces for this magazine cover, including a drawing and several printed proofs.

The abundance of material in the archives of Albert Klijn provides excellent insight into the artist’s multifaceted nature and creative evolution. It is an honor for us at Letterform Archive to preserve and share his history, art, and process with our community.

— Camille Brown, Intern

Download a hi-res sampler of images from the collection

To receive notifications when our "This Just In" series is updated, please sign up for our e-newsletter. We send occasional updates on upcoming events, workshops, exhibitions, and more.

Jun 16, 2016

This Just In: Major Donation of Archival Material from Emigre, Inc.

Acquisition reflects commitment to providing hands-on access to type foundry’s significant digital archive, collateral material, and ephemera.

Emigre logo on paste-up board, 1983
Emigre logo on paste-up board, 1983

Letterform Archive has received a major gift from the renowned type foundry and publisher Emigre, Inc. The gift includes rare archival material in various media, such as a complete run of Emigre catalogs, development files for original Emigre typefaces, and audiotapes of unedited interviews with Emigre magazine designers and contributors that offer an oral history of the design community, as well as printed sheets, posters, ephemera, and paste-ups.

Mar 15, 2016

This Just In: The Ross F. George Archive

Mockup for Round Hand Script sample alphabet, by Ross F. George
Mockup for Round Hand Script sample alphabet, by 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).

With this post we gratefully acknowledge George’s family’s donation of an archive of his work, containing 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.

George’s Speedball textbooks and pens have aided countless calligraphers and lettering artists over the last 100 years. We’re thrilled that Letterform Archive will now get to share his history, art, and process with many more.

Download a hi-res sampler of images from the collection

If you are interested in contributing materials to the Archive, please contact us. To receive notifications when our "This Just In" series is updated, sign up for our e-newsletter.

Feb 25, 2016

This Just In: W.G. Sutherland, The Sign Writer and Glass Embosser (Manchester/London, 1898)

William George Sutherland, The Sign Writer and Glass Embosser (1898), Plate 1.
William George Sutherland, The Sign Writer and Glass Embosser (1898), Plate 1.

We were delighted to get our hands on a copy of William George Sutherland’s The Sign Writer and Glass Embosser, a rare technical manual from the turn of the 20th century. Consisting mainly of decorative alphabets, this book was meant primarily for use in signage, with chapters dedicated to various methods of decorating on glass including gilding, embossing, etching, and enamel painting. The volume includes a portfolio of 32 lithographed prints, 16 in color with occasional gold, by Kleinertz of Manchester.

Download a hi-res sampler of images from the book

To receive notifications when our "This Just In" series is updated, please sign up for our e-newsletter. We send occasional updates on upcoming events, workshops, exhibitions, and more.

Jan 22, 2016

Without Type: The Dynamism of Handmade Letters Opens at San Francisco Center for the Book

The exhibition organized by Letterform Archive in San Francisco brings together handmade letter art from the 15th century to today.

Without Type exhibition

On January 22, 2016 the San Francisco Center for the Book will open an exhibition organized by Letterform Archive in San Francisco that showcases handmade examples of the letter arts made by practitioners from various disciplines, including calligraphers, architects, type designers, and illustrators. By juxtaposing works created across diverse time periods and geographical locations, the exhibition seeks to highlight the tremendous creativity and myriad possibility for the handmade letter arts, while at the same time drawing connections between seemingly disparate works.

Aug 12, 2015

Type@Cooper & Letterform Archive launch Type@Cooper West

The Cooper Union’s Continuing Education Certificate Program offers West Coast courses beginning October 2015.

Periodicals wall of the main reading room of Letterform Archive

Type@Cooper and Letterform Archive are partnering to offer a post-graduate certificate program in Typeface Design in the new Type Annex of Letterform Archive. In addition to this rigorous one-year course in typeface design, the newly established Type@Cooper West program also brings public workshops and a public lecture series focusing on lettering, digital typeface design, font production, and typography.