Letterform Archive Receives Major Donation of Archival Material from Emigre, Inc.

Acquisition Reflects Commitment to Providing Hands-on Access to Typefoundry’s Significant Digital Archive, Collateral Material, and Ephemera

For more images and a high-resolution PDF download of sample items from the Emigre archive, please visit our Emigre page


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.    

Based in Berkeley, Emigre was the first independent type foundry to focus explicitly on technology surrounding the personal computer. Producing more than 600 original typeface designs, and creating a magazine that quickly became critically acclaimed in its field, the company was an early adopter of digital design tools, and its archival materials provide a capsular look at a major stylistic shift associated with the Bay Area.

“Emigre was a pioneer of digital type design with their typefaces, and digital graphic design with Emigre magazine, yet at their inception much of their production workflow was analog. This gift enables us to show this crucial transitional phase of graphic and type design from the inside out, through the lens of two of the greatest innovators of recent times,” said Letterform Archive Founder & Curator Rob Saunders. “We are thrilled and humbled that Emigre has selected us as the home for this invaluable archive.”

Letterform Archive, which opened its doors to the public in February 2015, was conceived in 2013 as a center for inspiration and education, not only for working designers but for anyone with a love for the letter arts. Emigre's co-founders Rudy VanderLans & Zuzana Licko were friends of the Archive even before it was founded; this major gift reflects their ongoing support of the Archive's mission to serve as a resource for those working in or interested in the field.

“We selected Letterform Archive to house and preserve our work because it is dynamic and design-centric,” said VanderLans and Licko. “Letterform Archive is easily accessible to the public, it actively promotes itself to the design community, and it’s run by knowledgeable and dedicated people from within the graphic design and library communities. We're honored to have our work sit alongside some of the world's best-known design artifacts. Moreover, Letterform Archive is a local, Bay Area institution. We felt strongly about having our work remain in the Bay Area, where our roots are.”

The physical Emigre collection is a significant addition to Letterform Archive’s holdings, providing critical material from a period that was a major catalyst for change in the letter arts. Additionally, by helping migrate 30 years’ worth of Emigre’s digital material into formats compatible with current technology, the Archive renews its commitment to providing public access to letter arts artifacts in all formats. The gift further reflects the rapidly expanding nature of Letterform Archive, and its ongoing ability to make both analog and digital content available to a wide range of visitors, both in person and online.

About Emigre, Inc.

Emigre, Inc. is a digital type foundry based in Berkeley, California. Founded in 1984, coinciding with the birth of the Macintosh computer, the Emigre team, consisting of Rudy VanderLans and Zuzana Licko, were among the early adopters of this new technology.

From 1984 until 2005 Emigre published the infamous Emigre magazine, a quarterly publication devoted to visual communication. Emigre created some of the very first digital layouts and typeface designs winning them both world-wide acclaim and much criticism. The exposure of these typefaces in Emigre magazine eventually lead to the creation of Emigre Fonts, one of the first independent type foundries utilizing personal computer technology for the design and distribution of fonts. They created the model for hundreds of small foundries who followed in their footsteps.

As a team, Emigre has been honored with numerous awards including the 1994 Chrysler Award for Innovation in Design, and the 1998 Charles Nypels Award for excellence in the field of typography. Emigre is also a recipient of the 1997 American Institute of Graphic Arts Gold Medal Award, its highest honors.  

Complete sets of Emigre magazine are in the permanent collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York, The Denver Art Museum, the Museum of Modern Art in San Francisco, the Museum fur Gestaltung in Zurich, the Bibliotheque Nationale de France, The Bancroft Library, Letterform Archive, and many other institutions around the world. In 2011, five digital typefaces from the Emigre Type Library were acquired by MoMA New York for their design and architecture collection.


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Without Type: The Curators' Tour — Thursday, March 24, 6:00pm

*Last Chance!* Our first major exhibition, "Without Type: The Dynamism of Handmade Letters", is on view at the San Francisco Center for the Book until Sunday, April 3. Before that, join co-curators Rob Saunders & Kate Robinson for a behind-the-scenes gallery walkthrough.

*An extra-special guest!* Lettering artist Jessica Hische—who designed the show's catalog cover and a limited-edition commemorative poster—will be in attendance, andwill sign all catalogs and posters purchased! 

*Come experience a San Francisco institution!* The event will take place in the gallery at the San Francisco Center for the Book, 375 Rhode Island Street between 16th and 17th Streets.

Purchase tickets now!

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

Exhibition Organized by Letterform Archive in San Francisco Brings Together Handmade Letter Art from the 15th Century to Today


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. 

While most of the letterforms that we come into contact with daily derive from standardized digital typefaces, all of the works included in Without Type started out handmade: sketched with a pencil, cut out of wood or linoleum, written with an edged pen or calligraphic brush, painted, torn or cut out of paper, or even built with vectors on a computer. Curated by Rob Saunders with Associate Curator Kate Robinson from Letterform Archive, the exhibition delves into the Archive's rich collection to showcase some of its most compelling handmade items. 

Among the works on view will be manuscripts, psychedelic posters, pen calligraphy, and vector lettering, featuring works by renowned type design and illustration luminaries such as Jessica Hische, El Lissitzky, Eric Carle, and William Addison Dwiggins, among others. Taken together, the works highlight the genesis of letter art, and reveal the way techniques and aesthetic concepts used in works hundreds of years ago are still alive today.

"Throughout the exhibition, works from different time periods will be shown together, highlighting the way in which a more contemporary work echoes a technique applied in an older work," said Curator Rob Saunders. "By coupling a spread from a 15th-century manuscript next to a spread of abstract calligraphy from the 1970s printed in a comic book, for instance, the exhibition sheds light on the way technique has evolved, yet continues to reference earlier works, highlighting patterns and diversions in the ways in which humans have crafted communication throughout time." 

Without Type: The Dynamism of Handmade Letters is made possible by Grants for the Arts | San Francisco Hotel Tax Fund, The Kahle Austin Foundation, and the Kahle Austin Fund through the San Francisco Foundation. 

Exhibition Dates: January 22 - April 3, 2016
Opening Reception: January 22, 2016, 6:00 to 8:00 PM;  RSVP here
Cost: Admission is free
Location: San Francisco Center for the Book, 375 Rhode Island Street, San Francisco


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

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.

Since 2010, Type@Cooper, a program offered through The Cooper Union’s Continuing Education Department, has offered two programs in typeface design; one a year-long part-time Extended program, and the other, an intensive five-week full-time Condensed program offered in the summer. Taught by top industry professionals, both programs provide in-depth instruction in typeface design and production, lettering, and the history and theory of typeface design. Additionally, a series of free lectures by guest speakers attracts a dedicated audience of design professionals, students, and enthusiasts. Public workshops offer both a point of entry for non-participants and a way for type design professionals to continue learning advanced skills.

“As with Type@Cooper in NYC, access to fine examples of printed matter and manuscripts will be central to learning in our new programs in San Francisco. Letterform Archive has a fine collection of rare books and type specimens from the 15th century to today,” said Cara Di Edwardo, Type@Cooper program co-founder, coordinator, and adjunct professor of art in The Cooper Union School of Art. “With the leadership of excellent and dedicated instructors, and involvement in all the activities that will surround participants in this new location, we expect to see some great designers emerge. San Francisco has a vibrant design scene, and seems the natural place to expand the program.”

Thanks to a generous grant by Monotype Imaging, a space in Letterform Archive’s new three-story Type Annex, adjacent to its primary location, is being equipped and furnished as a dedicated classroom for the Type@Cooper West program. The classroom will be made very welcoming and comfortable with high-quality furniture, blackboards and whiteboards, an 80” flat-screen display and A/V set up, a printer and scanners, as well as good lighting to complement the natural light.

“Letterform Archive and The Cooper Union share a common mission: to inspire and educate young designers. Type@Cooper is therefore the perfect vehicle by which to launch world-class educational offerings on type design here in the Bay Area,” said Rob Saunders, founder and Curator of Letterform Archive. “The Archive curates a wide range of inspirational artifacts—books, posters, periodicals, ephemera—that can support intensive collections-based instruction. We are especially pleased to be able to offer hands-on access to our newly-acquired Tholenaar collection, which includes 4,000 bound type specimens and 8,000 pieces of type ephemera.”

Among the workshop instructors for Fall 2015 are well-known typeface designers and lettering artists Sumner Stone, Jessica Hische, Jim Parkinson, Carl Rohrs, Cooper Alumnus Michael Doret, and Saunders. Applications for the 2016 Extended Certificate program will be accepted beginning mid-October and are due by November 16th, 2015. The details of the 2016 program will be posted soon.

Letterform Archive
1001 Mariposa Street #307
San Francisco, CA 94107, USA
info@letterformarchive.org :: +1.415.802.7485