Letterform Archive has one of the world’s best collections of typographic history. We house over 60,000 objects aggregated from various sources and donors with overlapping interests. This often yields multiple copies of a book or print, and there are now hundreds of duplicates to be deaccessioned. Over the last five years we held several small sales, particularly of reference books and type foundry ephemera, but we reserved the rarest gems for a moment when we could offer them all together in a globally accessible auction.
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Reporting to the Director of Development & Operations, the Marketing Coordinator will collaborate with all teams at the Archive to plan and implement coordinated marketing initiatives org-wide.
We like to change things up when setting tables for introductory visits, but most tours begin with an unassuming object that’s by far the Archive’s most ancient. Created in Mesopotamia around the second millennium BCE, our cuneiform tablet looks like a rough lump of hard clay, just big enough to rest in your palm. Closer inspection reveals a surface covered with sharp impressions — marks of what many consider the world’s first full writing system.
In her recent update, librarian Kate Long mentioned the ways we use the Archive as a teaching tool, especially in our Survey of Type History for the MFA Design program at the California College of the Arts. Now in its third year, the course tells the story of design firsthand through a curated selection of artifacts from our collection. This year, of course, the pandemic is forcing us to meet remotely, which means we’re prioritizing key historical objects for digitization and virtual presentation. The beauty of this pivot is that everyone benefits – even those who aren’t master’s students – because the Online Archive is open to all. As a taste, here are a few recent additions to the site that represent typographic milestones over the first 150 years of letterpress printing.
A while back, the design publication It’s Nice That invited us to share some of our favorite books for their “Bookshelf” series. It was a nice way to introduce an international audience to a few of the unusual and delightful objects we regularly show in our on-site tours. As we continue to be closed to visitors during the pandemic it’s a good time to reprise that piece, along with more images of the books, and a new selection from Florence Fu, which is not a book at all.
It takes a long time to do most things well. When I started volunteering at Letterform Archive, the organization had just received its first major donation. Rudy VanderLans and Zuzana Licko of Emigre had gifted their archives containing thousands of objects: books they printed, books they referenced, type development files, type specimens, every issue of Emigre magazine, process work and proofs, and binders holding a few decades’ worth of communication.
Last fall, when we introduced Tables, a tool for creating sets of typographic artifacts from our Online Archive, we asked a few friends, board members, and staff to put the tool to use. The results demonstrate the myriad ways members can use Tables to build collections of inspiration, research, and resources for use in the studio or classroom.
Like many of you sheltering at home, our team is seeing a lot of each other within the now-familiar grid of video chat rectangles. We love getting a peek at everyone’s home office, but we also miss being surrounded by the Archive and its countless bits of inspiration and delight.
So, as an addition to our Cabin F(or)ever kit, we’re pleased to bring you our first batch of background images selected from objects in the Online Archive, each carefully cropped and edited for Zoom. Now you can use our periodical wall to visualize your ideal home library, wallpaper your room with Paul Rand, furnish your apartment with type from Caslon’s 1844 specimen, live inside an issue of Emigre, or do “some blue sky thinking” with Martin Venezky.
The Letterform Lecture series complements Type West, our postgraduate certificate program in type design. In normal times we gather at the San Francisco Public Library where the talks are free and open to the public, but the series went online this spring in response to the pandemic. While we miss seeing you in person, the new format gives us a chance to reach our global audience in real time. Thanks to support from Adobe Fonts, recordings of these lectures are available to all within a few days after the event. As 2020 comes to a close we found it a good time to remember all the excellent talks from the year and give you quick access to those you missed.
As you may have heard, we moved to a new space in San Francisco's Dogpatch neighborhood in September. Like a lot of things this year, it didn't come easy, but it feels like a fresh start. At our original location in Potrero Hill, we were just plain out of room — for desks, for books, for collections care projects. Despite turning every corner and closet available into bookcases, our shelves were overflowing. We had to keep incoming collections in boxes after processing them, because we didn't have a linear inch to spare.
As the second industrial revolution hit its stride in the late 1800s and early 1900s, leaps in electrification, manufacturing, and transportation led to rapid changes in Western economies and societies. Advancements in paper making, printing, and typographic technologies followed suit, resulting in cheaper and more plentiful books, new forms of advertising to meet the demands of expanding commerce, and a burst of color and special effects that were previously impossible or too costly to produce. Meanwhile, as populations became vastly more urbanized, artists and printers waxed poetic about country life, incorporating the natural world into their work.
The latest batch of items in the Online Archive represents several dozen highlights from this era in our collection, including work by Will Bradley and Alphonse Mucha, sign painter portfolios from France, early type foundry ephemera, and a remarkable English catalog of wood type.
We are pleased and honored to welcome two new members to our Board of Directors. A familiar face to anyone who has seen our membership video, Leila Weefur was a visiting researcher in our early years, and their story about exploring Blackness in advertising and typography at the Archive can be seen in The Occasional. Alejandro Chavetta has partnered with us on many projects, including exhibitions at Astro Studios where he was creative director, and content-creation for Adobe’s Create platform (now Discover), where he serves as Editor in Chief. Leila and Alejandro join an expanding board which aims to represent and respond to our broad community.
Among the 25 objects just added to the Online Archive are works representing various writing systems beyond Latin. The items are highlights from two events this spring: a master’s seminar in type history that we taught for California College of Arts, and a lecture, “A Brief Typographic Trip Around the World”, hosted by the Center for Book Arts in New York. In a time when a pandemic has hampered most of our summer travel, let our lifelike images take you on a virtual vacation to 18th-century Indonesia, 1920s Tokyo, or India through the ages.
Judaism and designs of utopia have a long history together. Many Jews have dreamed of a perfect and socially just society, and created art that reflected this desire. Jews played integral roles in the Russian Revolution and in Bolshevik communism, as well as in building intentional communities around the world. Jewish artists expressed their utopian visions in a variety of ways, but many artists such as El Lissitzky and Natan Altman used painting, design, and the abstract shapes of constructivism to illustrate an upheaval of the old social systems and a radical transformation to something new. This coincided with the rise of communism in Eastern Europe, and with talk of protection of ethnic minorities after centuries of pogroms and discrimination.
Just over fifty years ago, at the apex of the civil rights movement in the US, Dorothy Jackson interviewed five Black designers about “the frustrations and opportunities in a field where ‘flesh-colored’ means pink”. The article for Print was perhaps the first in the mainstream trade press to directly address the impacts of racism in the profession and describe the experience of Black practitioners in their own words. What has changed since then? What remains the same? We asked today’s design leaders to compare their experience to the 1968 discussion and imagine what’s next.