Letterform Archive News - Collections

Aug 4, 2021 | Collections

From the Collection: Greatest Hits of Social Media

Rediscover Archive gems in a new series showcasing our most popular posts from Instagram and Twitter.

Three popular Letterform Archive posts on Instagram with a heart animation in the background.

At least twice a day we share items from the Letterform Archive collection on social media. Connecting with our community on these platforms has always been a big part of what we do, even before the physical library was open to the public. That said, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, and there are plenty of Archive members, newsletter subscribers, and website visitors who don’t see all that good stuff we post there. Meanwhile, the limited canvas of social media doesn’t always do justice to a rare printed book or detailed piece of calligraphy. With that in mind, here’s the first in an ongoing series showcasing your favorite posts, reprised in expanded form on the blog.

Apr 22, 2021 | Behind the Scenes, Collections

A Letterform Archive Auction

Bring a rare piece of the Archive into your own home or office while supporting our mission: join our first-ever auction on May 12, 2021.

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.

Mar 6, 2021 | Collections

From the Collection: A Cuneiform Tablet

At 4,000 years old, our cuneiform tablet is the collection’s oldest object. Now we know more about the messages it contains.

Front and back sides of the cuneiform tablet in the Letterform Archive collection

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.

Feb 23, 2021 | Collections, Online Archive

Now Online: Landmarks of Early Western Typography

From Gutenberg to Granjon, new additions to the Online Archive represent major developments in letterpress printing.

Christophe Plantin, Senatus Populique Genvensis…, 1579

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.

Feb 6, 2021 | Collections

From the Collection: A Few Staff Favorites

We miss sharing unexpected gems with you in person at the Archive. In this new series we’ll share them from afar.

A few staff favorites on a table in the reading room at the original Letterform Archive location.
A few staff favorites in the reading room at the original Letterform Archive location. The first two books here are from The Complete Commercial Artist, covered in detail in another post.

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.

Jan 26, 2021 | Collections, Online Archive

Emigre Archives Continue to Provoke and Enlighten

Librarian Kate Long recounts the many ways we use the Emigre collection, and Jon Sueda introduces a new series for experiencing Emigre magazine in the Online Archive.

a stylized image of Jon Sueda and his Emigre table in the Online Archive

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.

Oct 26, 2020 | Collections, Online Archive

Now Online: Color, Ornament, and Type at the Turn of the 20th Century

New additions to the Online Archive let you reach back to a vibrant period of ornamentation and letterform expression.

Ramade, plate from portfolio
Louis Ramade, D’Enseignes Décoratives á l'Usage des Peintres, chromolithographic print, France, 1890.

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.

Aug 25, 2020 | Collections, Online Archive

New in the Online Archive: Global Scripts

Our latest update includes items featuring Cyrillic, Hebrew, Indic, Japanese, Pegon, and Persian scripts.

R. K. Joshi, Indian Calligraphy Diary, 1980.

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.

Aug 11, 2020 | Collections

From the Collection: Utopian Construction — Judaism and the Soviet Avant Garde

Yiddish work by Kulture-Lige, El Lissitzky, and Natan Altman demonstrates how dreams of a new society revitalized typography.

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.

Jun 11, 2020 | Collections

Letterforms / Humanforms

The interaction between letters and bodies is a recurring theme in art and design history. Our newest team member, sair goetz, shares what they’ve discovered in the Archive’s collection and beyond.

Stefan G. Bucher, Letterheads: An Eccentric Alphabet, The Unnamed Press, Los Angeles, 2018.
May 10, 2020 | Collections

From the Collection: Tadanori Yokoo

Our growing collection of posters by the avant-garde Japanese designer are portals to universes never before imagined.

Portraits of Yokoo included in his posters.

Post-war Japan was a catalyzing backdrop that shaped a generation of artists and designers, including the renowned Tadanori Yokoo (横尾 忠則). Over the span of two decades, the Emperor’s divinity had been absolved, the nation was demilitarized, and US military troops had occupied cities. In 1960, at the age of 24, Yokoo traveled 300 miles from Kobe to Tokyo, to the epicenter of this cultural whirlwind. Tokyo, now home to a rapidly increasing population of over 10 million, was preparing to host the 1964 Summer Olympics while reckoning with violent student protests and riots. There, Yokoo’s practice took root and would earn him a reputation for bridging high and low, pre- and post-modern, and Eastern and Western cultures, and challenging conventions by charging posters with intense emotion. Trailblazing across multiple media, Yokoo responded to absurdities of signs and symbols, tensions between seemingly opposing worlds, and existential questions of the self to offer works that are humorous, chaotic, and deeply autobiographical.

Apr 29, 2020 | Collections

Honoring Scott Lindberg

Objects collected by Scott Lindberg, including designs by Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast, Ladislav Sutnar, Herb Lubalin, Paul Rand, and Alvin Lustig
Objects collected by Scott Lindberg, including designs by Milton Glaser, Seymour Chwast, Ladislav Sutnar, Herb Lubalin, Paul Rand, and Alvin Lustig.

Through his extensive knowledge and keen curator’s eye, Scott Lindberg was a constant source of inspiration to the design community in the Seattle area and beyond.

Mar 10, 2020 | Collections

Abram Games: Posters for the Public Good

While design is never a panacea for the world’s ills, the work of British designer Abram Games has particular poignance as we face new threats, uncertainty, and disinformation.

Poster for British War Office (detail), 1941.
Poster for British War Office, 1941. Image: Wellcome Collection.

Last year we were honored to host a Live at the Archive event with Abram’s daughter, Naomi Games. There’s no better time than now to present a recording of her talk, which focuses on the designer’s unique ability to promote health and safety, raise awareness, and unite people under a common cause.

Feb 5, 2020 | Collections, Online Archive

New in the Online Archive: Giovanni Pintori for Olivetti

In the 1950s, Pintori revisualized the typewriter, transforming it from esoteric machine to a charming companion of modern office life.

Detail of Olivetti 82 Diaspron pamphlet, 1960s.

See all this work at our hi-fi web resolution in the Online Archive.

The lifeless, rectangular slabs of metal we type on these days were preceded by tools with personality. Sculptural, colorful, and often weighty, typewriters were transformative machines that shaped modern industry and communication in the 20th century. The Italian brand Olivetti, founded in 1908, was among the many key players in the market and was unique in the way they saw approachable design as core to their identity. Part of Olivetti’s success is owed to Giovanni Pintori, who was the company’s art director from 1950 to 1967. Pintori’s color palettes, shapely abstraction, and smart use of the grid conveyed both the mechanic power of an Olivetti device and the joyful ease one should feel when using it.

Sep 18, 2019 | Collections, Publishing

This Just In: Jack Stauffacher’s Studio

For over 50 years, Stauffacher lived a singular life at the heart of San Francisco’s creative community. Now, his legacy lives on at the Archive, and his wood type prints are the subject of our third book.

panoramic photo of Jack Stauffacher at his studio, Greenwood Press, 300 Broadway in San Francisco. Photo: Dennis Letbetter, 1991
panoramic photo of Jack Stauffacher at his studio, Greenwood Press, 300 Broadway in San Francisco. Photos: Dennis Letbetter, 1991
Jack Stauffacher in his studio, Greenwood Press, at 300 Broadway in San Francisco. Photo: Dennis Letbetter, 1991.

Some rooms convey history all by themselves. They tell stories about the people who live in them before those occupants even utter a word. Jack Stauffacher’s studio in San Francisco was such a place.

Sep 10, 2019 | Collections

From the Collection: The Complete Commercial Artist (現代商業美術全集)

A rare set of Japanese trade publications serves a visual feast of modern graphics and lettering, as well as a study of early-20th-century interactions between Japan and the West.

A few covers from The Complete Commercial Artist

The early 20th century in Japan witnessed a collision of emerging and residual forces. Tensions between past, present, and future shaped typography, lettering, and other areas of design. Leading up to the Shōwa period (1926–89), as a result of the nation’s modernization and growth of commerce, businesses recognized the value of advertising to consumers in a visually appealing way.

The budding interest in creative advertising and the rise of commercial retail led to a 1920s–30s boom in design trade publishing to satisfy the growing demand for rich reference materials. In 1926, Hamada Masuji (濱田 増治) and a group of colleagues, including Sugiura Hisui, Watanabe Soshu, Nakada Sadanouke, and Miyashita Takao formed the Association of Commercial Artists. Together, with Hamada serving as the Editor-in-Chief, they published The Complete Commercial Artist, a 24-volume collection of trade publications on commercial design.

Sep 4, 2019 | Collections

Lautsprecher Gets Its Voice Back

Jakob Erbar’s least known typeface went silent in World War II. David Jonathan Ross used a specimen at the Archive to bring it back to life.

One look at the web or our phones these days and it’s obvious that a certain style of typeface dominates contemporary design: the geometric sans serif. It feels like nearly every company, from tech startup to multinational corporation, is finding safety and clarity in the genre’s circular rounds, sharp corners, and clean finish. Meanwhile, there’s also a growing hunger for things that are handmade and handwritten, authentic and imperfect. These universal desires for mechanical order and human warmth are pulling in opposite directions.

Lautsprecher (German for “loudspeaker”) is a virtually unknown metal typeface from 1931 that somehow hits tones both geometric and calligraphic, right at a time when we’re tuned into those very frequencies.

Jul 23, 2019 | Collections

This Just In: Michael Doret’s Disney and Pixar Title Treatments

Dozens of title treatment sketches by the renowned lettering artist and designer have found a home at the Archive.

Process material for Moana, 2011.

There are designers who choose to master their craft for a specific industry. And then there are designers, like Michael Doret, who refuse to stay in one lane. Doret brings his lettering talent to a range of clients: designing logos for sports teams, fast food chains, titles for comic books, children’s animations, drama movies, and typefaces. He sees each project as a unique design challenge: embracing the differences and running with them to come up with the most exciting solution possible. To put it simply, nothing is out of Doret’s reach. In 2018, Doret donated half of his working archive to Letterform Archive and the other half to the Herb Lubalin Center in New York. We are honored that Doret’s final proofs for early movies, as well as developmental sketches and inked comps for Disney and Pixar animated features, have found a home in our growing collection of process material.

Jun 24, 2019 | Collections

From the Collection: Design in the ’90s

For the second year in a row, we’re collaborating with Astro Studios on a San Francisco Design Week exhibition. This time, we’re taking you back to the 1990s.

WIRED magazine, premiere issue, 1993. The front of book includes a quote from Marshall McCluhan’s The Medium is the Massage (1964).

The Archive is excited to partner up with Astro Studios for our second SF Design Week exhibition on Thursday, June 27. Digital Revolution: Designing in the ’90s explores the impact of technologies on design created in this transformative period — the decade when Astro Studios got their start. To celebrate Design Week and Astro’s 25th anniversary, we’re doing a special collaboration, featuring some of Astro’s most notable projects from their early years alongside posters, type specimens, magazines, and ephemera from the Archive’s collection.

Jun 6, 2019 | Collections

From the Collection: The Art of Lettering Instruction, 1716–2016

The diagrams, illustrations, models, and methods used to teach people how to make letters can be as engaging as the resulting letters themselves.

Letterform Archive at LetterWest
Lettering artists play with our instructional diagram cubes at LetterWest on June 7, 2019. Photo by Matt McDowell of So Mighty.

Earlier this month we participated in the LetterWest Conference with a mini exhibition using hi-fi captures from objects in our collection. Historical instructional material can be found throughout the Archive, from the regal copybooks of Baroque writing masters, to informal lettering manuals for mid-century modern advertising. Here are a few highlights spanning the last three centuries.

May 13, 2019 | Collections

This Just In: Paul Rand

Hundreds of items from Rand’s archive, including process material and personal copies of his work, encapsulate a radiant career.

Sketches and final cover for The American Democrat, Vintage Books, 1956.

When visitors make requests for Letterform Archive tours and research visits, we hear one name more than any other: Paul Rand. We’ve always had a few special things to show them: brand guides for IBM and NeXT, packaging for Selectric font elements and Producto cigars, and some key poster and book designs. The latest addition, however, brings us a significant collection from his own archive, giving visitors unprecedented access to his work.

May 1, 2019 | Collections

From the Collection: Ahn Sang Soo and AG Typography Institute

Dating back to 1985, specimens of Ahn’s digital type represent the origins of exploration and play found in Hangul design today.

Specimens covers for Ahnsangsoo, Leesang, Mano, and Myrrh, AG Typography Institiute.

Ahn Sang Soo is often recognized as the father of contemporary Korean type design, and for good reason. His first typeface designed in 1985 broke the molds of Hangul’s traditional design and paved a path of experimentation for the young script. An alumnus and now a professor and Head of the Graphic Design department of Seoul Hongik University, he’s made major typographic contributions in both design and discourse. In 2012, he founded the Paju Typography Institute (PaTI), an alternative design school, as well as AG Typography Institute, an organization that’s dedicated to not only the design of new typefaces, but research, writing, exhibitions, and book design. He’s also published several design books and translated seminal works on typography by Jan Tschichold and Emil Ruder into Korean. Since AG’s founding, Ahn’s original designs have expanded and new faces have been developed. Throughout his career, his typographic lens has also been applied to print magazines, visual arts, photography, poetry, architecture, and more — altogether representing Ahn’s legacy, and his emphasis on the importance of design, research, and play.

Apr 16, 2019 | Collections

Periodicals as Collections, No. 3: Information and ulm

Our survey of avant-garde periodicals continues with two magazines that represent the enduring influence of the Bauhaus through the 20th century.

Detail from the cover of ulm 8/9, 1963.

Two weeks ago, our “Periodicals as Collections” series featured bauhaus magazine, the quarterly journal of the German art school that was founded 100 years ago this month. Today, we will explore two more magazines that together weave a narrative about the enduring influence of the Bauhaus through the 20th century. It is also the story of how a particular Bauhaus student would have a hand in continuing the school’s legacy.

Apr 1, 2019 | Collections

Periodicals as Collections, No. 2: bauhaus

Our survey of avant-garde periodicals continues with a closer look at the Bauhaus’s magazine on the school’s 100th birthday.

Title page from bauhaus, year 2, no. 1, 1928.

The second installment of Letterform Archive’s survey of avant-garde periodicals recognizes an auspicious occasion. This month marks the 100-year anniversary of the founding of the Bauhaus, one of the most significant and influential institutions in 20th-century design history.

Mar 19, 2019 | Collections

From the Collection: Laini (Sylvia Abernathy)

The Chicago-based activist’s dynamic album covers of the 1960s expand our sense of design history.

Roscoe Mitchell Sextet album cover (detail), Delmark, 1966. Design by Sylvia Abernathy, photograph by Billy Abernathy.

In late 1960s Chicago, Sylvia Abernathy was all at once a college student, activist, and graphic designer. Having later changed her name to “Laini”, Abernathy is best known for working on the Wall of Respect, a community mural in the South Side on 43rd and Hayward Streets. The effort was collaborative, a creative orchestration by the Visual Arts Workshop arm of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC). During these years, Abernathy was also designing album covers for jazz musicians under Delmark Records. Four of Abernathy’s albums live at the Archive and hold a special place in our collection. They represent a part of her work that has yet to be researched extensively, and they demonstrate a way of combining type, image, and color that sets her apart from her contemporaries.

Nov 9, 2018 | Collections

This Just In: Tézzo Suzuki, Calendar 19

From Tokyo, an annual carnival of numerals in every form imaginable — and many forms never before imagined.

Tézzo Suzuki, Calendar 19, published in 2018.

Every year, since 2012, Tézzo Suzuki makes a calendar. It’s a personal project, an opportunity to work without clients. It’s also a chance to “pursue new graphical vocabulary”. With each year he dreams up new ways to render numbers one through 31, each limited only by color (one) and canvas (square). Suzuki graciously donated the 2018 and 2019 editions of the calendar to the Archive, and Calendar 19 just arrived.

Nov 5, 2018 | Collections

This Just In: Mark Fox and Angie Wang

The San Francisco duo demonstrate the impact of the designer’s voice in politics and graphic design.

Mark Fox
Mark Fox / BlackDog, Patriotism, screen print, 2002. This work responds to George W. Bush’s suggestion in the aftermath of 9/11 that patriotic Americans should go shopping.

Mark Fox and Angie Wang do not shy away from deploying design as critique. Together they are Design is Play, a studio practice formed in 2008 recognized for award-winning branding and identity work in addition to political graphics. They are educators of design and typography at California College of the Arts, as well as advocates of issues they care about. Fox and Wang’s collection at the Archive is worthy of attention — for both its aesthetic merit and its cultural relevance in our current political moment. Many have debated the designer’s role in politics, and Fox and Wang set an example of how design can pull back the curtain to describe how the world is, or even imagine how it could be.

Oct 1, 2018 | Collections

This Just In: Martin Venezky

The San Francisco designer reminds us about the beauty of not knowing how things will turn out.

Original artwork (detail) and poster (detail) for Weird America, 2016. Full images in gallery below.

On paper, Martin Venezky is an artist, designer, photographer, and educator. He is also a collector, and some might even consider him a sort of curator. He often plays these roles all at the same time, whether he’s working on a project or not. In both his life and in his practice, he tells stories by combining and recontextualizing images and objects found in the world to create new worlds. His process reveals a lot about his own story too — one of imperfection, surprise, and patience.

“To design a poster and do the whole thing digitally? That gets boring. You’re just sitting there hitting keys, but you kinda wanna get in and see the scale of it.”

Sep 17, 2018 | Collections

This Just In: Jacob Jongert for Van Nelle

A large collection of objects by an under-appreciated Dutch modernist demonstrates the branding power of lettering and color.

Our holdings of packaging design recently got a significant boost with the addition of several hundred objects created by Jacob (commonly signed “Jac.”) Jongert in the 1920s and ’30s for Van Nelle, a Rotterdam-based manufacturer of coffee, tea, and tobacco. The extensive and varied collection includes labels, boxes, tins, in-store displays, posters, advertising, and other collateral, like pocket notebooks and calendars.

Jun 26, 2018 | Collections

This Just In: Amos Kennedy Jr.

We’re honored to share the wit and wisdom of the humble but powerful provocateur. Dozens of his prints are now at the Archive.

Left to Right: Someone Died for Your Right to Vote...; Power Concedes Nothing Without a Demand...; Everyday I Dream of Black Freedom and Pride
Left to Right: Someone Died for Your Right to Vote...; Power Concedes Nothing Without a Demand...; Fresh Food for the People.
Jun 13, 2018 | Collections

From the Collection: Blissymbolics

If the “Father of Semantography” had his way with written language, we’d all be #blissed.

Books from the reference library of Aaron Marcus and Associates:
Blissymbols for Use, Barbara Hehner, Blissymbols Communication Institute, Ontario, 1980. Design: Jack Steiner. Illustrations: Alan Daniel. Symbol Drawings: Jim Grice.
The Book to the Film ‘Mr. Symbol Man', Charles K. Bliss with contributions by Shirley McNaughton, Semantography-Blissymbolics Publications, 1975.
Mar 16, 2018 | Collections

This Just In: The Nuremberg Chronicle

Now at Letterform Archive, a landmark of 15th-century bookmaking.

We are thrilled to announce the acquisition of our first complete incunable (book printed before 1501). The Nuremberg Chronicle is one of the most densely illustrated and technically advanced incunables, and helps us tell the story of letterforms in the early years of printing.

Index half-title page, Nuremberg Chronicle. The calligraphic woodcut opening this German edition reads “REgister Des buchs der Croniken…” (Index of the book of Chronicles and stories with figures and images from the dawn of the world until this our time.). Note the ligatures with shared stems (‘de’) and marks that distinguish ‘u’ from ‘n’ (“pildnus-sen”) and indicate a double ‘n’ (“unnsere”).
Feb 15, 2018 | Collections

This Just In: Saul Bass

Bass’s timeless minimalism made him the godfather of the modern movie poster. Several original prints recently arrived at the Archive.

Saul Bass, The Man with the Golden Arm, 1955.
Saul Bass, The Man with the Golden Arm, 1955. (Detail, see full poster in gallery below.)
Jan 25, 2018 | Collections

From the Collection: The Alphabet Lithographs of Jean Midolle

An enigmatic portfolio of fantastical lettering styles continues to fascinate designers and historians. Our guest author Dan Reynolds highlights a few favorite plates.

From left to right, letters from the Spécimen des écritures modernes… portfolio: Gothique Composée; Midolline; Alphabet Lapidaire Monstre; Alphabet Diabolique, Emile Simon fils press, France, 1835. (All cropped, see full images below.)
From left to right, letters from the Spécimen des écritures modernes… portfolio: Gothique Composée; Midolline; Alphabet Lapidaire Monstre; Alphabet Diabolique, Emile Simon fils press, France, 1835. (All cropped, see full images below.)
Jan 22, 2018 | Collections

This Just In: Jason Munn

Jason Munn’s minimalist gig posters capture a conceptual duality, inviting music fans to take a closer look.

Jason Munn, Beirut, 2015.
Jason Munn, Beirut, 2015. (Cropped, see full poster in gallery below.)
Jan 9, 2018 | Collections

From the Collection: Redfoxpress

The globe-trotting, mind-bending books of Francis Van Maele and Antic-Ham consistently inspire vocal reactions from our visitors.

Berlin, Ireland, 2015
Berlin, photographs taken by Franticham in Berlin in November 2014, screenprinted at Redfoxpress studios, Ireland, 2015.

Artists’ books, simply put, are works of art created in the form of a book. Letterform Archive shows work from our artists’ book collection in every tour we lead. We like to think of each as a complete thought — a thoroughly considered work from start to finish. The materials used to create the book and how the reader interacts with it are equally as important as the images or text the reader sees.

We’re delighted to have several works by Redfoxpress in our artists’ book collection. Originally founded in Luxembourg in 2000 by Francis Van Maele, Redfoxpress is now located on Achill Island (Ireland) and has been co-run by duo Francis Van Maele and Antic-Ham — or Franticham — since 2005. They are creators of screen prints, photographs, stationary, zines, and especially artist books. Redfoxpress participates in book fairs all around the world, including the Bay Area’s very own Codex, which is where we first learned of their work in 2013.

Aug 2, 2017 | Collections

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.

Apr 22, 2017 | Collections, Publishing

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 … .

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 | Collections

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.

Jan 17, 2017 | Collections, Publishing

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

Update: September 18, 2019 — We just announced a major acquisition of material designed and collected by Stauffacher, along with our upcoming book about his wood type prints, Only on Saturday.

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Oct 14, 2016 | Collections

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 began thirty years ago, but it was 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

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Sep 10, 2016 | Collections

This Just In: Aaron Marcus

Letterform Archive gratefully acknowledges Aaron Marcus’s recent 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 | Collections

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 | Collections

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

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Jun 16, 2016 | Collections

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 | Collections

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 | Collections

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.

View a hi-res sampler of images from the book

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Jan 22, 2016 | Collections

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.