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Category: 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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Learn more about our collection, including additions to the Online Archive, and get news of upcoming events, workshops, and publications.

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