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Celebrating A Year with the Jan Tholenaar Collection

Last August, the Tholenaar collection of type specimens made its way from Amsterdam to San Francisco. Since then, we’ve shared the acquisition with hundreds of letter lovers.

Tholenaar nameplate

Jan Tholenaar (d. 2009) was a Dutch bibliophile who collected the letter arts in a variety of printed formats. His extensive collection of books, type specimens, and ephemera is best-known for serving as the inspiration behind Taschen’s Type: A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles. In his introduction to Volume I, Cees W. de Jong speaks admiringly of Tholenaar’s “international private collection of type specimens, his admiration and love for diverse letters and ornaments, and his examples of artistic printing.”

Crates filled with the Tholenaar Collection

In August 2015, the Tholenaar Collection made its way from Amsterdam to San Francisco, showing up on our doorstep in 263 boxes that collectively weighed 6 tons and occupied 9 shipping crates. Our run-up to preparing for the arrival of the collection included trips to Amsterdam to sort and pack the collection, the rental of a new loft space adjacent to our Reading Room in Potrero Hill, and the acquisition and assembly of 20 ranges of used library shelving.

As Letterform Archive’s largest acquisition to date, Tholenaar’s 15,000 pieces instantly doubled our holdings. Just a short year later, Tholenaar’s love for letters is an essential part of the fabric of Letterform Archive: we’ve shown the new collection to hundreds of visitors.

But our work in caring for Tholenaar’s legacy is only in its initial phases. We are cleaning every book to ensure it is dust- and pest-free, as well as adding a commemorative bookplate created by Dutch designer Karina Meister. Thousands of pieces of type ephemera now occupy a separate space at the Archive, and will soon be sorted by typeface to enable easy browsing. Cataloging, listing, and photographing the material will follow, and to do so completely will take years of dedicated work.

Unpacking the Tholenaar Collection

Our efforts thus far owe in large part to our amazing volunteers — and you can help too! Please contact us if you’re interested.

See more of the Tholenaar Collection