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Massive Private Collection of 19th-century Ephemera Finds a Home at Letterform Archive

Media Contact

Katie Peeler, [email protected], +1.415.223.2823

SAN FRANCISCO, California, July 13, 2023 —  Letterform Archive announces a significant addition to its trove of graphic design with the acquisition of over 26,000 uniquely colorful and innovative  items from the Richard Sheaff ephemera collection.

The late 19th century and early 20th century saw rapid development in letterform and printing innovation. The first artists and printers to call themselves “designers” advertised their work during this period and the industrial revolution marked a peak of experimentation and extravagance in the trade. Printed ephemera flourished to meet the demands of expanding commerce and increasingly urban populations. Engravers, lithographers, and letterpress printers used a wide variety of opulent colors, lettering styles and typefaces, illustration techniques, and production methods to attract customers.

Richard Sheaff’s personal collection of this material was one of the finest in private hands. Now, thanks in part to a generous donation from Sheaff, thousands of these items will find a home at Letterform Archive. The collection is particularly strong in nineteenth-century ephemera and includes advertising, calling cards, invoices, labels, packaging, postcards, and tickets.  The collection also includes typographically rich material from the twentieth century, such as advertising, trade catalogs, car brochures, and Jim Flora-designed record sleeves.

“I am really delighted that this collection of pieces found individually over several decades will be made fully available to the public at the Letterform Archive,” said Sheaff. “Every collector eventually must make a choice: Either put everything out on the open market so that other collectors have opportunities to build their own collections; or place it all in an institutional home. The danger with many institutional homes is that the public may have little or no access. Letterform Archive is dedicated to open access.”

Letterform Archive provides access to its collection through in-person research visits, class and group tours, publications, exhibitions, and the Online Archive. The Archive is working to digitize a large portion of the Sheaff Collection. To date, more than 10,000 images of more than 7,000 items are photographed and will soon be added to the Online Archive.   

“Our goal is to inspire creative people by giving them hands-on access to material that isn’t so common on the internet,” said Rob Saunders, Letterform Archive founder and curator. “This was an exciting period for printing and letterform innovation, and it is increasingly a source of inspiration for today’s designers. We can’t think of a better curated grouping of these gems than Richard Sheaff’s, and we’re honored to be its steward and share it with our global community.”

For more about the Richard Sheaff Ephemera Collection, visit

About Letterform Archive

Based in San Francisco, Letterform Archive is a nonprofit center for inspiration, education, and community. It preserves important artifacts in the history of letterforms and graphic design, and it strives to actively share them with the public. Since it opened to visitors in 2015, the collection has grown in size through the generosity of donors, and now includes over 100,000 items related to the letter arts. The Archive serves a global community through social media, publications, and the Online Archive, and offers a full-year postgraduate certificate program in type design as well as public workshops in calligraphy, lettering, and typography. Additionally, the Archive curates local and international exhibitions, organizes lectures, and hosts salons to showcase collections. Learn more at

About Richard Sheaff

Richard Sheaff is a retired graphic and communications designer who worked with numerous corporate clients large and small, universities, book publishers, paper companies, non-profit organizations, and research think tanks. He also designed or art-directed over 500 U.S. postage stamps. Sheaff has collected ephemera and postal history, and written frequent articles with a particular interest in design and typography, especially Victorian. He served The Ephemera Society of America for a total of 18 years as a member of the Board, Vice-President and President, and has been a member of many design, printing, collecting, and philatelic organizations. Sheaff maintains an ephemera-related, non-commercial website at

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