I recently received a copy of a 305-page book that I, with pleasure, spent hours working on while I was a student at the Rochester Institute of Technology and graduate assistant at the Melbert B. Cary, Jr. Graphic Arts Collection. The book is entitled A Specimen Portfolio of Wood Type in the Cary Collection.
The book showcases over 250 reproductions of original wood type block prints, each displaying a typeface that was created more than 180 years ago for commercial advertising. My job was to digitally reproduce the original wood type block prints and lay out all the pages, with help from a fellow student. Though daunting at times, it gave me the opportunity to study and ultimately fall in love with over 250 wood type specimens.
What strikes me about these letterforms is their unique ability to survive. And by survive, I mean not only did they manage successfully to endure decades of technological developments within the design and printing industries—which potentially could have rendered them utterly useless—but they have managed to become a significant source of inspiration for modern designs. So much so, that many of these typefaces not only exist today, but still contain complete sets of characters with not one letter lost along the way.
In order to remain as intact as they have over the past 180 years, many individuals had to dedicate time and effort to ensure these wood type blocks were kept in use. Knowing now what I do about these letterforms, it is clear to me why so many have chosen to champion them. Every letterform has a striking personality with a unique story. Each one proudly shows its history through the imperfections it has earned overtime, leaving behind an impressive imprint both on the printed page and the minds of many who have been inspired by them.
For me, this book serves as a reminder to stay dedicated to collecting, preserving and passing along designs and related materials that I find inspirational. It also begs the question, “What can we create today that can survive for the next 180 years?”