Character Building

Published: August 15, 2012

From Nina Schneider, Head Cataloger

Type specimens have a long history in the world of printing. The first known example is Erhard Ratdolt printed sheet from 1486, discovered by chance bound into a contemporary codex. If one reads (or reviews) Daniel Berkeley Updike’s seminal work on the subject, it will come as no surprise that the bespoke types of the sixteenth-century printing house gradually evolved into commercial stock books by the eighteenth-century once the roles of printer, compositor, punchcutter, and typecaster were clarified.

The Clark has an excellent collection of type specimen books and pamphlets including faces cut by John Fell for Oxford University, those of Caslon, Bodoni, Gill, the International Typeface Corporation, and the late, great American Type Founders Company (ATF). Although printed specimens are more endangered than the rainforest, we have recently received a couple of interesting items:

So Long, Hot-Metal Men: The Comprehensive Bird & Bull Type Specimen Book by Henricus De Nova Villa [Henry Morris, to his friends], is a limited edition work published in 2007, but recently acquired by the Library. In it, we get a glimpse of the varied typefaces that have been used in the nearly 75 year career of Morris and the decisions that went into choosing each face. Beautifully printed, this book finds a happy home in the Clark’s fine press collection where the researcher will find a few of the Bird & Bull publications that are mentioned in this title.

Russell Maret’s most recent publication, Specimens of Diverse Characters, was completed in 2011 and features Maret’s original type designs, as well as letters inspired by specific texts and authors, both ancient and modern. The Clark is lucky enough to own a copy of the deluxe edition, which includes not only the volume of sixteen alphabets within contextual settings, but an additional suite of poofs and a sample of standing type used in printing the book. Maret’s designs are drafted on a computer, but working with Micah Currier of the Dale Guild Type Foundry, two of the sixteen typefaces were cast in foundry metal, set, and printed on handmade paper. The Dale Guild has a large collection of moulds and “thousands” of ATF matrices acquired by founder, Theo Rehak, a former employee of ATF. Although Maret is not selling his typefaces, we can be satisfied knowing we can study them in his future publications.

Russell Maret’s Specimens of Diverse Characters (Photograph by Annie Schlechter, courtesy of Russell Maret)

For more on the subject, see Daniel Berkeley Updike’s Printing Types: Their History, Forms, and Use (4th ed. DE: Oak Knoll, 2001), particularly volume 1, chapter XI and volume 2, p. [297]. To see examples of specimens at the Clark Library, search the UCLA Library catalog under the subjects, “Type and type-founding—Specimens” or “Printing—Specimens.” For more background on the making of Maret’s book, see Blog of Specimens of Diverse Characters, published in a limited edition in 2012.

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