Typography archives, offline + online

Where to look for the very first Baskerville sketches and a chance to touch the first NASA brand identity guide

December 25, 2023

We sell digital fonts and report on how technology can help deal with these fonts as well as use our @tomorrow.type.today Instagram As some members of our team are living in Russia we have to follow the Russian law. According to the law, every time we post links to Instagram or Facebook we have to mention the fact that these socials belong to Meta, which was recognized as extremist by the Ministry of Justice if the Russian Federation to share projects by young designers you might want to subscribe to. That said, we consider it important not to limit ourselves to just following the contemporary processes and address the history of type and typography as well — look into metal type, old specimens and punches, exploring and explaining their heritage when it comes to modern typefaces. In this piece, we would like to tell you about the archives that can help do that, both online and offline.

The Plantin-Moretus Museum

Where: Antwerp, Belgium
Website: museumplantinmoretus.be
Online archive: search.museumplantinmoretus.be

The museum is located in a 17th century mansion which used to be a home to a family of book collectors and publishers. The museum’s collection includes over 30,000 books and manuscripts. With most of these exhibits being kept under glass, visitors are invited to leaf through the pages of replicas. The museum also displays the world’s two oldest printing presses equipped with a library of more than 20,000 lead letters. Both machines work and you can even book a letterpress workshop.

Some books from the museum collection are available in its library. If you are not in Antwerp, however, the museum also runs a digital archive.

46 Privilege granted for the printing of Opticorvm libri sex by Franciscus Aguilonius, 1612. Сourtesy: Plantin-Moretus Museum

48 Privilege granted to Gerard Mercator for his map of the world, 1959. Сourtesy: Plantin-Moretus Museum

Theresa Mathilda Schilders’ almanac, 1718. Сourtesy: Plantin-Moretus Museum

68 A typeface by Claude Garamont, 1549. Сourtesy: Plantin-Moretus Museum

St Bride Library

Where: London, UK
Website: sbf.org.uk
Online archive: archive.org

St Bride Library was opened in the late 19th century and has since then built up a collection that may well be used to study the history of printing or typography — it features rare design items as well as still functioning metal typesetting equipment.

St Bride Library is also home to one of the largest collections of type specimens, featuring works by William Caslon, Baskerville’s surviving punches and several different Futura specimens. The latter are even available for booking and exploring — all you need is to register on the Library’s website and visit its Reading Room.

St Bride Library has digitised 155 of the oldest specimens from its collection through a crowdfunding effort, with all of them currently accessible on its online archive.

A type specimen from S&C Stephenson, 1796. Сourtesy: St Bride Library

Specimen for the Beton typeface family, Bauer Type Foundry, 1930. Сourtesy: St Bride Library

Berthold Type Foundry specimen, 1950s. Сourtesy: St Bride Library

Futura Schmuck specimen, Paul Renner, 1927. Сourtesy: St Bride Library

The Klingspor Museum

Where: Offenbach, Germany
Website: klingspor-museum.de
Online archive: klingspor-type-archive.de/archive

Opened by Klingspor brothers who owned a type foundry in the same building, the Klingspor museum in Offenbach tells the history of books, type and calligraphy in the 20-21th centuries. Next to the works by Paul Renner, Jan Tschichold and Adrian Frutiger, the museum showcases the books by Joan Miró and Pablo Picasso designed by Ilia Zdanevich.

The institution is currently digitising its collection, with the most renowned items stored on a separate webpage and a significant part of the Klingspor Type Foundry catalogues available for download as PDFs on its website.

(by the way, it was the Klingspor Museum staff who came up with a list of all the type designers that have ever existed).

13 Kabel and Neuland specimen, Rudolf Koch, 1923. Сourtesy: Klingspor Museum

Eckmann-Schrift, Otto Eckmann, 1900. Сourtesy: Klingspor Museum

Koch-Antiqua, Rudolf Koch, 1927. Сourtesy: Klingspor Museum

18 Neuland decorative letters, Willi Harwerth, 1927. Сourtesy: Klingspor Museum

The Herb Lubalin Study Center

Where: New York, USA
Website: lubalincenter.cooper.edu
Online archive: flatfile.lubalincenter.com

The Center was launched in 1985 to preserve typographic works by Herb Lubalin, namely collections of Eros and Fact Magazines, anti-Vietnam war posters, Sprite’s first logo sketches and the Avant Garde Gothic typeface. The collection was soon expanded with the works by such Lubalin’s contemporaries as Paul Rand and Massimo Vignelli. The Lubalin Center is free to visit and open to the public, yet you have to book an appointment: the archive is located in small premises and cannot accommodate more than two visitors at once.

In 2016, the museum partnered with Readymag to launch Flat File, a publication that once in three months showcases one item of its graphic design collection.

61 Sprite advertising in fact magazine, Herb Lubalin, 1964. Image courtesy: Herb Lubalin Study Center

62 The Time Machine by H. G. Wells, William Addison Dwiggins, 1931. Сourtesy: Herb Lubalin Study Center

60 Avant Garde Gothic, Herb Lubalin, 1970. IСourtesy: Herb Lubalin Study Center

63 Push Pin almanac covers, Seymour Chwast, 1954. Сourtesy: Herb Lubalin Study Center

64 Lettering card, Tom Carnase, 1971. Сourtesy: Herb Lubalin Study Center

The Armenian Printing Museum

Where: Yerevan, Armenia
Website: nla.am
Online archive: artsandculture.google.com

The museum is housed in the National Library and features six halls showing the history of Armenian writing and printing. For instance, the first hall presents clay tablets with cuneiform texts and it is followed by two rooms displaying wood type cut in Europe in the 16-18th centuries for the first ever printed books in Armenian.

The museum has a permanent online exhibition on Google Arts & Culture platform, displaying the collection coupled with detailed comments to many of its items.

22 Art of Arithmetic, Soghomon Levonyan, 17th century. Сourtesy: Armenian Printing Museum

The World Map, Tovmas Vanandetsi, 17th century. Сourtesy: Armenian Printing Museum

Bible, Voskan Yerevantsi, 17th century. Сourtesy: Armenian Printing Museum

24 The first Armenian printed calendar, Apkar Tebir Tokhatetsi, 16th century. Сourtesy: Armenian Printing Museum

25 Psalter, Apkar Tebir Tokhatetsi, 16th century. Сourtesy: Armenian Printing Museum

Letterform Archive

Where: Los Angeles, USA
Website: letterformarchive.org
Online archive: oa.letterformarchive

Letterform Archive was set up in 2014 by Rob Saunders who decided to make his personal collection available for other graphic designers. The institution soon received the typeface specimens from Jan Tholenaar and a number of catalogues and magazines by the Emigre type foundry. The Letterform Archive collection currently has over 100,000 type-themed items, including Linotype Master Drawings, NASA first ever brand identity guide and the Exodus Manuscript that dates back to the 9th century. The museum regularly hosts exhibitions which you just need to buy a ticket to get to, but you have to book a visit beforehand by writing to their email to see the entire collection.

Apart from its offline space, the Letterform Archive also has an online library, featuring a significant portion of the museum’s collection digitised and sorted by decades and country of origin.

bauhaus: magazine for design, vol. 1, no. 4, 1927. Сourtesy: Letterform Archive

Resolut typeface specimen by Nebiolo, 1939. Сourtesy: Letterform Archive

Moderna Coltura Calligrafica, Raffaele Radisini, Biagio Santerini, Costantino Santerini, 1839. Сourtesy: Letterform Archive

Complete Commercial Artist magazine, #4, Masuji Hamada, 1929. Сourtesy: Letterform Archive

Rochester Institute of Technology

Where: Rochester, USA
Website: rit.edu
Online archive: digitalcollections.rit.edu

A museum at the Rochester Institute of Technology was established after the Mary Flagler Cary Charitable Trust donated to the institute its collection of American graphic design of the early 20th century. The institute later decided to expand its collection through items beyond the US and the 20th century. For instance, the works by Eric Gill and El Lissitzky, an English printing press dating back to the 17th century, and a set of wooden type for Hebrew script are on display.

The museum is slowly digitising its collection, with some part of it already accessible in a special section on their webpage.

One Million Mark banknote, Herbert Bayer, 1923. Image courtesy: Rochester Institute of Technology

52 The Human Creature book cover, Fred Troller, 1974. Image courtesy: Rochester Institute of Technology

55 Alphabet, Herman Zapf, 1959. Image courtesy: Rochester Institute of Technology

IBM promotional materials, Fred Troller, 1985

Hoffmitz Milken Center for Typography Archive

Where: Pasadena, USA
Website: hmctartcenter.org
Online archive: archive.hmctartcenter.org

This archive is a part of a centre honouring the memory of designer and professor Leah Hoffmitz Milken. Besides a library, it runs exhibition spaces and a workshop area. The Center collection features mainly design items of the 20th century such as numerous works by April Greiman, the first Cooper Black type specimens, and an archive of Polish posters.

The offline collection is substantially greater than the digital one — write to the Center’s director at susan.malmstrom@artcenter.edu and arrange a visit to see it.

80 A Portfolio of Typography, Leah Hoffmitz Milken, 1989. Image courtesy: Hoffmitz Milken Center for Typography Archive

81 Poster for an exhibition in the Museum of Minnesota, April Greiman, 1986. Image courtesy: Hoffmitz Milken Center for Typography Archive

Posters by Roman Kalarus, 1996. Image courtesy: Hoffmitz Milken Center for Typography Archive

Ornamented types, James Mosley and Ian Mortimer, 19th century. Image courtesy: Hoffmitz Milken Center for Typography Archive

Type specimen, Vernon Simpson, 1970s. Image courtesy: Hoffmitz Milken Center for Typography Archive

P.S. If you plan to use the contents of museums in your project or post what you found in their archives on your social media, make sure it is permitted by any given museum, archive or person who handed the specimen in question for storage.