Grolier Club talk—The Greatest Type Specimen Ever Made: The 1882 Bruce Foundry specimen
…probably the largest, most complete and finest typographical specimen book ever produced.—La Cygne Journal (La Cygne, Kansas) April 29, 1882
Specimens of Printing Types Made at Bruce’s New-York Type-Foundry (New York: George Bruce’s Son & Co., Type-Founders, 1882)
Although it is neither the most colorful nor the most visually sumptuous type specimen, the 1882 Bruce type foundry specimen is arguably the greatest such book ever produced. Its brilliance is not immediately discernible to the naked eye. It lies in its contents. Embedded in the book is a complete reprint and resetting of The Invention of Printing by Theodore Low de Vinne (previously published by Bruce in 1878) which serves as a showcase of Bruce’s text types from Diamond to Great Primer.  Moreover, the sample texts for the over 1500 newspaper and display types in the front of the book represent a disguised history and bibliography of printing and its component trades.
Although my interest in this book goes back several decades, it was only in the past year, as I was compiling a census of all known surviving copies of the 1882 Bruce specimen book, that I came to realize its full brilliance.  In the process of tracking down copies of the specimen I discovered that ten supplements were issued between April 1883 and December 1894. Furthermore, the origins of the book’s disguised printing history begin with the first supplement (April 1867) to the Bruce foundry’s 1865 specimen book—the first to be issued after the death of George Bruce (1781–1866)—and continue through another eighteen supplements.
At an in-person only talk at The Grolier Club on June 13, 2023 I will describe the 1882 Bruce specimen book in detail, trace its origins and subsequent history, situate it in the context of other specimen books, and try to answer the question of who was responsible for its conception.
The book has been made absolutely readable by the curiosity and propriety of the quotations. It swarms with typographical information…—New York Daily Tribune February 5, 1882
1. The Invention of Printing: A Collection of Facts and Opinions Descriptive of Early Prints and Playing Cards, the Block Books of the Fifteenth Century, the Legend of Lourens Janszoon Coster, of Haarlem, and the Work of John Gutenberg and His Associates by Theodore Low De Vinne was originally published by Francis Hart & Co in parts in 1876 and as a whole in 1878. The Bruce foundry reset the text and included it in their 1878 type specimen.
2. Two copies of the book have been digitized and placed online, one of three owned by the Cary Library at Rochester Institute of Technology and one at the University of North Carolina. The latter includes the first five supplements to the specimen book, issued between April 1883 and May 1887. Another five supplements were issued, culminating in the tenth in December 1894. For the most part, the supplements continued the history of printing theme.