Type Specimens, Type Specimen and More Type Specimens—Letterforms Study Group in San Francisco August 21–23, 2023
There are still places available for these inexpensive special study sessions about type specimens led by Paul Shaw. Registration ends August 18. Scroll to the bottom for prices and payment options.
About Type Specimens
At first glance type specimens are innocuous objects, simple compilations of typefaces. But closer inspection reveals much more. The three study sessions listed below are an opportunity to dig deeply and at first hand into a range of type specimens.
There are many reasons to study type specimens beyond looking for typefaces both familiar and unusual. They are also of interest for: 1. their design and format; 2. their organization, presentation and display of typefaces; 3. the naming of types; 4. the content and wording of their type samples; 5. the presence of other typographic and visual material (rules, ornaments, cuts, etc.); 6. the presence of tools, material, and equipment for composition, printing, and related activities; and 7. explanatory, theoretical, historical, and instructive texts. Not all type specimens encompass all of these features, of course, but one illuminating aspect of studying them is to discover how and why such features evolved.
Type specimens can be studied as mirrors not only of technological progress in the printing arts and aesthetic changes in society, but also as evidence of political, social, and literary currents. Hidden inside them are indications of nationalist pride, references to contemporary historical and cultural events, news of technological innovation, admiration of literary figures, technical information, puns and silly wordplay, as well as racist and sexist sentiments.
Type specimens are more than commercial and aesthetic objects. They are gateways to the past.
San Francisco is rich in institutions with extensive collections of type specimens. The Letterform Archive is probably the best known of these today due to its high online profile and active outreach program. But it is a newcomer. These study sessions will focus on three institutions in San Francisco that have been amassing type specimens for a half century or longer. Each session is organized to fit with the others in providing an overview of type specimens of the 19th and 20th centuries.
The Book Club of California
Monday August 21
2 pm to 5 pm
This session will emphasize typefaces and type specimens related to private presses from the 1890s into the 21st century. Several mid-20th century wood type specimen will also be examined.
The Book Club of California, a bibliophile organization founded in 1912, has a rich collection of private press books and ephemera. Its material in this area stretches from the Arts & Crafts era to the present and includes landmark publications from the Kelmscott, Doves and Ashendene Presses as well as books by renowned California printers such as Richard Hoffmann, Harold Berliner, and Kitty Maryatt.
California Historical Society
Tuesday August 22
2 pm to 5 pm
This session will focus on 19th century American type specimens.
The California Historical Society was founded in 1871. It is renowned for its Kemble Collections of Western Printing and Publishing, which are especially rich in type specimens. Despite the notional emphasis on the West, the specimens come from all over the country, making the Society one of the premier places for typographic research in the United States.
San Francisco Public Library | Book Arts & Special Collections
Wednesday August 23
10 am to 12:30 pm
This session will stress 20th century European type specimens, especially those from German type foundries; and several 20th century wood type portfolios.
The Rare Books & Special Collections (since renamed Book Arts & Special Collections) department of the San Francisco Public Library was established in 1964. In the nearly six decades since it has built an enviable collection of books, ephemera, and objects related to calligraphy and type. It is famous for the Richard Harrison Collection of calligraphy and the Grabhorn Collection on the History of Printing and the Development of the Book. The latter is especially rich in types specimens from the 19th and 20th centuries.
Paul Shaw is a calligrapher, type designer, graphic designer, graphic design historian—and type historian. He has been teaching classes in the history of type for nearly twenty years: since 2004 at the School of Visual Arts, from 2015 to 2022 at Parsons School of Design, and since 2012 for California Rare Book School. Three of his courses for CalRBS took place in the Bay Area and utilized material at The Book Club of California, the California Historical Society, and the San Francisco Public Library’s department of Book Arts & Special Collections.
Paul’s interest in type specimens deepened in the early months of the pandemic when he began compiling a list of digitized type specimens available online. Some of that research has been posted on this blog (e.g. Blue pencil no. 62—Type Specimens from 1700 to 1769) and some has informed talks he has given for Type@Cooper, the Grolier Club, and the Museum of Printing. He will be speaking on the 1882 type specimen of George Bruce’s Son & Co. at the Hamilton Wayzgoose in November.
Attendance for each session will be capped at 10 people. A place will be guaranteed once payment has been received. The deadline for registering is Friday, August 18.
The fee for each of the first two sessions is $20. There is a discounted fee of $35 for both of them. The third session at the San Francisco Public Library is free. Payment can be made via PayPal. If you don’t have a PayPal account and want to pay by check or cash, please email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org for instructions.