Wood Type Questions

I am very new to printing, and I am amazed by the wealth of knowledge that I’ve seen shared in these forums! Please forgive me if my questions are a little basic.

This past week I picked up a lot of type & odds and ends on Craigslist. The person I bought it from was not the original owner (his brothers were the printers in the family, he said). There were a couple of boxes of wood type, which I sorted through this morning. I noticed that there are some letters missing, which I’m sure will surprise no one. But now I have a couple of questions:

1. What’s a typical letter distribution for wood type? What I sorted through this morning seemed a little skimpy, so I’m wondering if perhaps the family split the fonts up or something.

2. What’s the best strategy for making up for missing letters? I could imagine duplicating a letter in linoleum or something, but what about letters that are just straight-up missing?

3. I have the type on galley trays right now, but hopefully that will be temporary. Does anyone have a suggestion for appropriate storage that is easy to find (used or new)? I’ve been shocked by how slim the pickings are in the Pittsburgh area when it comes to press-related items (drawers, cabinets, etc.)… unless I’m just not yet looking in the right places.

And finally, if anyone wants to ID these fonts, I’d love to have that info as well! I started to search for guides, but it seems like people are the best resource in this regard. I am having trouble uploading, so the photos are here in a gallery: http://imgur.com/a/5YGDB

Many thanks!

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2 little *Gimmicks* that may be of help,! … fairly recently started visiting a One Man operation, locally, who is using a computor controlled Laser M/c. to produce *Jig Saw* puzzles, and more, in a variety of materials inc. plastic, perspex..
At first sight it was not exactly an *Eureka* moment but close,?? .…now the author is having whole fonts cut in Plastic at 1/8” of an inch thick, the Type >FACES< from His system, of which He Has hundreds, if not thousands are produced to original, Printers Point sizes, not some half hearted bastardisation i.e. metric or even imperial, by implication, where 6 Line = 72 Point, etc.etc.

The above all mounted (for original alignment) on end grain Hardwood, reproducing Poster Type/Wood Type as seen here on the *Last Gasp* attempt before the eventual *death*!!! …Printed/Prints (still) beautifully, no cracks or splits, virtually indestructible.

Housing/Storing wood type, usually here U.K. as massively Heavy cases of lead type, are almost a thing of the past, we just *turn in* case Rack,s & Cases, normally here in the order of 25 high and remove the many compartment, sub-dividers, to create, `open plan` Wood Type storage, occasionally in the case of, say, 6 Line/72 point, where punctuation and lower case i, l, t, etc, are very thin, we incorporate strips of original Pica Reglet, or ex D.I.Y, store *Ramin* or similar strips, (horizontally) as subdividers, to keep the thinner characters upright.

Works well and makes for easier setting, especially when wielding a Wood Type/Poster Type setting stick, for a Double Crown Poster,s on the Wharfedale.!!! . . Bin there etc.
Good Luck.

Hamilton sold letterboards for storing wood type. They are simply a sheet of plywood with wood strip on 4 sides and slide into a case rack. Wood strip is put between each row of letters.

The term “letterboard” isn’t used all that often on BP, which could lead to some confusion. I’ve never seen a “letterboard” with adjustable slats, although I don’t doubt that one could add such as an aftermarket and use accordingly. I only know of wood and steel job “cases” that have the adjustable slats. Hamilton and other companies did sell letterboards and their respective cabinets, but their primary purpose was to hold “forms”. The front edge of a letterboard is recessed or rabbeted so that a form can be safely transferred between galley and letterboard for storage.

In regard to wood type storage… a wood or metal “flat file” (aka map file) cabinet is an excellent option and are for sale frequently. Some can be had very reasonably as drafting & blueprint companies, government agencies, and others have shifted their paper storage to electronic files, and dispose of the space consuming cabinets. Used office supply equipment companies are also a common source should you enlarge you search area beyond printing equipment.

Your fonts look to be complete.

Photo 1 shows 6-line Clarendon

Photo 2 shows 12-line French Clarendon No.2. Note that what you are showing as your p a q are actually upside-down b and d. You lowercase charcters with descenders are actually at the bottom of your galley in Photo 4.

Photo 3 shows 6-line French Clarendon No.2

Photo 4 shows 12-line Gothic Extra Condensed on top of 10-line Clarendon Extra Condensed. The l.c. characters at the bottom are from another font. Lowercase characters with descenders are usually always taller than the other characters in the font because the manufacturer did not want to waste the additional wood under the other characters.

Hope this makes sense.

There are blank typecases with slots down the sides which hold 12pt. wood slats. The slats can be adjusted in the slots to hold various heights of wood type.


I would agree with most of Rick’s observations and comments, with the following exception:

1. The face on galley No. 1 appears to be Aldine, or Hamilton No. 23. Also, since Hamilton’s 3A scheme had only 3-cap O’s, one of them is a zero, since the fonts had five of those. Most of the cuttings appear to be by Hamilton and would carry a number rather than a generic name.

Note: On Galley No. 5, it appears that the missing G’s have been cut into C’s.

Comment: I see nothing wrong with keeping your type on galleys, but add a few reglets between lines, and a spring stop, at the bottom of the galley, to keep lines from mixing when sorts are removed, for printing, and the galleys are moved in-and-out. A dust-free galley cabinet would be the best, if you can find one. Some collectors, like Lyons, kept most of his fonts in 8.5 x 11 dust-free boxes. I have seen others in pizza boxes.

Dave Greer

This is not directly related to your questions but after looking at the type I realized you were the one to get this type on craigslist. I too am in Pittsburgh and responded to the post but they said it had already been sold. I was worried it might have went to someone looking split it up and sell it on craigslist. You got a hell of a deal, nice score!

I have some extra lead type if you’re interested. My shop is a little crowded so I’m looking to get rid of stuff. I also might know where you could get a cabinet but it take some work.

Sorry for coming in so late.

As for skimpy or incomplete fonts coming from print shops, that was common. Printers didn’t always buy complete fonts of wood type. They might buy only the letters needed for a given job, or just a minimal selection of all letters. This was a doubtless to some degree a question of expense, but also of storage space for bulky wood type—one letter too many and you’d need a second (or third) case to store the font in an orderly fashion so it can be found again at need.

Skimpy fonts were often eked out by 1) flipping letters from the same font, where that gave the needed letter form (perhaps with some adjustment with regard to vertical position, which would require extra line leading), 2) by modifying one letter into another, as Dave Greer noted was done in one of your fonts, 3) by engraving a new letter on a new block of the needed size, or on the bottom of another letter of the correct width from the same font, 4) apparently in some cases the printers had individual letters electrotyped on a thin plate that was then attached to a wood block, or 5) using needed letters from similar fonts, if any were close enough.

As to 3 and 4, some old shops had people quite skilled in wood engraving, so the individual hand-engraved letters could be of very high quality. In other cases, however, I’ve seen crudely-cut letter-shaped pieces of leather nailed onto blocks. I’ve also seen letters hand-cut out of type-high blocks of lead. Some shops also had electrotyping facilities, which were used to make printing plates from type, so in-shop creation of additional letters in this way would have been feasible.

I’ve recently sorted through a collection of about fifty wood type fonts that came from printers, and it wasn’t unusual to see single fonts exhibiting all of the above expedients. Skimpy or incomplete fonts were also very common. A complete font of caps, lower-case, figures, and punctuation was the exception, not the rule. I’d guess that lower-case letters, in particular, were often ordered only individually as needed. Where there was any lower-case at all, the fonts often had only a small number of a few letters.

I just wanted to thank you all for the information and advice, I truly appreciate it. And Matt, I will definitely be sending you a message!

In the UK, I believe the system was that wood letter was sold by ”the dozen”. One bought a six dozen fount or an eight dozen fount, or whatever. If one was mean one specified ”omit ‘Q”’, and if Scots unsurprisingly one could ask for a ‘Mc’ character. The bigger the size, say ”10 line” and up the thinner the supply of punctuation, commonly no ampersand. Smaller sizes the converse. But of course in sans faces something from another fount would often do, and indeed did. . Little jobbing printers commonly cut a duplicate character in lino, I’ve seen it being done,. back in the 1950s. .
Also to add that theres a special place in hell for those breaking up founts to sell single letters for profit!!..