Is there a Typeface list by rarity?

Hello all,

Is there some sort of a master list or book with all the known typefaces and listing their relative rarity?

I’m still learning so please be a bit patient. I wish I could find a master printer to apprentice under but alas, I’m fumbling around in the dark and learning as best I can from classes, books and the internet.

I’ve recently purchased a small shop from the family of a recently deceased printer. There is a great deal of type (to me at least) about 100 cases, and most of it is labeled but some is not. I’d like to sell most of type and a couple presses I don’t foresee myself using as I do more polymer work and want to invest in more wood type, but I don’t know the rarity or value to know where to start. Any references or resources would be very helpful. Also, what constitutes a complete typeface set? 6pt through 72pt of the same typeface with all the punctuation and numbers?

I have a lot of Caslon, Old English Commercial, Continental Bold and some others. But I also have several more ornate faces which aren’t labeled. I’ll post some photos of the unknown typefaces in the coming weeks as I get things up and running in my new studio space. But appreciate any help in the meantime. Thanks!

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Perhaps I’ll have to be the one to assemble this list by talking to some long-time industry professionals, collectors and retailers.

My rule of thumb is that if Rick at Foolproof Press does not have it, it is rare. He is also the first person to offer assistance to ID type. I would start by educating yourself from on-line type specimen books. Type condition is also important and the amount of time it will take you to font the stuff. Your location is critical as there may be support people close by.


Please don’t take this the wrong way, but I suspect you’ve bitten off *a lot* more than you can chew with this question. :)

Since mass-production of moveable type was popularised in the 15th century, there have been several thousand typefaces (probably tens of thousands) available in moveable type. In addition, each face comes in a variety of sizes with small variations in its design, cast on different sizes of body, to different heights depending on country or use. Then comes all the tens of thousands of sets of ornaments, the rules and borders, the electrotyped illustrations, custom made cuts, the wood type.

This was the main way of reproducing knowledge for several hundred years, in every part of the world, and while you are unlikely to stumble over a great deal of type older than, say, 150 years, that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. This stuff was made in metal and is fairly sturdy stuff, just look up the story of the Doves types, recently recovered after a century on the bottom of the Thames.

A list of all the foundry type and hot-metal faces potentially on the market, along with its current availability on a market that is hardly easy to keep track of, given that most type changes hands by way of in-person transactions or low-tech means, well that would be quite the undertaking. :)

Generally, though, if you have bought a shop of a fairly modest size (such as about a 100 cases) chances are the printer in question would have stocked common, popular faces in fairly standard sizes. There is a good chance someone here will be able to identify them, especially if helped along with supplemental bits of information, such as when the shop was operating and where. From there, one can bring up common specimens of the relevant foundries and look for matches.


Well stated Kimaboe.

As a general rule, rarity is related to age of the type and how much of the type face was produced in the first place. If the type is pre-American Point System, or if it has a pin mark from a type foundry that didn’t survive the nineteenth century, it’s pretty rare. Some early twentieth century types are pretty rare, while others, like Cheltenham, Franklin Gothic, Caslon, and many other faces that were widely used are fairly common. Privately designed and cast types of any era are rare. If the type is not foundry type, it’s probably not rare.

Rarity is in the eye of the beholder. If you are looking for a particular type face and want it, finding it may be a long search, thus it is rare even if it still exists in good quantity. As to value, rarity is only one factor. Others are completeness of the font, condition of the type, and desirability of the face. Combine rarity, a complete font, good condition, and high desirability of a face, and you have a gem.

A “complete type face set” would be a run of all the sizes manufactured for that type face. The only way to know that is to look at the old specimen books or a few select reference books on type. There are quite a few type specimen books available on line at the Hathitrust Digital Library. For starters, a couple of published books that can help identify type faces are:

McGrew, Mac, American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century
Loy, William E., edited by Alastair Johnston and Stephen O. Saxe, Nineteenth Century American Designers and Engravers of Type


Wonderful information from all. Thank you.

These are just some of the multitude of factors, but they are the basic building blocks. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but great-looking faces are certainly more desireable than dog-crap UGLY faces (and Yes Virginia, there are some of those out there).

There are also those that cross many catagories.I just finished reading another book about Dard Hunter and his graphic works. No mention whatsoever about the typeface he designed (Mountain House Press Type) for the private use of his Mountain House Press. One would assume that the rarity of this face would make it very desireable, but it is probably the singularly awfullest-looking abomination I can imagine. And his actual design work was magnificent!?!?! Go figure. His son, Dard Hunter Jr. designed Mountain House Press Type II later and my same evaluation holds for it too.

If you look in Mac McGrew’s book at the samples of those faces, you are not looking at very bad reproductions of them, that is exactly what they actually look like.


There were supposed to be around 18.000 typefaces made for metal setting in the English language. the best handy listing of quite a few is the specimen book by Berry & Johnson.

Rarity - schmarity, it much depended on what the firm used to mostly produce. There were ‘arty shops ’ who made
a point of keeping a better range than they really needed,
but one could always ”send a boy along” to someone in Fleet Street (eg C & E Laytons) and buy sorts of lines that some loony ad agency asked for.