Question about Type History

I am working in a Typography class, and was able to identify most of my types. But I am looking to get more detailed information on each.

The types I am currently working with are: Heavy Caslon, Clearface Bold, Cheltenham Wide and Bold.

What I am looking to gather in regards to information is:

-Who designed them
-Who producted them
-What were they commonly used for
-When were they popular
-Any other links or sources that may be out there to help me with this.

Thanks in Advance!

Log in to reply   13 replies so far

ladywhitewrOse an bh, Are you both in the same class?
Do you guys mean type faces? Back in the day research was done reading books. Mac Mcgrew wrote a great book on american metal type faces. Letterforms are some of mankinds oldest icons. First off I am concerned about
who or whom is teaching you about “types” major red flag!
The library is a great place to james

We’re all in the same class Mr. Bourland. Our library is pretty meager up here (unfortunately). We have access to a smallish selection of books, but the closest really excellent library is in Vancouver (6 hour drive over mountains). This is a new programme at our college and there’s this unfortunate bias against non-digital publishing methods.

But we love the letterpresses we’re working on.

As a letterpress instructor at a college in California, I have watched this thread with interest and puzzlement. From the vantage of a person with 40 years in printing and graphic design I am befuddled by the questions from all the students in this class. I have found much of this information on the internet. Google books has many scanned foundry catalogs and historical printing texts for looking up this kind of information. Mac McGrew’s “American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century” is a perfect resource to answer many of your questions and should be in the college library. If you are a serious letterpress printer or hope to be, you should buy it. Another is: I can understand that the professor or instructor wants to make a pedagogical correct assignment for a college level course. But I can’t understand how he or she could do it if the college doesn’t have the resources to back up the information in the form of text.

I hope I don’t sound condescending but research is research.

Mike Day
Foothill College

Keemeers, Sorry to hear that a good library is so far away,
and the bias against non-digital publishing methods. Here is an idea, Hand set type is the original digital printing. Hands have digits (fingers) and fingers set type. Another
point I’d like to make is that letterpress is over 500 years old.and well computers they have been here since about
the mid 1980s and without electricity they are useless.
Best with your endeavors,james

Thank you Mr. Day. I know our professor tries and has opened up his personal library to us. I really don’t feel it’s a lack of teaching on his part, more an attempt to encourage our college to fund the research we are doing and also to improve the selection of books available to us in the library.

Poor students and all that jazz. *chuckles*

He encouraged us to contact the folks at Briar Press, Typophile, and other places to assist with our research. We’re all using the websites, but were hoping for a direct and personal connection with people out there that are interested in these subjects.

I think all of us are really excited about what we’re doing. The better projects we create, the better off future students will be.

And James, I love that. We’re supposed to be interviewed by someone in the local newspaper and maybe if he interviews me I’ll mention your comments.

Sorry. I can’t leave this alone because I enjoy type so much. All of you got 3 or 4 “type faces” to research, right? The thing I find most interesting about letterpress is the study of the history of metal and wood type. Your assignment! But as far as I know Heavy Caslon was never done in metal nor Caslon Black. It is a digital font. But maybe that is your assignment. Part of what puzzles me and possibly James is that all of your list contained both digital and metal fonts. I hope you can post the results of this so we can all see how it comes out.

Mike Day

It looks like the McGrew book is still available from Oak Knoll Press:

It’s $65, but maybe you students can chip in and buy a copy for your school library.


ladywhiter0se - I don’t want to do your homework for you, but longdaypress is correct. Certainly anyone interested in the history of type should get American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century . Many Briar Press members printed a significant number of font samples for this book. I printed only a few, but McGrew sent us copies of the revised editions for editing. I purchased the final hard cover copy and won’t scan that, but without breaking the spine of my paperback, below you can get an idea of the kind of information this book provides.

image: clearface.gif


Libraries engage in a practice of lending to one-another on request. Even so-so libraries should be willing to inter-library loan (ILL) the book for you. Ask your librarian.


I hope you realize how helpful Elizabeth and the Briar Press people are. I second Arie Koelewyn- interlibrary loan is the miracle fix for small university and college libraries.

Good luck, and invest in the McGrew book, if at all possible.


Thank you Mike Day and Elizabeth for the help.

We are bascially working on this project from the bottom up, we started out with some really dirty type that we had to clean, then identify which I found fun, going through all the books to try and figure out which ones the type could be. Which may be why you mentioned some of the above is only digital type, I didn’t know that as I was going off a text book from my Prof so I will re-review them.

Then from there we are finding out all that we can, I have already done a lot of research but some of the above details were ones I wasn’t able to find directly. So I will for sure try and check out the recommended volume.

I am grateful for all the help, and to know there is online resources where people are willing to help others to find out those hidden details that aren’t listed in a text book. This has been very educational.

Thanks again.

A bit of background and clarification considering a handful of the replies to these threads/queries by my students.

As described above, the first stage of this process was for the students to clean and sort a number of cases of worn and filthy type which had been obtained from a retired newspaper printer in a small town here in BC. The cases of type had been stored in an old shed, and were therefore coated in dust and dirt, with many cases holding two or three different types piled in. Thus, the students’ project began as a two-fold task: first, to clean all of the type by hand, to set it out to dry and then sort it back into clean cases, and, second, to identify the various types.

To do this, students relied on a specimen provided by the previous owner, which did not include type names, but only cases numbers. Comparing the specimens to both McGrew and Frank Merriman’s ATA Type Comparison Book, as well as other texts, students were left on their own to examine the specific characteristics of each typeface in order to distinguish each from each. As many of the cases contained variants of common faces, this process was not easy, but each student put in the time and effort to make key distinctions and focus in on one or two likely candidates.

From there they began research into the designers, foundries and historical influences, but, as mentioned, these classes are part of a 2-year diploma program at a small community college in a relatively small town. Our library is very humble, but I have a fairly decent collection myself, to which students have access on request.

My recommendation to utilize the Briar Press and Typophile forums was suggested after all of the initial research had been performed. The suggestion that doing so is contrary to good scholarship seems misguided to me: taking the initiative to not simply skim information on the internet, but to actually engage with a community of experienced practitioners is a vital stage in developing as a student of typography and printing. In many cases, students may feel awkward doing so, but I have told them time and again that asking questions is always a good thing. Doing so often leads not only to unexpected answers, but also influential and inspiring connections with other enthusiasts, and, again, in a community as small as ours, the internet is an ideal way to make such connections.

Thus, the queries posed to this forum by the students involve all aspects of scholarly research: investigating potential sources of information; determining which information is relevant and useful; further pursuing good leads and references; and then compiling and developing that information into their final written assignment. All research is expected to be fully documented and cited in these assignments, resulting in a diverse and dynamic list of works cited, which, in turn, builds on students’ bibliographic skills.

I have written this post both to better explain the context of my students’ queries, and also to recognize the hard work they have put into these projects. They are a fine group working with limited resources, and as such I know that they are very grateful for all of the help that has been offered them, as am I.


My compliments on a very thorough introduction to the history of type and a way for the students to get their hands dirty. As the saying goes, it is good to get the other side of the story.

Two summers ago, I had my class do something similar, cleaning and sorting about 70 cases of various sizes donated to the college. We only has three work sessions to do it in because it was not part of the curriculum. But it was a great way to learn about metal type. Briar Press is a wonderful resource for identifying fonts.

It sounds like your students will not only earn their diploma but get a great education from the process.