Friday, September 14, 2012

Extinct Typefaces

Can typefaces become extinct, like dinosaurs? Not quite, but they can become hard to find. Computers offer fonts galore. But one of the delights of being a letterpress printer is the ability to use fonts that are available only in metal or wood. Personally I love using typefaces you can’t find in font software or on the Internet. That way nobody will pick up my letterpress printing and say, “Did you do this on your computer?” Ouch! Not the best thing to say to someone who’s spent hours setting slivers of metal type by hand.

Here are a few of my favorite extinct typefaces. These are creations of the 19th century, though some more modern faces have become extinct, too.

Scribner, illustrated above and at the top of this page, can best be described as eccentric. The wiggly, curlicued letters, designed by the Central Type Foundry of St. Louis in 1883, seem to wander all over the place. Below is a piece we printed that takes advantage of this tendency.
The “Attitudes” piece above is printed in Grolier, an elegant MacKellar, Smiths, and Jordan script from 1887 designed by Herman Ihlenberg. This lovely face is hard to find, sadly. My husband Bob and I have metal fonts of it in 12, 18, and 24 point. Its fragile kerns have held up over time thanks to careful storage and babying. The design is timeless, as beautiful in the 21st century as when it was created. Below is a valentine that shows off some of Grolier’s gorgeous capital letters.

Vertical Writing is another favorite of mine that you don’t find available very often. Joseph W. Phinney patented it 1898 for the Boston branch of American Type Founders. Designed to look like informal 19th century handwriting, its letters appear to be fully connected and widely spaced. It’s surprisingly legible, and quite charming in an old-fashioned way.
If you’re sad because you don’t have “extinct typefaces” at your disposal, there’s a way to remedy that. Some of the older fonts are being recast and are available again.

One of my favorites is Freak, recently produced by Sky Shipley of Skyline Type Foundry This wildly eccentric 1889 gem is pictured below.

Yes, fonts are fun, and especially if you’re using one that very few people commonly see. Using extinct typefaces is a big perk of letterpress printing. It’s great to be able to share them with the world!


  1. There's something unique about each one that I really like. Your posts are always so interesting and I always learn more things about letterpress.

  2. Really like your postings, especially the one about your dad. I'm another dad named Gary, and my daughter also shares my interest. She's now a budding designer in this new digital print age, but the commonalities are the same. Thanks for sharing....I'd follow, but the sign-up is much too confusing. I am a blog spot member, but I do not use aim or yahoo or google, which apparently you must in order to follow. I had thought that just being a blogspot blogger was enough....heh, I might be missing something. Old age, I guess. :)

    Anyway, good stuff, Carole!