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Hamilton Wood Type
A new foundry celebrates an old art form

by Angelynn Grant

HWT chose as their second release Borders One, a set of ornate modular borders and “streamers”—banners that originally would have been custom-made with the text reversed out and fitted with decorative end caps. Kegler explains, “The borders were one of the first digitizing projects we started before any specific type designs were chosen. The modularity of ornament systems really interest me in hand-set type. Digitally, it can be easy to build up designs with these pieces. Down the road, we plan to release other border and ornament fonts to complement the alphabetical fonts.”

Introduced in November, Antique Tuscan No. 9 is an extremely condensed face with a hint of mirth in the notched terminals, almost like the gingerbread trim on a Victorian-period house. “We had a very good specimen to work from that included the full upper- and lowercase plus ligatures. We also had access to an actual wooden font with diphthongs and additional punctuation,” says Kegler. “Almost every font we do at P22 has a basic set of approximately 250 characters. The design of characters such as the euro and yen symbols would never have existed in most historical designs, but after spending some time with the base alphabet, there can often be some artistic license to adding missing characters, but for the HWT collection, we are trying to keep the known characters true to their original design.”

Detail of inked Roman Extended Lightface wood type from the collection of the WNY Book Arts Center.

Having the Museum’s rich resources available is a big advantage. Because wood type fonts varied depending upon the pantograph cutter, many references come together to produce these fonts. “This is one of the really fascinating sleuthing aspects of this project,” explains Kegler. “For example, we get to see the patterns at the Museum—patterns are the larger outline blocks from which the pantograph cuts smaller type. Also, it really helps to see multiple impressions of the type in specimen books. Although never more than a few letters of each font are shown, these are arguably the best examples of the typeface to be found in print. They were trying to sell the type and wanted it to look as good as possible. The fact that various manufacturers copied each other’s designs makes for an interesting piecing together of lineage. Ultimately we try to choose one version and use similar designs to help inform the design of missing characters.”

A very different font is HWT’s new Roman Extended Lightface, a gorgeous modern serif with many distinctive grace notes, like the tails on the R and the 2 and, especially, the loop on the lowercase g. This font seems less stylistically bound to the wood type era—more delicate than one would think possible when cut in wood using a pantograph. “The idea from the beginning was to show off a diverse range of what was made,” Kegler reveals. “Most wood type found in printshops are the standard Gothics used for headlines and posters. Our first releases intentionally span a range of extremes. And coming up will be some more surprises.


Detail of inked Page American Chromatic typeface from the Hamilton Collection.

“There are at least twelve distinct releases in the works,” elaborates Kegler about the game plan. “We first try to determine what designs are in the Hamilton Collection or are historically part of the designs that were owned by Hamilton. Next we try to determine which fonts have already been digitized and to what level of success. For example, Antique Tuscan No. 9 has at least two other digitizations out there in the world, but they have no lowercase. We felt that justified a new digitization for a more flexible design. Some future releases will include Gothics as well as what some people might call crazy circus alphabets. The multilayer chromatics were truly a feat of manufacturing in the 1800s and we hope to see designers working with our releases on both historical pastiche as well as innovating with designs no one has ever expected.”

Although only a few months old, the Hamilton Wood Type Foundry has had great initial buzz. But, sadly, just as the new partnership got off the ground, the Museum received news that they had to relocate. “In some ways the project has been overshadowed by the unfortunate development of the Museum itself needing to move and raise funds to do so,” Kegler says. Although now temporarily closed, the Museum plans to stay in Two Rivers and reopen this summer. Kegler looks on the bright side: “A new Museum location should present a fresh approach to the organization, documentation and display of the collection. We’re not only very happy to be part of this next phase of the Museum, we look forward to seeing what designers do with each release.” ca

Editor’s note: At press, the Museum has a new home—with a stunning view of Lake Michigan.
http://image.commarts.com/Images1/5/8/3/38587_54_0_MTYyNTQ2OTg1LTMxMzEzMzA1MQ.jpgAngelynn Grant
Angelynn Grant is a Boston-based graphic designer, writer and educator. She has taught at Rhode Island School of Design, the Art Institute of Boston, Simmons College and MIT. You can e-mail her at designsharp@angelynngrant.com. In addition, Grant is the host of a jazz program on MIT radio, WMBR.