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Hamilton Wood Type
A new foundry celebrates an old art form

by Angelynn Grant

A wood type revival has been happening over the past few years. In fact, there was a 2011 Kickstarter project called Wood Type Revival that spawned a digital foundry by the same name. Several other wood type-devoted companies have popped up, including Moore Wood Type (moorewoodtype.com), which makes type both digitally and the old-fashioned way: in wood, using traditional methods by a skilled cutter/craftsman. Now P22, the Buffalo, New York-based type foundry, has teamed up with the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum (woodtype.org) in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, as the Hamilton Wood Type Foundry (hamiltonwoodtype.com) to produce a new line of OpenType fonts drawn from the Museum’s vast collection of artifacts and tools that span the history of wood type manufacturing.

The Hamilton Holly Wood Type Company was founded in 1880 by Two Rivers native James Edward Hamilton. He invented a new and much less expensive way of quickly making wood type using holly wood veneer. This manufacturing advantage helped the company eventually buy up all of its major competition and, by the turn of the century, Hamilton was the largest purveyor of wood type in the US. The Hamilton Museum houses over 1.5 million pieces of wood type in more than 1,000 styles, plus the tools to both make and print wood type and an extensive array of twentieth-century advertising cuts. The Museum is overseen by brothers Jim and Bill Moran, as director and artistic director respectively, and has many former Hamilton employees on staff as volunteers. The Morans seem perfectly suited to the helm: their family owned the Quality Print Shop in nearby Green Bay for three generations, which donated presses and other equipment to the Museum, and Bill Moran still runs Blinc Publishing, a St. Paul, Minnesota, design studio that includes letterpress printing.


Detail of Antique Tuscan No. 9 wood type used as source material for a HWT digital release.

In a similar fashion, P22 seems a perfect match for this partnership. For two decades, P22 has specialized in creating digital fonts inspired by historical designs, from Cezanne’s signature to the London Underground typeface. A few years ago, founder Richard Kegler saw that there was a lot of untapped beauty housed in the Museum’s type drawers. “I have known Bill Moran for years, but visited the Museum for the first time only three years ago,” he says. “During my first visit, I encouraged him to consider starting a digital division of the Museum to both raise funds and bring the Museum to a wider audience. He indicated there had been a few people talking about different approaches to digitizing fonts for the benefit of Hamilton, and, in the end, I was a bit surprised when he came back and said they wanted to partner with P22 on this project. That was not my goal in pitching the idea to him, but I was flattered and excited that this might be a project that we take on at P22.”

Their first release, American Chromatic, debuted in September 2012. Quite the technological achievement when it was created in 1857, it had two parts that allowed some areas to overlap to produce three-color effects. Because of recent changes in CSS, similar overlapping tricks are now possible with web fonts and P22 was able to take it even further. The digital font allows more overlapping combinations for multicolor 3-D shadowing effects and optional sprays of stars. “During a visit for TypeCon in July 2012, I saw a box of American Chromatic in a glass cabinet at the Museum and envisioned a synchronicity of using chromatic types as layered digital fonts on the web, specifically for the upcoming US presidential election. So while other designs had already started to be digitized, this one was fast-tracked to be pre-released a couple months before the election. Also the face has a very iconic look that says a lot about the time and place these fonts were originally made,” explains Kegler.

The Museum had a fairly complete set of letters, but, as with all the fonts they will be releasing, the digitizing process required a lot of detective work and extrapolation. “The unique combination that is American Chromatic is really not without plenty of precedent,” notes Kegler. “The base style is a bold Tuscan. The missing characters were extrapolated from similar Tuscans following the same style of American Chromatic. Looking at multiple samples helps to under-stand how the types evolved.”
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.