KENNETH DEZHNEV - DEZHNEV & CO., INC. - Graphic Communications Consulting
















last update 3/19/17



(preliminary notes on terminology, and on choosing type books)
Foundry Specimen Books of Primary Importance
Additional Foundry Specimen Books (Metal)
Wood Type













(See also “Reading About Type”, below.)



This is an annotated bibliography of selections from my compulsive reading over the past fifty years—books that I would recommend to others in the book arts. Its main focus is on type and typography (my lifelong specialty), printing, the editorial aspects of communications, trade history, and the scholarly and linguistic underpinnings of graphic communications.
If you’ve been at this for less than fifty years, you shouldn’t feel that you ought to have read, or even heard of, all the books listed here, or even a large fraction of them.
    This page has grown to be sort of a grand tour of the technology and techniques of graphic communications, and of their “philosophical” underpinnings, with an emphasis on typography as a craft and a vehicle for communication. I suggest that you use it first as a grand tour, looking over the entire page from top to bottom. I know of no other resource that I could recommend for such a use. Once you have an idea of what’s out there, you’ll be much better able to chart your course.
    For many of the older books, I have provided download links to free PDFs. See “About the PDF links,” below.
I have made no attempt at exhaustive completeness, but there is a good selection of the prime essentials, and many other worthwhile books. I am still discovering valuable books that I didn’t know about, including some of the first importance. I have found myself updating this page very frequently.
In the field of typography, I have probably come about as close to completeness as is possible in fifty years. In that field, I have read and used many more books than are listed here. I have not wasted space here on books that would be a waste of time for the reader. There are a great many such books, representing medocrity, narcissistic amateurism, and self-promotion. In typography and graphic communications, expertise can come only with active discrimination.


The division into topical sections is for the convenience of those looking for particular types of information, but it should not be taken too seriously: there’s a lot of overlap. In a few cases, I have duplicated entries where they are important in more than one subject head.
For many of the most important books, I’ve included shopping tips based on my own recent experience. At the end of the page, there is also some general shopping advice for print books and e-books.
I’ve marked many of the books for priority:
*** Essentials that should probably be on the shelves of every serious typographer (or, where the books are too scarce or expensive, that a serious typographer should search out in a library). I have provided links to free PDFs of some of them.
§   Essential for those involved in the subject area of the book.
**  Other books I highly recommend—mainly about type, which is my specialty.
*   Books that are valuable for every practitioner but especially for people at the beginning of their involvement in type.
†   One or two books are marked with a warning dagger.
Unmarked books are books I have read and think well of, including some that I strongly recommend but that are not readily findable or that I just didn’t think to put stars on. There are a few books listed that I have not read (I note this in the entries), but are here because they look like they’re of particular interest.

About the PDF links:
    Some of the book listings have links to free PDF downloads. These PDFs are usually largeish files, and when you click the direct links to PDFs, including the direct downloads from this site, it may take a minute for the file to appear.
    I’ve tried to be selective about the quality of the PDFs linked here. (Free e-books in other formats, especially books with illustrations, are often not even minimally usable.) I’ve at least checked through most of them, to verify that all the pages are there and readable.
    Where the PDF can be downloaded without complications, I have usually provided a link to the site, to give them credit for the clicks. I try to give preference to the sites of people or organizations who originally posted the PDF.
    I have provided direct downloads, from this site, for some PDFs originally posted on sites that add complications to the download process. Notable among these is GoogleBooks, which tries to trick you into signing up for something when you download free e-books, even though it’s possible to download without any sign-up, by left-clicking AND HOLDING on the “e-book - free” button.
    Another nuisance, however well-intentioned, is Hathi Trust, which clutters the search results but requires some sort of membership before you can download full PDFs—even when they’re public domain, digitized by Google, and freely available elsewhere. A number of very dubious-looking third-party sites are springing up that do the same.



As with all heavily factual technical reading, in the crafts or in other fields, the idea is not that you should memorize these books. The first time around, it’s more a question of seeing what’s there—of getting an overview of all of it, and getting a feel for the range of knowledge available, and how it hangs together. This is done by reading the books through, or examining all the type specimens in a book and the ways they are named and described.
    This by itself will change your perspective and advance your understanding. And you will know where to find the detail when you want it again. Soon enough, as you use the information for work, the most important points will stick in your memory, and eventually a lot of the rest will too.

As for books of typeface specimens, by far the most instructive and useful ones are the specimen books issued by the major foundries themselves. (This is true of digital type as well as metal type.) These books should be the first resort of all who are involved in typography, whether students or old pros. There’s really no substitute.
    Unfortunately, these resources have always been far less well-known and well-circulated than they should be, and have been almost totally unknown to people outside the typographic trades. (Graphic designers, in particular, hardly know they exist.) Even within the trade, they were rarely seen outside the premises of the type shops themselves.
    Foundry specimen books are, however, virtually the only comprehensive, authoritative, and accurate sources for typeface showings, typeface names, and other font data. Of non-foundry specimen books, perhaps only the books by McGrew, Merriman, and Perfect & Rookledge belong in the same class (as does Kelly’s for wood type).
    Specimen books issued by typesetting shops can be useful as well, and some of them are very well done. However, while they may show a very wide range of faces, their information about individual typefaces and fonts is likely to be incomplete or absent. Even the information on typeface names may be inferior to that in the foundry books. They should be resorted to only if the relevant foundry books, and McGrew, are not available.

There is another genre of specimen books that might be called, to borrow a usage from humanities studies, “secondary literature.” These books cover selected typefaces only, though sometimes a great many of them. While foundry books cover the entire output of a given foundry, including many faces that are of minor interest even to most professional readers, the secondary specimen books select faces from multiple foundries. The nature and usefulness of the selection varies with the intent of the book—and with the competence of the author.
    Good secondary type books give showings of typefaces that have proven to be of enduring interest, with historical and other information about each face. The two essential ones are Mac McGrew’s American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century, for typefaces of the metal era, and Rob Roy Kelly’s American Wood Type: 1828–1900, for wood type. I know of no books of comparable thoroughness and accuracy on digital typefaces. I suspect that, for business, social, psychological, and legal reasons, no such book can or will be written while a given technology is current. Perhaps that is why McGrew’s and Kelly’s books also postdated the technologies they covered.
    No other secondary specimen books approach the value of McGrew’s and Kelly’s for learning and general reference. There are others of real, but more limited, general usefulness, which can provide information not found in McGrew or Kelly. A number of these are described below.

Also notable among the secondary specimen books listed below are a few that are intended as aids to identifying typefaces. By necessity, each of these contains showings of a very large number of more-or-less important faces, and organizes them in a way that is useful not only for identifying specific faces but also for learning about how typefaces vary, and learning how to recognize them. Probably the most important of these books is Perfect & Rookledge’s Rookledge’s International Typefinder (1991). Also quite valuable (and obtainable) is Merriman’s A.T.A. Type Comparison Book (1965).

The books listed in the “Typographic & Printing History” and “General Typography; Typographic Criticism” sections, below, will provide more in-depth and broadly-based perspectives on the history of typefaces and the theoretical aspects of typeface design. I particularly recommend the books by Updike, Lawson, and Tracy as starting points for the learner, and as ongoing reference points for the professional.

As regards actually doing things with type, important resources are to be found in the section below on “The Composing Room: Practical Typography”. Later on, I may find some books to include in the presently empty section on “Digital Typography”. There is also a section on “Presses and Presswork”.
    The “Typecasting Technology” section is particularly unpretentious, but includes links to sites with better resources.
    There is also a section containing a few standard books on bookbinding, a craft in which I am a beginner.
    The page ends with a section on resources for finding and buying books on the book arts, and some shopping tips.

The low end:
I have read or inspected many more books than are listed here: books about all aspects of type, and specimen books of all kinds, including foundry books of secondary importance, and type shop specimen books.
     On this page, I exclude the worthless, the superficial, and the mediocre. That accounts for most of what’s been written about type (and language).
     Typography is a more demanding craft than most people think, but it is not quantum physics. In the old type shops, a novice working in a top-end shop, putting in long hours under heavy workloads in the company of hardened and outspoken veteran typographers, could become an expert in five years if he or she had the desire. The main obstacle to learning typography, and to working well and easily with type, is the huge body of misinformation generated over the past fifty-odd years by graphic designers. Beware especially of writings on type by designers from the 1960s or later—including ostensibly authoritative reference books and books that purport to discuss nuts-and-bolts technology and techniques. Earlier designers were a mixed bag, but many understood type well, and some understood technology. Things changed in the early 60s.
    Of the many secondary specimen books I have seen, most deserve no attention. They range in quality from badly inaccurate to mediocre, in range of typefaces covered from trivial to moderately useful. Many are seriously misleading, through gross error, selectivity, or ignorance of key context. Where they contain useful and accurate information, they are heavily derivative, often at several removes, from better books—many or most of which are listed here. A great deal of the typeface information found on the Web, and many of the type showings, are lifted directly from McGrew’s American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century, listed below.
    The situation is the same with books (or other information) about any other aspect of type. Many are erroneous and misleading, sometimes grossly so. What valid information they contain was taken from other books written by people who were involved intimately on a day-to-day basis with many or most sides of typography. This information is best looked for in the original sources. Again, many or most of those original sources are listed on this page.


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Bookbinding  |  Other Books  |  Other Resources  |  TOP



For information about the major foundries, see The Major Foundries (Metal And Digital) Of The Past Century, on the History page of this site. For suggestions on finding foundry specimen books, see Other Book Links Pages And Book Resources, below.

Note on terminology: the two senses of “foundry.”
    In professional typographic usage, “foundry” can have either of two senses. Context will normally indicate which is meant. (Hopefully it will, anyway.)
    In the wider typographic sense, a foundry is any manufacturer of type in any form, including metal, digital, film, and, sometimes at least, even wood.
    In the narrow sense, “foundry type” is type cast specifically for handsetting, and only that type which is cast on a Barth or similar typecasting machine (in the 20th century), or the Bruce pivotal casters or similar machine used in the 1800s. The term “foundry type” is used to distinguish type cast by these methods from type cast on Monotype machines.
    The distinction was and remains important, because foundry type, if it’s in in good shape, is superior to Monotype when the type is to be set by hand, and especially when it is to be re-used over the long term. (This is partly because foundry type stays in in good shape longer.)
    For more detail on this distinction and its technological background, see the article “Foundry” and “Foundry Type” in the Composing Room section of this site. (If you get het up from either perspective about the question of foundry type versus Monotype, definitely read the article before you start saying anything. It could save you some embarrassment.)

Shopping for foundry specimen books:
    For the study of typefaces (metal and digital), the most important foundries are: ATF (American Type Founders), British Monotype, Lanston (American) Monotype, Linotype (metal and digital), Monotype’s digital offerings, and Adobe. Ludlow, a specialized metal process, was also an important source of original display faces.
    The most accessible, for purchase, may be old copies of specimen books from digital foundries: Adobe, and digital offerings from Linotype and Monotype. Adobe and Monotype also have current specimen books available. These will include many digital issues of classic metal faces.
    Books (and websites) from most other American digital foundries may (or may not) show original faces of interest, but are normally of little use for learning and study—they may have only very limited selections of novelty faces, they often don’t use the common names for typefaces, and many show poor-quality rip-offs of original type designs, or loose adaptations based (without attribution) on older originals. Some websites do have much useful information, but this is often lifted directly from McGrew’s American Metal Typefaces, below.
    ATF specimen books are collectors’ items. Specimen books from the American type foundries of the 19th century, and from European foundries producing hand-set type in the 19th and 20th centuries, are rarely seen today in the U.S., and expensive to purchase. Of the typefaces that are most important for current study, many are covered by re-issues from one of the metal or digital foundries mentioned above, or by McGrew (note especially his section on imports, at the back of the book). Many important European typefaces were imported by ATF.
    Many fundamental conventions about typefaces changed radically around the beginning of the 1900s, including naming practices and even the notion of “typeface”. So type books from before that time are not the best learning tool for current practice. They are a lot of fun, though, and instructive in many other ways. Affordable reprints of some nineteenth-century American wood and metal type specimen books are available from the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum. Many others are available as free downloadable PDFs, if you know what names to look for. I’ve linked to some of these PDFs on this page.



(These are the most important and useful foundry specimen books for those interested in type in general. A selection of other foundry specimen books is given in a separate section, below.)

Metal (handset & hot metal)

*** ATF (AMERICAN TYPE FOUNDERS) 1912 specimen book, main page for the book, with all available formats.
    The 1912 book, and the even more massive 1923 specimen book (1148 pages), were ATF’s two great catalogues. As far as I know, the 1923 book has never been digitized. ( has a poor or useless document in a problematic format representing the 1923 book.)
    ATF was all but synonymous with handset foundry type in the U.S. in the 1900s. (Monotype provided another wide range of faces for handsetting, though these were not “foundry” type in the strictest sense of the term. Some foundry type was also imported from Europe.)

    The British Monotype company. As regards typefaces, they were more important and more famous than the American Monotype company.
    This is the big gap in this collection of links—I have been unable to find any digitized comprehensive specimen book of theirs. There probably never was one— they issued their specimens in single sheets, which their customers would put in a binder.
    A great many Monotype faces are to be found in McGrew (below). The MCBA library has a collection of single-sheet Monotype specimens, assembled by Archie Little and bound in one (very thick) volume. These are mainly from British Monotype, and there’s other interesting stuff bound in with them. The library also has at least one type shop specimen book with extensive showings of Monotype faces.

    This is the American Monotype company—the original Monotype company. Though there was some cross-licensing and cross-sales between the American and British Monotype companies, their typeface development programs, and the names and series numbers of their faces, are generally separate and unrelated.

The Monotype Specimen Book of Type Faces. Philadelphia, PA: Lanston Monotype Machine Co., 1922., main page for the book, with all available formats.

Selected Specimen Book Pages Set in Monotype Faces, Distributed by the Lanston Monotype Machine Co. 3 volumes. Philadelphia, PA: Lanston Monotype Machine Co., n.d. (1937–40).
    Dating: The introduction to vol. 3 makes it clear that the first two volumes had been issued before vol. 3 came out. In the three volumes, dates are given for a number of the faces; the latest date mentioned is 1937; no later dates appear in any context. The copy for Post Text (vol. 2) mentions “recent” additions; these may be additions dated by McGrew to 1939. The undated faces I checked are from years earlier than 1937; the rest are all old designs. Sol Hess is referred to in v. 1 as Assistant Art Director, and Goudy as Art Director; Hess succeeded Goudy in 1940.

Monotype Faces for Use in Advertising. Philadelphia, PA: Lanston Monotype Machine Co., n.d. (1937 at earliest, probably no later than 38).
    The emphasis on advertising consists, not in the nature of the faces shown, which are mainly text faces, but in the showing of display sizes. This was in line with the typical advertising typography of the time. Display typography was still largely the province of handsetting, and the production of faces exclusively for display was therefore perhaps consdered to be the specialty of the producers of foundry type.
    Dating: No earlier than 1937, when 20th-Century Extrabold Condensed, shown in the book, was designed by Sol Hess. Hess’s later additions to the 20th-Century family, including one issued in 1938, are not shown, and none of his many other later display faces for Lanston are shown. Many, but not all, of his earlier Lanston faces are shown. Very few non–text-based display faces are shown. The Wire-O binding used in the book was introduced in 1935.

Monotype Display Faces. Philadelphia, PA: Lanston Monotype Machine Co., n.d. (1941–44).
    A 30-page brochure of one-line specimens.
    Dating: As far as I can tell without checking every single face shown, the latest faces shown are Squareface and Stylescript (both 1940), and Twentieth Century Ultrabold (1941). All the other faces I didn’t check seem to be older designs. The later modifications of Twentieth Century (1944 and 1947) are not shown. However, Artscript is shown; according to McGrew this face was designed by Hess in 1939, “but not released until 1948 because of wartime restrictions.” I doubt that the additions to the Twentieth Century family would have been omitted if the brochure had been published after 1944, especially since one of them (Ultrabold Italic, 1947) was the italic of a weight released before the war. So either McGrew was mistaken or, more likely, the showing was published but the face was pulled shortly afterward due to the restrictions, to be officially released only in 1948.

Tolbert Lanston’s Type Bible. Northfield, MA: Swamp Press, 2013.
    A composite reprint of type showings from many Lanston specimens, available on a print-on-demand basis from Swamp Press, a fine press printer and Monotype foundry. E-mail Swamp Press to order. I haven’t seen this book; David MacMillan of CircuitousRoot posted a review of it in the Briar Press forum.


Specimen Book of Linotype Faces [1939]
The last great specimen book issued by Linotype.
download page at CircuitousRoot (This is a page with links to sections of the book that have been scanned so far; much of the book has not yet been scanned as of early 2016.)

Manual of Linotype Typography (1923)
Opulent specimen of book faces and sample book pages, to demonstrate the use of Linotype for fine book setting, a market that Monotype had come to dominate. direct link to PDF

LUDLOW specimen book (no date, probably from 1958)
    Ludlow was the maker of a typecasting machine for display type, and an important source of typeface designs in the mid-1900s. main page for the book, with all available formats.
Links to earlier Ludlow specimens at Circuitous Root


    The VGC Phototypositor machine, commonly referred to as the “Typositor”, succeeded Ludlow as the standard for display type production, and was in common use from the 1960s into the early 1990s. I haven’t noticed any Typositor specimen books circulating used. If you find one, it could be worth having. The VGC catalogs contain clear, full-alphabet showings of a large collection of fine display faces.
    Another source of film fonts for the Typositor machine was Castcraft of Chicago, referred to as “Chicago.” Castcraft began as a metal foundry. Their Typositor fonts (and their later digital fonts) were of famously poor quality, but their bulky, comb-bound specimen book showed almost every typeface of the previous century (if you can identify them behind the screen of bogus names), so it can be a useful informational link for those who want to develop an encyclopedic knowledge of typefaces and don’t know where to stop.
    For more information about Typositor fonts, see the Major Foundries section of the History page.

    A famous display photo-typesetting shop in New York City, which used its own proprietary machines and fonts. They revived many old display faces, and created many new ones. Many of these faces were later produced as digital fonts, and are still available.
    Photo-Lettering’s major catalogs were a study in the visual possibilities of display type. Their most commonly seen specimen book was the desk edition: Photo-Lettering’s One-Line Manual of Styles, published by Van Nostrand Reinhold. (The latest copyright date on my copy is 1971.) This book also functioned as an index to their Alphabet Thesaurus, published in three large hardcover volumes, which gave more extensive showings of the faces and optical modifications. Photo-Lettering also issued annual yearbooks showing new fonts.
    For more information about Photo-Lettering, see the Major Foundries section of the History page.


    Adobe Type Library Reference Book, 4th Edition, 2011. Watermarked e-book, $28.79. (Watermarked e-book is non-DRM, apparently with much less troublesome restrictions.)

    Monotype is the other digital foundry of primary importance. With the exception of Adobe, Monotype’s digital type operation has absorbed all the other major digital foundries, including, in 2006, Linotype. Monotype’s digital offerings thus carry on many of the finest typefaces of the metal era. Monotype continues an active design program producing new faces.
    I don’t have a specimen book link. Here’s a link to their company website.

independent digital foundries
    Some independent digital foundries do interesting and useful things, but neither any of them individually nor all of them together are important typographic resources on the order of Adobe and Monotype. This is especially true from the perspective of typeface design.
    Production of quality fonts demands an exceptional amount of typographic expertise, technical knowledge, time, and mind-numbing drudgery. Not least because there are so many excellent faces out there already, there isn’t much money in just designing quality faces and producing fonts, so it’s a sideline for many or most independents, and probably just a hobby for some. (There may now be some money for a few in designing fonts that high-paying corporate customers want.) Few people have the knowledge and resources needed to produce good faces and fonts. Even fewer have the time and resources to produce quality fonts of more than a few faces (other than display faces with limited character sets). A quality font family for a text face can take years. From what I’ve seen, experienced typographers will recognize the output of independents as belonging to one of the following categories (listed here in rough order of numerical importance):
    1) imitations of typefaces produced by the major foundries (and publicized with no hint of their derivative nature)
    2) trivial display faces (often imitations of earlier ones) that demand very little of their producers
    3) out-and-out garbage
    4) valuable faces that fill a design or technical niche, or revive interesting historical faces (P22 Type Foundry has a notable line of revivals)
    5) fine faces produced as labors of love without regard to the market, usually at considerable sacrifice and always in very small numbers.
    Categories 1–3, by far the most numerous, are rarely used by competent typographers. They exist because the great majority of designers have almost no knowledge of the quality fonts that have been around for years, are addicted to novelty as a substitute for knowledge, and wouldn’t pay for quality anyway.

ADDITIONAL FOUNDRY SPECIMEN BOOKS—(all are for metal type, so far)

(A separate list, above, gives foundry specimen books of primary importance to typographers today. The following is a list of other important and interesting specimen books that happen to have come to my attention and that I have been able to inspect. Some are of considerable historic importance.)

Annenberg, Maurice. Type Foundries of America and Their Catalogs. 2nd ed., with additions and an introduction by Stephen O. Saxe and an index by Elizabeth K. Lieberman. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 1994.
    The definitive list of American foundry specimen books. Most of the book consists of historical information on the foundries, with many very interesting pages reproduced from the catalogs. In print from Oak Knoll Press.

“BB&S” for short. An important American foundry. After holding out as independents for years, they were finally bought by ATF in 1911, but continued to operate independently under their own name into the late 1920s. From 1916 into the mid 1920s, BB&S maintained a vigorous program of developing type designs (usually as full typeface families with a range of weights and modifications), along with typographic ornaments and special fonts. A number of those faces have continued in use. The best-known of their faces today is Cooper Black, issued as a display weight of the regular-weight Cooper.
Type Faces [etc.] Catalog 25-A. Chicago: Barnhart Brothers & Spindler, 1925.
An impressive catalog showing the fruits of the abovementioned type design program. Annenberg calls it “the finest book produced by BB&S.” In addition to extensive systematic showings, it contains many examples of the faces in use. It was also their last specimen book. (There were two versions of the catalog: #25 and #25-A. #25 includes the machinery section, #25-A does not, but is otherwise the same. Annenberg’s remark is about #25. My copy is #25-A. #25-A does contain an interesting section of smaller equipment and accessories.)
BB&S’s 1907 catalog No. 9, the last before the sale to ATF, is a massive book on the scale of ATF’s 1912 catalog. It contains an extensive section on machinery and equipment, and makes for very interesting browsing. MCBA has a copy.

MILLER & RICHARD, 1922 specimen book
An important British foundry.
download page at CircuitousRoot

JAMES CONNOR’S SONS (United States Type Foundry). Abridged Specimens of Printing Types, Brass Rule, Electrotypes, and Revised Catalogue of Printing Materials (1888). Abridged reprint, with introduction by Rich Hopkins: Terra Alta, WV: Pioneer Press of West Virginia, (n.d.). Original publication: NY: The United States Type Foundry, 1888.
    This reprint contains about half of the pages in the original book. Along with many attractive types and cuts, the concise but comprehensive section on printing equipment is of interest.
    Available from the Hamilton Wood Type Museum. (The original is from the collection of David Peat; the reproductions are published by Richard Hopkins.)

FARMER, LITTLE & CO. (1887): specimen book & equipment catalogue.
direct download from this site. This is the Google PDF, but I’ve deleted thirteen totally blank pages and two shots of the scanner lid.
Google download page. Left-click AND HOLD on the “e-book - free” button.

MACKELLAR, SMITHS, & JORDAN. Book of Specimens (1869). Abridged reprint, with introduction by Rich Hopkins: Terra Alta, WV: Pioneer Press of West Virginia, 1997. Original publication: Philadelphia: MacKellar, Smiths, & Jordan, 1869.
    MacKellar, Smiths, & Jordan was one of the most important type foundries of the 1800s. Among other things, the book is notable for the indulgence of humor in the text of the specimens.
    Available from the Hamilton Wood Type Museum. (The original is from the collection of David Peat; the reproductions are published by Richard Hopkins.)

BOSTON TYPE FOUNDRY Old-time Advertising Cuts and Typography: 184 Plates from the Boston Type and Stereotype Foundry (1832). Edited by Stephen O. Saxe. New York: Dover, 1989.
    A nearly complete reprint of the 1832 catalog of this important foundry. Text and display showings, borders, ornaments, and many cuts. Saxe’s introduction, though brief, is meaty and illuminating. Readily available used, and inexpensive. Apparently out of print. A web search produces many listings for suspicious-looking sites that offer the book in PDF and DOC formats.

A.W. KINSLEY & CO. A Specimen of Printing Types (1829). UNabridged reprint, with introduction by Rich Hopkins: Terra Alta, WV: Pioneer Press of West Virginia, 2001. Original publication: Albany, NY: A.W. Kinsley & Co., 1829.
    Complete reprint of this very rare specimen book, which showed an assortment of faces that was unusually large for its time, despite the fact that Kinsey’s foundry was only in business for six years. The faces include many large display faces that predate the wood-type era.
    Available from the Hamilton Wood Type Museum. (The original is from the collection of David Peat; the reproductions are published by Richard Hopkins.)

BINNY & RONALDSON, 1812 specimen book
The first important U.S. typefoundry, founded in 1796 in Philadelphia. The 1812 book was the first foundry specimen book issued in the United States.
download page at CircuitousRoot

For information about the Caslon foundries, see the Foundries page in the History section.

William Caslon I specimen sheet, a 1738 reprint of the 1734 specimen.
Wikipedia: jpeg image (Updike gives 1738 as the date of the Cyclopedia reprint, in context that corroborates the date; Wikipedia’s date of 1728 is apparently erroneous.)

William Caslon III specimen book, 1798 main page for the book, with all available formats.


Type  |  Composing Room  |  Editing  |  Typecasting  |  Presswork  |  History  |  General  |  Digital
Bookbinding  |  Other Books  |  Other Resources  |  TOP



* and *** McGrew, Mac. American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century. 2nd, revised, edition. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Books, 1993. (First edition: New Rochelle, NY: Myriade Press, 1986.)
    If you are seriously interested in type—metal or digital—I strongly recommend that you buy your own copy of American Metal Typefaces, and then read it straight through. You may want to start out by reading all the “Typographic Tidbits” scattered among the typeface showings—these cover a lot of the essential technical basics of type and typefaces; they are listed in the table of contents. Then read the appendixes, for further essential basics.
    This book is the unattributed source of a very large proportion of the typeface information you will find on the Web, which is often lifted word-for-word from McGrew, with scans of his full-alphabet specimens (many of which were prepared specially for this book). Having the book will save you much time, nonsense, and distraction, and give you better image quality. Reading and using it will put you on an equal footing with many so-called experts. If you buy digital fonts, it will probably save you money, too, by steering you away from less authoritative copies of faces, which may be inadequate for quality work.
    McGrew created the most useful single reference on metal type, with carefully labeled typeface showings, histories of the typeface and its re-issues and imitations, and lots of extremely valuable technical information on the faces that is not readily available elsewhere. The information is also remarkably accurate.
    It is also perhaps the best introduction to typefaces and typeface names: no other single source will give you such a good picture of the field, and of the facts that are essential to understanding it.
    The collection is amazingly comprehensive. The metal faces produced in the U.S. in the 20th century account for almost all the faces of concern to typographers in the U.S., and especially to lead typographers. I’m not sure I’ve ever looked for any such face in this book without finding it, and I look for a lot of obscure ones. There is also an appendix showing many popular metal faces from European foundries. Faces issued in Europe that are not covered here are mainly the European foundry versions (often very fine and important) of the old standards, and oddball display faces. (Showings of European metal faces of even marginal importance are likely to be found in the digital specimen books of Adobe and Monotype. Jaspert, Berry, and Johnson’s Encyclopedia of Typefaces may have some not covered by McGrew, or more information about some he does cover.)
    There is a copy in the composing room at MCBA. The book is in print from Oak Knoll Press. It may seem pricey at $65 for a paperback. But it’s worth saving for, instead of wasting time and money on less expensive books that will be much less useful and much less reliable.
    The less expensive books won’t be much less expensive in any case. Good type books are expensive to produce. The less expensive and most readily available ones are often a good deal worse than useless—they can be seriously misleading, and often inaccurate as to the most basic matters. (The same is true, in spades, of information you find on the Web, though there is good info there, too, if you know how to judge it. Most of the good info on the Web, however, comes from McGrew.)

** Merriman, Frank. A.T.A. Type Comparison Book. (no place): Advertising Typographers Association of America, 1965.
    Meant as a tool for typeface selection and identification, but also valuable for learning and study, since it is a type book of rare excellence, precision, and intelligence. A predecessor to Rookledge’s International Typefinder, below. Typefaces are arranged in a spectrum, so you can see a remarkable continuity of styles, and then look closer and see the differences that distinguish the faces. The book uses a valuable approach to typeface classification. (Most systems of typeface classification are too poorly founded and/or too general to be of much practical use.) There is also information on the typeface sources, modifications available, alternate names, and some history.
    Long out of print, but it seems to be less well known than other important type books, and so can be found on the Web at quite affordable prices, from $15 (and also at much higher prices). I suggest that you get yours while this is still true.

** Perfect, Christopher, & Gordon Rookledge. Rookledge’s International Typefinder. Second ed. Moyer Bell: 1991. (First edition: London: Sarema Press, 1983.)
    Designed specifically as a tool for identifying typefaces. It is worth familiarizing yourself with the book and how it works. It is an excellent way to learn to see the fine points often needed to distinguish one face from another, especially when you have only a limited sample of the face to be identified. Valuable also as an extensive collection of type specimens, though there is no historical information about the faces. I know of nothing else like it except Merriman’s A.T.A. Type Comparison Book (above).
    There is a copy of the first edition on the composing room bookshelf at MCBA, and another in the MCBA library. Both editions seem to be out of print. I haven’t seen the second edition; the first is extremely useful and a unique resource. One or the other edition is available used on the Web; prices seen start at $20, but tend to be much higher. The copy in the MCBA composing room is one that I found on the clearance shelf at Half-Price Books, for a buck or two.

Jaspert, W. Pincus; W. Turner Berry; A.F. Johnson. The Encyclopedia of Typefaces. Fifth ed. Seven Dials: 2009. (Fourth ed. Poole UK: Blandford Press, 1983.)
    I haven’t seen the fifth edition; mine is the fourth. Much was added in each successive edition, so the latest is the one to look for, but the fourth is certainly valuable, though readers have noted a number of inaccuracies in the fourth and previous editions. (The fourth has a list of corrections in the front of the book.) A famous reference, ground-breaking when it first appeared. European typefaces are better represented than in McGrew. Not, however, in any way a substitute for McGrew as a learning tool or as a reference.

Gray, Nicolette. Nineteenth Century Ornamented Types and Title Pages. London: Faber & Faber, 1951 (“second impression”; first printing 1938; the jacket flap copy refers to it as “a new edition”).
    The subject is English types, mainly metal type, but the book is often cited for the history of the display letterforms used in wood type. Thorough, well-produced, fun to look at, and sometimes insightful. However, Gray’s judgments of type tend to be subjective and superficial, and much of the detail is the detailed expression of subjective impressions and superficial judgments. Gray’s notions of typographic history, and history generally, are often half-educated.
    There was a 1976 edition, Nineteenth Century Ornamented Types, with the author’s first name spelled with one “t” (she had changed the spelling), omitting the section on title page design and adding a chapter, by Ray Nash, on American ornamented types.

Less obtainable, but worth searching out if you have the time, are the following:

Karch, R. Randolph. How to Recognize Typefaces. Bloomington, IL: McKnight & McKnight Publishing, 1952.
    Meant as a tool for identifying typefaces, rather than as a specimen book—it doesn’t show full alphabets. Remarkably thorough. The only book I’ve seen that is comparable to the books by Rookledge and Merriman (above) for detail and systematic arrangement.

Lawson, Alexander, and Archie Provan. 100 Type Histories. 2 volumes. Arlington, VA: National Composition Association, 1983.
    Histories and showings.

The books listed above should be the priorities for acquisition and reading. There are other specimen collections of merit, but of secondary importance, including:

Sutton, James, and Alan Bartram. An Atlas of Type Forms. Secaucus, NJ: Chartwell Books, 1988. (Original edition, 1968.)
    The large-size comparative showings are particularly helpful for comparing related typefaces.
    The 1988 book has been succeeded by an updated and expanded version, which I have not seen, under a new title:
Bartram, Alan. Typeforms: a History. New Castle, Delaware and London: Oak Knoll Press and The British Library, 2007.
    Still in print from Oak Knoll as of 4/16.

Precision Type, Font Reference Guide.
    Precision Type was a digital font reseller that was an important source for a decade or so up to 2004. I have “version 5.0” of their catalog, from 1995; this may be the most common one. If you find one at a good price, it could be a useful acquisition, though not as straightforward to use as a single-foundry book. It was widely circulated, so copies do turn up; they can be found on the Web for a wide range of prices.

Biegeleisen, J.I. Handbook of Typefaces and Lettering. 4th ed. New York: Arco Publishing, 1982.
    Includes historical information on many of the typefaces shown.

Wallis, Lawrence. Modern Encyclopedia of Typefaces: 1960–1990. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1990.
    Complete alphabet showings of all modifications of many characteristic faces of that era.


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WOOD TYPE (foundry specimen books and “secondary” specimen books)

*** and §   Kelly, Rob Roy. American Wood Type: 1828–1900: Notes on the Evolution of Decorated and Large Types. NY: Da Capo, 1977 (reprint of original publication: NY: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1969).
    Currently in print from: Saratoga, CA: Liber Apertus Press, 2010; $35;
    There are several copies in the MCBA library.
    The standard reference on American wood type since its publication in 1969. Extensive showings, careful research, and fun to read through. One of a very few books on wood type, impressively covering about as much ground as is humanly possible in this little-known, messy, and poorly-documented field.
    The design and technical history is broken up into chapters treating successive periods of the wood type era. This means that the information is a bit scattered for detailed study of the faces on a stylistic basis, but the information is there.
    The industrial production of wood type began in the U.S., so this part of the history is background for wood type history everywhere. American wood types, often inspired by earlier European designs, developed on their own track and became important in the European market later in the century.
    Note the very interesting historical discussion of aspects of American printing (notably effects of technology and industry conditions on letter design), pp. 162–91, 199, 205–11.

** and § Hamilton Mfg. Co. Hamilton’s Specimens of Wood Type Faces. Little Rock, Arkansas: Shooting Star Press, 2010. (Reprint of Hamilton’s Specimens of Wood Type, 17th ed., Two Rivers, WI, ca. 1907.)
    Available from the Hamilton Wood Type Museum. (The original is from the collection of David Peat.)

Hamilton & Katz. Specimens of Holly Wood Type manufactured by Hamilton & Katz. Reprint: Terra Alta, WV: Pioneer Press, 2011, with a new introduction by Richard Hopkins. (Reprint of the 1887 issue, Two Rivers, WI.)
    Available from the Hamilton Wood Type Museum. (The original is from the collection of David Peat.)

Heber Wells (company name). Specimens of Wood Type: Heber Wells, New-York, 1895. Reprint: Terra Alta, WV: Pioneer Press, 2015, with a new introduction by Richard Hopkins.
    Available from the Hamilton Wood Type Museum. (The original is from the collection of David Peat; the reproductions are published by Richard Hopkins.)

(Page) Wm. H. Page Wood Type Co. Specimens of Machine Cut Wood Type! Norwich, CT: The Wm. H. Page Wood Type Co., 1888. Reprint: Terra Alta, WV: Pioneer Press, 2002.
    Available from the Hamilton Wood Type Museum. (The original is from the collection of David Peat; the reproductions are published by Richard Hopkins.)

(Page) Wm. H. Page Wood Type Co. Specimens of Machine Cut Wood Type! Norwich, CT: The Wm. H. Page Wood Type Co., 1888. Reprint: Terra Alta, WV: Pioneer Press, 2002.
    Available from the Hamilton Wood Type Museum. (The original is from the collection of David Peat; the reproductions are published by Richard Hopkins.)

and the incredible (Page) Wm. H. Page & Co. Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type, Borders, etc. Manufactured by Wm. H. Page & Co. Greeneville, Conn.: The Company, 1874. Electronic reproduction. New York, N.Y.: Columbia University Libraries, 2013. NNC. Columbia University Libraries Electronic Books. 2006.
    Wood type designed for printing in two or more colors. Takes wood type (and letterpress) to another level. Belongs on your digital coffee table with Harpel’s Typograph. But it is much less a period piece than Harpel’s, with more that can be a direct inspiration for printers in any time.
    Full-color PDF: link to page on the Columbia University Libraries site. The quality of the PDF is exceptionally good.

Unicorn Graphics Wood Type Museum. Links to PDFs of a number of wood type catalogs from the 1800s and 1900s, and photographs of some fonts.

other wood-type literature:

Clough, James, and Chiara Scattolin. Alphabets of Wood: Luigi Melchiori and the History of Italian Wood Type. Cornuda (Italy): Tipoteca Italiana, 2014.
    A sumptuous picture of Italian wood type, from the early 1800s to the present. Available from the Hamilton Wood Type Museum.

Gray, Nicolette. Nineteenth Century Ornamented Types and Title Pages.     See the description in Other Specimen Books (Metal), above. This book is often cited in works on wood type.

Moran, Bill, et al. Hamilton: A History in Headlines. n.p. (Two Rivers, WI): Blinc Publishing, 2004.
    History of the Hamilton Manufacturing Company. Hamilton was the leading manufacturer of wood type and composing room equipment of the twentieth century—on their own great merits, and because they bought up all the others.

Saxe, Stephen O. “The Romance of Wood Type” in Fine Print on Type: The Best of Fine Print Magazine on Type and Typography, pp. 62–67. San Francisco: Fine Print / Bedford Arts, 1989. Originally appeared in the April, 1983 issue of Fine Print.
    On wood type generally, and also on the transmission of wood type designs to modern font technology through the medium of collectors, notably the Morgan brothers.


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This extensive series gets its own page.

A remarkable series of over fifty books that appeared from 1918 into the 1920s, published for the training of apprentices and the education of craftspeople who wished to extend their knowledge of other specialties within the trade. They include a lot of critical, basic information that was taken for granted in its time and rarely written down, and then lost when that era passed.

The page for this series, elsewhere on the present site, includes general information on the series, with notes on the contents of each book, and, for the books that are viewable on the Web, each book’s usefulness to today’s craftspeople. There are also links to free PDFs, directly downloadable from this site, for nearly forty of the books, including most of those of greatest interest to book arts people today.

I strongly recommend this series, and particularly the titles on practical typography, to the attention of everyone involved in any way with type. As far as I know, the present site offers the only available compilation of PDFs and information on the TTS series. Purchasable print copies of the books seem to be particularly hard to find. (For the books not found as downloadable PDFs, I have included information on library holdings, if any, in the Twin Cities area.)

Titles on type, typesetting, and general practical typography, for which PDFs are linked, include the following. The first four are especially recommended.
    Type: a Primer of Information
    Compositors’ Tools and Materials
    Type Cases and Composing Room Furniture
    The Printer’s Dictionary
    First Steps in Job Composition
    Book Composition
    Tabular Composition
    Applied Arithmetic
    Applied Design for Printers
    also Preparation of Printers Copy, and Proofreading,
      and eight other titles on basic typographic and editorial style
      in Part VI—Correct Literary Composition

Other available books in the series fall under the following catgeories:
    Paper and Printing Plates
    Imposition and Stonework
    History of Printing






*** DE VINNE, THEODORE LOW (1828–1914)
One of the greatest printers and printing craftsmen since Gutenberg. His series The Practice of Typography is probably unparalleled as a comprehensive guide to the realities of the craft. It is also said to be the only such guide since Moxon’s in 1683 that is not heavily derivative from its predecessors.

*** The practice of typography; modern methods of book composition.
direct download from this site  direct link to PDF  main download page

*** The practice of typography; a treatise on the processes of typemaking, the point system, the names, sizes, styles and prices of plain printing types. (1902)
direct download from this site  direct link to PDF  main download page

*** The practice of typography; correct composition; a treatise on spelling, abbreviations, the compounding and division of words, the proper use of figures and numerals, italic and capital letters, notes, etc., with observations on punctuation and proof-reading. (1910)
direct download from this site  direct link to PDF  main download page

Tichenor, Irene. No Art Without Craft: The Life of Theodore Low De Vinne, Printer. Boston: David R. Godine, 2005.
    An excellent professional biography, and a picture of the world of fine books, fine commercial printing, and the industry in general in De Vinne’s time. Includes a checklist of De Vinne’s published writings.


A selection of other practical printing manuals:

** Southward, John. Practical Printing: A Handbook of the Art of Typography. 2nd ed. London: J.M. Powell & Son, 1884.
    Another extensive and interesting book by a working master printer/typographer in England, from an era earlier than De Vinne.
direct download from this site

** MacKellar, Thomas. The American Printer: A Manual of Typography, containing Practical Directions for Managing all Departments of a Printing Office, as well as Complete Instructions for Apprentices; with several useful tables, Numerous Schemes for Imposing Forms in every variety, hints to Authors, etc. enlarged ed. Philadelphia: MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, 1882.
    MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan was one of the leading foundries in the U.S., and Thomas MacKellar one of the deans of the industry. The American Printer saw eighteen editions from 1866 to 1893. According to Rummonds, it was the standard trade manual in the U.S. in this period, and there were only minor changes after the 1878 edition. (The 1882 listed here just happens to be the one I’ve got.)

** Harpel, Oscar H. (1828–?) Harpel’s typograph: or Book of specimens containing useful information, suggestions and a collection of examples of letterpress job printing arranged for the assistance of master printers, amateurs, apprentices, and others. Cincinnati: Printed and published by the author, 1870.
    The first part of the book is a practical shop manual, which I’ve only glanced at as of this writing, but which is praised by Rummonds.
    The second part consists of 150 pages of wonderful specimens of fine job work of all sorts, including many multiple-color pieces. The work is very fine indeed, though very much of its time. This book has been called “the first design manual for job printing.”
    Walker Rumble gives an account of this book on pp. 158–165 of The Swifts: Printers in the Age of Typesetting Races., main page with all available formats, including PDF.
    Table of Contents (pages are pages of the PDF, not the book folios):
        –74 Shop Manual
        75–223 Specimens
        224–233 Harpel’s shop prices and services
        234–249 Shop Manual, continued
        250–252 Index
        257–327 Advertiser’s Addenda: ads for printing supplies

** John Johnson (1777–1848). Typographia, or the Printer’s Instructor: including an account of the origin of printing, with biographical notes of the printers of England, from Caxton to the close of the sixteenth century; a series of ancient and modern alphabets and Domesday characters; together with an elucidation of every subject connected with the art. London: Messrs. Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, Brown & Green, 1824.
    Yet another extensive and interesting book by a working master printer/typographer, from a yet earlier era.
    I don’t know if there’s any PDF of this available for free download. Cambridge University Press has issued a reprint of volume 2 in print and PDF formats.
Says Cambridge: “Volume 2 is useful to modern students of printing, as it deals with the practical aspects of the print trade. It includes numerous specimens of type in different alphabets, and explanations of type casting and imposition. It also describes how to manage a print shop, as well as the different kinds of press, including recent inventions such as the Stanhope, Columbian and Albion, and ends with a brief account of steam presses and stereotype.” The first volume would be of interest mainly to bibliographers and book collectors.

** John Smith. The Printer’s Grammar. London: published by the author, 1755.
    Yet one more extensive and interesting book by a working master typographer, from an even earlier era. Smith describes only the composing-room side of printing, and does not get into presswork.
    Nothing is known of Smith; the name may be an alias. He wrote in English, but on the title page, he identifies himself as Regiom[ontanus], which implies a strong connection with the north German city of Königsberg (which is now the Russian city of Kaliningrad).
    Available as a high-quality print-on-demand reprint from Cambridge University Press, at an affordable price.
    In the ages before dust-jackets and printed paperback covers, title pages filled the function of jacket-flap copy or back-cover blurbs. Accordingly, the full description on the title page is as follows (I have modernized and rationalized the capitalization and punctuation): The Printer’s Grammar: wherein are exhibited, examined, and explained the superficies, gradation, and properties of the different sorts and sizes of metal types, cast by letter-founders; sundry alphabets, of oriental and some other languages, together with Chinese characters; the figures of mathematical, astronomical, musical, and physical signs; jointly with abbreviations, contractions, and ligatures; the construction of metal flowers; various tables and calculations; models of different letter-cases; schemes for casting off copy and imposing; and many other requisites for attaining a more perfect knowledge both in the theory and practice of the art of printing. With directions to authors, compilers, etc. how to prepare copy, and to correct their own proofs. The whole calculated for the service of all who have any concern in the letter-press.

Jumping, for a moment, 250 years forward to the present again . . . or as close to the present as matters to a letterpress printer using metal type:

** Burke, Clifford. Printing Poetry: A Workbook in Typographic Reification. San Francisco: Scarab Press, 1980.
    An excellent treatment of book typography practice, book design, and printing, thorough and clear enough to be valuable for anyone who has passed the beginning stages of the craft. (A knowledge of the basics is taken for granted.)
    The focus on poetry does not detract from its value as a general work; on the contrary, the additional information specific to poetry is an example of how general practices are refined and adapted for specific specialties—as they always should be in any given project, be it a fine book, an advertisement, stationery, packaging, or a Web page.
    There is also a definite need for a book on the practicalities of printing poetry, a popular subject among fine press printers, and one which presents a number of special challenges.
    Out of print, sought-after, and a finely-printed book in its own right; priced accordingly.

. . . and from 1683, the grand-daddy of them all:

JOSEPH MOXON (1627–1691)
“Not only the first, but the most complete of the few early manuals of typography” in any language; it was the standard work for a century and was the basis for many later manuals. It has been said that technical writing—on all subjects, not just printing—began with Moxon.
Moxon in book form is most accessible in an edition by Oxford University Press, which has been reprinted by Dover:
** Moxon, Joseph. Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing. Herbert Davis and Harry Carter, editors. 1st ed., Oxford, 1958; 2nd ed. 1962; Dover reprint 1978.
    The Dover facsimile reprint is affordable used ($20 and up, $40 more typical for good copies, up around $100 for the best copies). It includes, in addition to Moxon’s book, material on Moxon and his times.
A fine earlier edition, of which there is a free PDF available, is:
** Mechanick Exercises: Or, The Doctrine of Handyworks Applied to the Art of Printing: a Literal Reprint in Two Volumes of the First Edition Published in the Year 1683. New York: The Typothetae of the City of New-York, 1896.
    The front matter includes the following statement: “This certifies that four hundred and fifty copies only, all on hand-made Holland paper and printed from types, of this edition of Moxon’s ‘Mechanick Exercises,’ in two volumes, were completed in August, 1896, and that the types have been distributed.”
PDFs of the Typothetae reprint (originally from GoogleBooks):
Volume 1 (Printing: the shop and its equipment; Type-founding)
direct download from this site
Volume 2 (Composition; Presswork; Trade customs; Glossary; Notes by the editors of the 1896 edition):
direct download from this site
Moxon didn’t just do printing. His other major work is held in the same regard by modern woodworkers as his work on printing is by modern printers. Woodworkers still know, make, and use the Moxon Vise:
Moxon, Joseph. Mechanick Exercises: Or the Doctrine of Handy-Works Applied to the Arts of Smithing, Joinery, Carpentry, Turning, [and] Bricklayery [with Mechanick Dyalling]. Third Edition [4th ed. of Mechanick Dyalling]. London: For Dan. Midwinter and Tho. Leigh at the Rose and Crown, 1703.
download page at Circuitous Root.

Before Moxon, there was remarkably little in print about practical printing. An indication of this scarcity of material is that the most notable pre-Moxonian specialized discussion of printing cited by printing historians appeared in a childrens’ book published in 1567, though the section on printing was very probably written by no less a figure than Christophe Plantin, who published the book and wrote, or at any rate signed, the preface. This was La première, et la seconde partie des dialogues françois, pour les jeunes enfans. The 37 octavo pages (with parallel texts in French and Flemish) of the dialogue on “l’ecriture et l'imprimerie” give elementary but accurate and sometimes detailed descriptions of typefounding (including a detailed description of the hand mold), composition, lockup, and presswork, with the equipment involved. There were several reprints in the 20th century.
    The book of Dialogues is listed and described by Giles Barber, in French Letterpress Printing (see below). (It’s not in Ruelens and De Backer.) Barber notes that “the first real French printing manual” appeared in 1723.
    Of the period “before the end of the 17th century” (that is, before Moxon—kd), Barber makes the following interesting statement: “Technical information is rare, sparse, and usually comes accidentally. The advantages of printing were not used to spread the art itself and printers apparently kept their mysteries relatively secret. Doubtless too authority preferred it so. Certain local habits were formed at this time but, in general, that this uniform style and practice developed throughout western Europe, without any apparent co-ordination, seems amazing*. Presumably the tradition of itinerant apprenticeship and trade fairs were powerful unifying factors.” (*Barber here cites “R.A. Sayce, ‘Compositorial practices and the localization of printed books, 1530–1800’, The Library, 5th series xxi (1966) 1–45.”)

Many more historic manuals of practical printing and typography can be found listed in Rummonds, Richard-Gabriel, Printing on the Iron Hand Press. Rummonds searched these manuals for guidance on iron hand press practice. He gives much information on each of them, and also on the ways in which later ones were dependent on, or independent of, their predecessors. He also compiled a book of selected information from them. (Both books are listing in the Presses and Presswork section, below on this page.)

Here’s a bibliography of sources for French printing-house practice:

Barber, Giles. French Letterpress Printing: A list of French printing manuals and other texts in French bearing on the techniques of letterpress printing, 1567–1900. Oxford Bibliographic Society, Bodleian Library, 1969.

Composing room equipment

Many of the sources noted above have information of various kinds about the equipment used in the composing room. Notable are the equipment sections in the ATF specimen books, and some of the titles in the Typographic Technical Series. Here’s another useful one for which I have a PDF link:

H. B. Rouse & Company. Time-Saving Equipment for Printers [Catalog] . 1946.
    Rouse was the leading supplier of certain types of composing room equipment, from the late 1800s to the end of the letterpress era.
Download page at Posted by David MacMillan of CircuitousRoot.


* Jackson, Hartley W. 26 Lead Soldiers: A textbook of printing types, methods, and processes for journalism students, and a convenient reference work for juniors in advertising offices and all others who have to do with the printed word. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1937.
    A minor gem, and not just for juniors these days. Jackson was a lecturer in journalism at Stanford, and adviser to the university press. He went into the composing room and pre-press sections to get his information. Like a good reporter, he recorded not only a thorough general account, but also detail and perspectives that were normally transmitted only from one craftsman to another.
    Such detail, though valuable for a realistic picture of the craft, rarely found its way into print in books written for a non-specialist audience. It was normally confined to books written for other specialists (practicing or aspiring) by master craftsmen such as Moxon, Johnson, Southward, and De Vinne. These writers had to put information of interest to non-specialists in the context of a much greater body of detail that only a professional would need. Jackson’s book is therefore a singularly good introductory treatment.

Volk, Kurt. Using Type Correctly. New York & Philadelphia: Kurt H. Volk, Inc., 1935.
    A primer on working with type, for composing-room craftspeople. Includes a large section of showings of common metal faces, each in a range of sizes, as aids to copyfitting.
    Kurt H. Volk (1884–1962) worked in advertising typography, and founded his own type shop in 1927. He produced a number of fine limited edition books and other printed pieces, consulted for Linotype Company for several years, and was an authority on and/or creator of illuminated manuscripts. One of the best (and most cantankerous) of the old lead guys I worked with in the 80s and 90s had worked at Volk’s shop.

Lieberman, J. Ben. Type and Typefaces. 2nd ed. New Rochelle, NY: Myriade Press, 1978. (1st ed. published as Types of Typefaces, 1967.)
    A good popular overview, with layout reminiscent of today’s zines.
    A reprint is available from Oak Knoll (4/16).


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The editorial matters that were, up to the days of De Vinne, primarily the concern of typographers, are now the province of professional editors, and the corresponding reference books are written for those who prepare copy rather than those who set it into type.

Here are the two style manuals I recommend for thoroughness, professional merit, and applicability to book work.

§   The Chicago Manual of Style. University of Chicago Press. Various editions.
    This is the standard among professional editors in general publishing, who refer to it as “Chicago.”
    The current edition is the 16th (2010); there is also an online edition. The latest I’ve used is the 14th, which showed a few signs of carelessness. I should probably get the 16th. For many users, however, older editions may be fine, especially if one is not concerned with the ways in which computers impinge on textual matters and production. For an example of the sort of editorial advice that changes from one edition to the next, see the changes page on the “Chicago” web site.
    They also have a free PDF of the first edition, from 1906.

Words Into Type. 3rd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1974.
    A classic, esteemed by professional editors down to the present. Sometimes I prefer this book’s calls to Chicago’s. Of additional interest to readers of this site, the book dates from the lead days, so where typesetting is relevant, the advice is given in terms of lead.
    Available used at a wide range of prices.

Another interesting style manual, also covering book typesetting:

Hart’s Rules For Compositors and Readers at the Oxford University Press. 38th ed., completely revised. Oxford U.P.: 1978.
    The Oxford University Press style guide of the day, in the manner of the Chicago Manual of Style but much briefer, with instructions for the compositors and proofreaders of the Press.
    “Hart’s Rules” has since evolved under various names into style guides still published by Oxford. The later incarnations sound more like style manuals on the order of “Chicago” (which is the best guide for U.S. users), with less of interest to typographers than the old “Hart’s Rules”.

About specialized style guides:

Specialties like medicine, psychology, and law have their own standard style manuals. The Modern Language Association has its own book, which is used by academic writers in certain disciplines. Journalism has its own standards, such as the AP Stylebook. I was raised on AP, since my father worked for them, but I recommend Chicago as more appropriate for people who aren’t writing for big news media, especially where you don’t need a style guide that includes a primer on libel law.


A vital, and generally neglected aspect of book production is proofreading, which involves some specialized skills and knowledge in addition to a knowledge of style. Some style guides, and many of the old practical printing manuals (notably De Vinne, above), give good instruction on the subject.
    An excellent and recent practical manual devoted entirely to proofreading is:

*** Anderson, Laura. McGraw-Hill’s Proofreading Handbook. 2nd ed. NY: McGraw-Hill, 2006.
    Hennepin County Library has at least one copy.
    Anyone who is involved with words in any form that are published in any way should read, and probably own, this book. This emphatically includes people who are not professional proofreaders, since I would not advise anyone today to take a regular job with proofreading responsibilities. In addition to practical techniques that will noticeably improve any text you create, in any form, for any purpose, the skills and knowlege of a professional proofreader will teach many important things about language and print communications, and valuable basic information about type. Many of these things will be learned in no other way, or not learned nearly as well. Anderson’s book is an excellently presented, comprehensive, and reliable compendium of the proofreader’s knowledge. Even the most experienced will learn from it. I know of nothing else like it.
    Anderson tells you not only what to do, but how to do it, and how to work with others in doing the job.
    The book is oriented toward professional publishing and similar environments, where there is a clear idea of the proofreader’s responsibilities. Ad agencies and type shops are mentioned, and a valuable basic introduction to type is given, but typographic proofreading is a distinct specialty that requires, in addition to the proofreading skills taught here, a knowledge of typography that would require a further book. The proofreading chapters in the old practical printer’s manuals (some of which are discussed elsewhere on this page) are perhaps still the best source for this.
    Also to be remembered is that, in ad agencies, other communications consultants, and general business environments, the people a proofreader works with have absolutely no idea of what a proofreader does and does not do, of the conditions and qualifications required to do proofreading, and of what a proofreader can and cannot be held responsible for. Few competent proofreaders will stay in such environments for long if they have a choice. Compared with these business, the professional publishing environment taken for granted by Anderson can seem idealized and sanitized. But such environments were once the rule in publishing (and, with variations due to the specialty, in type shops), and proofreading in those establishments could be a very satisfying job indeed, though rarely well-paid in publishing houses.
    A particularly valuable feature of the book is the advice about proofreading procedures, including successive readings, and also the excellent proofreading checklists. It is sometimes said that you can’t proofread from a checklist, and this is basically true, since all sorts of things always crop up that a checklist can’t anticipate, and disrupt any planned order of procedure. But a thorough checklist can remind you of all the things that need to be done for a given type of work, and of the best order in which to do them (which can also vary with the type of work). Perhaps most importantly, reviewing a good checklist before you send off anything you’ve proofread will help make sure that you haven’t overlooked any essential steps.


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This section is particularly unpretentious. It covers a field in which I have just begun to go beyond the basic knowledge possessed by all who were professionally trained during the metal type era. I don’t expect to get involved in typecasting. My practical interest in typecasting is for what it tells me about the type I see in the composing room.
    What’s here is a fairly haphazard list of things I happen to have found and used. It’s mainly technical detail on the casting machines and matrices. The Monotype brochures have some information on the typefaces for which matrices were available on each machine.

§    Theo Rehak. Practical Typecasting. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Books, 1993.
    A practical manual on all the major varieties of machinery used for the production of individual types for hand-setting or machine composition: pivotal casters, Barth casters, the various Monotype machines, and the Thompson caster. Also covers other aspects of machine casting, including matrix production and type metal.
    Out of print; typically fetches about $200 used.
    Theo Rehak was the last person to be trained at American Type Founders before their 1993 bankruptcy. He also wrote a book entitled The Fall of ATF. He purchased a significant portion of ATF’s equipment, including Barth casting machines, at the firm’s liquidation auction, and in 1994 began operating the Dale Guild Type Foundry. He ended retail type sales about 2004, after which the equipment went to Micah Currier, who cast type with it until 2013. The type was sold by NA Graphics, which also stocks fonts acquired from ATF’s inventory, and some fonts from the Stempel foundry. The ATF casters are now in Belgium, and not currently operating. (Most information in this paragraph from the NA Graphics website, January 2016.)

Fry’s Printing Metals (1972). Thorough technical work on type metal.
Link to PDF at


Lanston Monotype: “The Monotype System” (1918)
Google Books download page

Lanston Monotype Super Caster brochure
download page at CircuitousRoot

Lanston Monotype Giant Caster brochure
download page at CircuitousRoot

Lanston Monotype Type and Rule Caster brochure
download page at CircuitousRoot

Monotype Thompson Caster
Manuals and information page at CircuitousRoot.


Romano, Frank J. History of the Linotype Company. Rochester, NY: Rochester Institute of Technology Press, 2014.
    The history of the Linotype Company is a large part of the history of the printing and type industries from the 1880s through the 20th century.
    Romano is a former Linotype publicity employee from the hot-metal days, who went on to work for other typesetting manufacturers in the computerized era, found an industry trade journal, become a noted industry sage, join the faculty at RIT, and preside over the Museum of Printing in Haverhill, Mass.
———. Machine Writing and Typesetting. Salem, NH: GAMA, 1986.
    Development of typewriting and mechanical typesetting technology.

The Linotype movie:
Linotype: The Film

Here are some links to sites that have much more information on the subject:

Circuitous Root Lots of information on typecasting machinery, including many PDFs of trade literature.
    List of All Type Specimen and Matrix Information on CircuitousRoot.

The Alembic Press. Lots of information, including:
    U.S. Monotype faces list page
    British Monotype series numbers page
    Monotype casting information Links page, by David Bolton of Alembic Press

Metal Type (UK). A website. Note the Library page, with many PDFs, including much information on casting machinery, including downloadable manufacturer documentation.


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Vandercook & other cylinder proof presses—presswork:

§    Moxon, Paul. Vandercook Presses: Maintenance, History and Resources. 2nd ed. Mobile, AL, 2015.
    The Vandercook Bible. Available from Paul at

** Lange, Gerald. Printing Digital Type On the Hand-Operated Flatbed Cylinder Press. Marina Del Rey: Bieler Press, 2009.
    Printing with polymer plates.

Platen presses—presswork:

* Polk, Ralph W. Elementary Platen Presswork.
* Polk, Ralph W. & Edwin Polk The Practice of Printing: Letterpress and Offset.
    I haven’t read these, but they are regarded as standards and come highly recommended as learning resources. Out of print. The elementary book looks available and affordable used. Prices seen for the other, in various editions, range from $40 and up. (One speculator is looking for a sucker to pay six thousand smackers. The online book market is getting weird.)

* Maravelas, Paul. Letterpress Printing: A Manual for Modern Fine Press Printers. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2014.
    Again, I haven’t read it but it comes highly recommended. Sounds like like it contains lots of practical information that may not be readily available elsewhere. In print and reasonably priced, as of 2016.

Mills, George J. Platen Press Operation. Pittsburgh, PA: Carnegie Institute of Technology, 1959.
    I believe there is also a reprint edition.

Iron hand presses—presswork:

Rummonds, Richard-Gabriel. Printing on the Iron Hand Press. New Castle, DE & London: Oak Knoll Press & the British Library, 1998. (470 pages.)
    An exhaustive practical manual. The extensive annotated bibliography is very valuable, and covers many books not listed on the page you’re reading now; it is especially notable for coverage of practical printing manuals.
    Now out of print. Used copies sell for swingeing prices. NA Graphics still has some softcover copies at the list price, as of March 2016.
    Rummonds is a noted fine-press printer. The hyphen goes between ‘Richard’ and ‘Gabriel’, not between ‘Gabriel’ and ‘Rummonds’; there is some confusion over this in published information, which can complicate information searches.

———. Nineteenth-Century Printing Practices and the Iron Handpress . New Castle, DE & London: Oak Knoll Press & the British Library, 2004.
    From Oak Knoll’s description: “Using selected readings from printers’ manuals—beginning with Joseph Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises on the Whole Art of Printing, 1683, and culminating with John Southward’s Practical Printing, 1900—Gabriel Rummonds has distilled over two hundred years of printers’ wisdom into this very readable and important work on iron handpresses and how they were used in the nineteenth century.” (I haven’t seen the book.)
    Available from Oak Knoll only as unbound, sewn and glued book blocks.

Allen, Lewis M. Printing with the Handpress. Kentfield, CA: The Allen Press, 1969. Facsimile reprints: New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, 1971; also R. E. Krieger Publishing, 1976.
    A valuable and highly-regarded manual, not extending to Rummonds’ exhaustive detail. A fine-press book in its own right, so the reprints are the affordable editions.


The page for this series, elsewhere on the present site, includes general information on the series, with notes on the contents of each book, and, for the books that are viewable on the Web, each book’s usefulness to today’s craftspeople. There are also links to free PDFs, directly downloadable from this site, of nearly forty of the books, including most of those of greatest interest to book arts people today.

Titles relating to presswork (and lockup), for which PDFs are linked, include:
    Imposing Tables and Lock-up Appliances
    Locking Forms for the Job Press
    Proof Presses (predates today’s Vandercooks)
    laten Printing Presses
    Pressroom Hints and Helps
    The Printer’s Dictionary
    Printers’ Rollers
    Printing Inks
    Paper Mill to Pressroom (not in the TTS series, but very interesting for printers)
    Applied Arithmetic


History and general technology:

Robert Hoe. A short history of the printing press and of the improvements in printing machinery from the time of Gutenberg up to the present day. (1902.)
direct link to PDF   main page with all available formats, including PDF.

Saxe, Stephen O. American Iron Hand Presses. With 15 wood engravings by John DePol. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1992.
    Accounts of the various makes of presses.

Moran, James. Printing Presses: History & Development from the 15th Century to Modern Times. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1973.
    Detailed history from early wooden hand presses through the rotary letterpresses of the mid-1900s, with sections on proof presses and tabletop hobby presses, and many photos.



Bureau of Naval Personnel. Lithographer 3 & 2 Rate Training Manual. Navpers 10452-B. 1969.
    An old friend from my offset days. I wasn’t in the Navy, but they sure knew how to write technical manuals.


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See also Criticism, below; the categories often overlap.

General works...

*** Updike Daniel Berkeley. Printing Types: Their History, Forms, and Use. 2nd ed., 2 volumes. Original publication of 2nd ed.: Harvard University Press, 1937. Reprint: New York: Dover, 1980.
    The first edition was published in 1922 (also listed as 1923), the second in 1937. Updike died in 1941. There was a third edition published in, I believe, 1962; Oak Knoll reprinted it in 2001, and describes it as “ reprinted with new introduction by Martin Hutner.” This is still in print, priced at $85 (as of 4/16).
    This is the standard, comprehensive history of type and letterforms of the hand-set era, cited abundantly by every other historian of the field. I know of nothing else like it. (But I haven’t seen A.F. Johnson’s book, listed next.)
    The second edition is probably the most widely available used (and the one I have—kd.) There is a copy in the MCBA library. Affordable used copies of the second edition can be found for sale on line, but be sure you’re getting both volumes. Used or downloadable copies may be of the first, 1922 edition, and may be of only one or the other volume. Beware of “print-on-demand“ editions; I haven’t seen the POD editions of this book, but if they’re no better than most other PODs I’ve seen, they may be especially inadequate for a book containing type showings.
    I have a few notes on Updike on the Printers page.

Johnson, A.F. Type Designs, their History and Development. 3rd ed. London: Andre Deutsch, 1966.
    Quoted from a blurb: “A study of typography from the point of view of type design from the invention of the art to the nineteenth century.” I haven’t seen this, and that sounds like an oversight that should be remedied. Walter Tracy says he frequently consulted the 2nd edition of this book, along with Updike and De Vinne, in writing Letters of Credit. That’s a weighty recommendation.

Nesbitt, Alexander. The History and Technique of Lettering. 2nd ed. New York, 1957.
    Again, I haven’t seen this, but Tracy mentions it along with Updike, De Vinne, and Johnson.

*** Loxley, Simon. Type: The Secret History of Letters. London: I.B. Tauris, 2004.
    Not the first history of type design you should read—that’s probably still Updike—but an essential supplement to any other reading you do on the subject. Loxley’s attention is designedly selective, but he ranges over the whole history of type, and is the best overview I’ve seen for the recent history since Updike’s time.
    Most general historians of type, other than Updike and Morison, repeat the categorizations and areas of coverage of their predecessors, and either repeat or simply reverse existing perspectives and judgments. Loxley is one of the few to break out of this mold, filling in trade background, historical context, and new knowledge that adds much to understanding, and synthesizing them into independent and generally well-considered perspectives. To this he adds readability, color, and narrative flair.
    For earlier periods, Loxley’s accounts speak to the general range of typographic applications in the era in question.
    For the period from about 1970 on, the perspectives and the choice of developments to emphasize become narrower and sometimes debatable. This is perhaps inevitable: it is difficult to take the large view of the era in which one has lived one’s entire life. Any attempt to do so would probably have to be carried out at greater length than one person would want to undertake, and the more topics one covers, the more colleagues one would offend. Loxley’s focus for this period is on display typography, and the two main stories are ITC and Neville Brody. His discussions of these topics are valuable and good reading, like the rest of the book. But I have more to say about them, in more detail, than is appropriate for the present page. I’ve posted my discussion of these sections on the Design Era page
    The book is in print and reasonably priced new; it is also easily available and inexpensive used (as of 4/16). It is notably, if unobtrusively, well-designed and well-produced on both the graphic and editorial sides. Based on this and one other book I’ve seen, the publisher, I.B. Tauris, is an outfit to watch.

Steinberg, S.H. Five Hundred Years of Printing. Harmondsworth, England: Penguin Books, 1955. New ed., revised by Johhn Trevitt, London & New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press & The British Library, 2001.
    “The story of the relation between printing and civilization, the interdependence of printers, publishers, and the public, topics such as censorship and bestsellers.” Very good. The new edition is still in print from Oak Knoll. (I’ve only read the old one.)

** Morison, Stanley. Morison wrote many books and articles on typographic history, theory, and criticism. He is perhaps the most famous writer in the field, and his writings, only some of which are listed here, are rich, informative, stimulating, and inspiring. Morison was also famous for his work as typographic adviser at British Monotype (where he developed Times New Roman), and at Cambridge University Press and Pelican Press. Perhaps best appreciated after you have become acquainted with the prime essentials given three stars in this list. Certainly would be much easier to understand after you’ve read Updike.
    See also The Fleuron below, under General Typography; Typographic Criticism.
———. Pages From Books: Set on the “Monotype” Composing Machine and Published Mainly in London, 1928–1931. London: The Monotype Corporation, 1931.
    Very useful examples of various kinds of book settings, in various typefaces appropriate to each.
———. Politics and Script: Aspects of Authority and Freedom in the Development of Graeco-Latin Scripts from the Sixth Century B.C. (The Lyell Lectures, 1957.) “Edited and completed by Nicolas Barker”. Oxford: at the Clarendon Press, 1972. (The Sandpiper edition, dated 2000, is not one of the poor-quality Sandpipers.)
———. Four Centuries of Fine Printing: 272 specimens of the work of presses established between 1465 and 1924. 3rd ed., revised. Introduction by Morison. New York: Farrar, Straus, & Cudahy, 1957. (Original folio edition, 1924.)
———. A Tally of Types, with additions by several hands. Brooke Crutchley, ed. Cambridge University Press, 1973. (Expanded from the original publication of 1953.)
    Essays on a number of important classic typefaces, and on the production of versions of these by Monotype under Morison’s direction. Some of the essays are set in the Monotype faces they discuss.
———. On Type Designs Past and Present: A Brief Introduction. New edition. London: Ernest Benn, 1962.
    A consideration of letterforms from the scribal hands of the Middle Ages and Renaissance to the early 20th century.
Barker, Nicolas. Stanley Morison. Cambridge MA: Harvard University Press, 1972.
    Professional biography of Morison, by a noted scholar of typography.


The page for this series, elsewhere on the present site, includes general information on the series, with notes on the contents of each book, and, for the books that are viewable on the Web, each book’s usefulness to today’s craftspeople. There are also links to free PDFs, directly downloadable from this site, of nearly forty of the books, including most of those of greatest interest to book arts people today.

Titles on printing history, for which PDFs are linked, include:
    Cylinder Printing Presses
    Power for Machinery in Printing Houses
    Electrotyping and Stereotyping
    Reproductive Processes of the Graphic Arts
      (the various printing processes, not night-shift shenanigans in the warehouse)
    The Printer’s Dictionary
    general history:
    Books Before Typography
    The Invention of Typography
    Brief History of Printing
    Printing in England
    Printing in America
    Type and Presses in America


Blumenthal, Joseph. The Art of the Printed Book: 1455–1955: Masterpieces of typography through five centuries, from the collections of the Pierpont Morgan Library. New York: Pierpont Morgan Library, Boston: David R. Godine, 1973.
    Historical overview, with 125 plates of facsimile pages.

Eason, Ron, et al. Rookledge’s International Handbook of Type Designers: A Biographical Directory. Surrey, England: Sarema Press, 1991.

Carter, Sebastian. Twentieth Century Type Designers. New ed. NY: W.W. Norton, 1995.
    Notable in covering some leading figures of the digital era, including Robert Slimbach, Adobe’s Principal Type Designer, and Carol Twombly, also formerly with Adobe. Slimbach is one of the finest and most important type designers of the digital era, and Twombly, too, has designed some exceptional masterpieces. Carter also gives a well-balanced account of Fred Goudy's work. There is a copy on the MCBA composing room bookshelf, donated by Nancy Condon.

Specialized studies...
This section is in reverse chronological order by subject, most recent first.

Roman, Kenneth. The King of Madison Avenue: David Ogilvy and the Making of Modern Advertising. New York: Palgrave Macmillan (div. of St. Martin’s Press), 2009.
Della Femina, Jerry. From Those Wonderful Folks Who Gave You Pearl Harbor. 1970. (This is the book on which the Mad Men series is based. The 2010 edition has a new introduction by Della Femina written that year.)
    The advertising business has had a great deal of influence on the design subculture, and on the type business, because that’s where a lot of the money is—or was, at any rate. This was especially true in the second half of the 20th century. For more about these books, and the history, see Ad Men: Two Books in the Critical History section of this site.

Blumenthal, Joseph. Typographic Years, 1925–1975: A Printer’s Journey Through Half a Century. New York: Frederick C. Beil, Publisher, 1982.
    Blumenthal was a well-known fine printer, proprietor of the Spiral Press.

Rondthaler, Edward. Life with Letters ... as they Turned Photogenic. New York: Photolettering, Inc., 1981.
    A professional autobiography and a history of Photo-Lettering, Inc., the famous display photo-typesetting shop founded by Rondthaler. Written during the decade and a half (or so) when photocomposition processes had taken over from metal type, and no-one much was anticipating that phototype would soon be superseded by digital type.
    For some information about Photo-Lettering, see the Major Foundries article in the History section.

Romano, Frank J. History of the Linotype Company. Rochester, NY: Rochester Institute of Technology Press, 2014.
    The history of the Linotype Company is a large part of the history of the printing and type industries from the 1880s through the 20th century.
    Romano started out in the Linotype publicity department in the hot-metal days. He went on to work for other typesetting manufacturers in the computerized era, found an industry trade journal, become a noted industry sage, join the faculty at RIT, and preside over the Museum of Printing in Haverhill, Mass.
———. Machine Writing and Typesetting. Salem, NH: GAMA, 1986.
    Development of typewriting and mechanical typesetting technology.

** Tichenor, Irene. No Art Without Craft: The Life of Theodore Low De Vinne, Printer. Boston: David R. Godine, 2005.
    An excellent professional biography, and a picture of the world of fine books and fine commercial printing in De Vinne’s time.

** Annenberg, Maurice (compiler). A Typographic Journey through the Inland Printer: 1883–1890. Baltimore, MD: Maran Press, 1977.
    700+ pages, with an index, containing material on typography from Inland Printer, a (or the) leading U.S. printing trade journal, during eight years that saw the acceptance of the standard point system, the formation of ATF, and the introduction of the Linotype and Monotype machines (and many less successful machines). All these developments receive detailed coverage, along with every other aspect of typography, in articles by practicing professionals that take you right into the shops. A rich historical resource, frequently cited in typographic literature.

Rumble, Walker. The Swifts: Printers in the Age of Typesetting Races. Charlottesville, VA: University of Virginia Press, 2003.
    The “swifts” provide the centerpiece for a lively and illuminating industrial and social history of the typesetting trade from the pre–Civil War era to the advent of successful typesetting machines at the end of the century. The swifts were speed handsetting champions. Their competitions emerged from the shops, for a very brief time, to become public events sponsored by promoters in the dime museum circuit (which was then a major medium of public entertainment).
    There is much here that will not be found in other printing histories or historical material. Major themes are the role of women in the typesetting trades (they were a considerable part of the workforce), and the development and vicissitudes of the union movement in the trade—and the not always friendly relations between women typesetters and union typesetters.
    Rumble’s picture of shop-floor conditions and practices in the 1800s is a corrective for over-idealization of the old days and old ways. This, however, is of value mainly to old-timers like me. (Things were incomparably more civilized in my time.) For others, the picture has already been badly over-corrected by those who use “new school” as a universal excuse; a counter-corrective is needed in the direction of demonstrating in detail the continuing importance of many of the old practices and attitudes, as exemplified by their most knowledgable practitioners. Rumble does not lack perspective on that, but it’s not what this book is about and the reader will get only a few hints of it.
    I have a few more reservations about matters of secondary or tertiary importance, which I may post later. But don’t wait. If you’re looking for trade history, read this book.

Giambattista Bodoni—see the Printers page.

John Baskerville—see the Printers page.

Thomas, Isaiah (1749–1831). The History of Printing in America, with a biography of printers and an account of newspapers. Marcus A. McCorison, ed. New York: Weathervane Books, 1970. Republication based on the 2nd ed. (1874) of Thomas’s book.
    Thomas was himself a prominent American printer and newspaper publisher. Later historians, of course, have added information, and perhaps perspectives, to what Thomas reports, but his insider history gives a real feel for what the industry was like in early America. The editor’s preface details the revisions made for this republication.

Wroth, Lawrence C. The Colonial Printer. New York: Dover, 1994. Facsimile of the revised and enlarged second ed., Southworth-Anthoesen Press, 1938, which was reprinted in 1964 by the U. of Virgina Press. Original edition: New York: The Grolier Club, 1931.
    Covers the whole industry, including typefounding, paper, and bookbinding.

Rouse, Parke, and Thomas K. Ford. The Printer in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg: An Account of His Life & Times, & of His Craft. (Williamsburg Craft Series.) Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg, 1987.

Diderot, Denis, and Jean le Rond d’Alembert. L’Encyclopédie Diderot at D’Alembert: Imprimerie, Reliure. (The publisher of the facsimile is apparently called Inter-Livres; there is no other publication data in this volume.)
    Facsimile of the plates and captions from the Encyclopédie sections on printing and bookbinding (including marbling).

Le Brun (Nicholas Contat). Anecdotes typographiques, où l’on voit la description des coutumes, moeurs et usages singuliers des Compagnons imprimeurs. (1762), with Dufresne. La misere des apprentis imprimeurs. Edited, with introduction and notes, by Giles Barber. Oxford: Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1980.
    Introduction and notes in English, main texts in French. Takes you into French printing houses of the early 1700s, where a 20th-century professional typographer of the metal era will find much that is familiar.
    Barber notes that “one of Contat’s major themes” is that printers and typesetters are “un peuple, ou plutôt une République, qui vit séparé des autres nations.” This remained largely true right into the 1990s, with allowance made for a certain degree of hyperbole in Contat, which arises from the esprit du métier that has characterized the craft throughout its history.

Hinman, Charlton. The Printing and Proof-reading of the First Folio of Shakespeare. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1963.
    A groundbreaking study of the interaction between the text of Shakespeare and the printing practices and practicalities of the time. Takes you into the slipshod printing and publishing house of Isaac Jaggard, at a low point in the history of English printing, as the First Folio of Shakespeare is being set, proofread, and printed. Hinman distinguishes and characterizes the work of the compositors who did the typesetting, and evaluates the work of the proofreaders (when there were any). All of this is rich in consequences for the textual study of Shakespeare. It is also, incidentally, an important piece of printing history, and those who have worked as typesetters and type-shop proofreaders will find much that is familiar here.
    Since Hinman’s time, more research has been done into the composition of the First Folio, and some of Hinman’s conclusions about the way the work was done have been revised. Most notably, the five compositors distinguished by Hinman have increased to as many as nine or ten. (Hinman’s “compositor A” has since been split up into as many as five people. Has anyone considered the possibility of aggravated schizophrenia? In many periods, printers considered themselves lucky if they could find competent typesetters, and were not too picky about frills like sanity.) However, says the Applause edition of the First Folio (2001), “nevertheless the overall analysis [Hinman] presents is yet to be seriously challenged, and those seeking exactitudes should turn to him before following the later eminently respectable researchers in the field.”
Prosser, Eleanor. Shakespeare’s Anonymous Editors: Scribe and Compositor in the Folio Text of 2 Henry IV. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 1981.
    In the tradition of Hinman, another excursion into Jaggard’s shop.

The House of Elzevir—see the Printers page.

Maittaire, Michael. Historia Typographorum Aliquot Parisiensium Vitas et Libros Complectens. (nec locum neque editorem inventum; dedicatio subscripta Londini), 1717. Facsimile: NY: Burt Franklin, 1970.
    A history (in Latin) of notable early French printers from 1520 to about 1640. Frequently cited by later historians.
    I’ve prepared a table of contents for the book, which has none. It’s on a PDF you can download here, with some information about other books.

Lowry, Martin. The World of Aldus Manutius: Business and Scholarship in Renaissance Venice. Cornell University Press, 1979.
    A landmark study in its field. The name of the legendary Aldus commonly evokes a somewhat exalted image based on his general cultural importance. This is the side of his work that Aldus himself publicized diligently and successfully (see the edition of his letters, noted on the Printers page). That picture is important, and valid as far as it goes, and I love it as much as does the next humanistic Latinist bibliophile. But one of the great things about this book is that it shows Aldus with his feet on the ground, and his establishment as looking and smelling like a print shop and publishing office, coexisting with, and providing the basis for, the more exalted aspect of Aldus’s work.
    This book is important reading for the general history of printing and publishing in the Renaissance—and for the cultural history of the period. For more notes and sources on Aldus and the house of Manutius (and other Renaissance printers), see the Printers page.

Davies, Martin. Aldus Manutius: Printer and Publisher in Renaissance Venice. London: The British Library, 1995.
    I haven’t seen this, but it comes highly recommended.

Bajetta, C.M. Some Notes on Printing and Publishing in Renaissance Venice. New York: The Typophiles, 2000.
    A useful 16-page overview, in the attractive format of a Typophiles Chapbook (New Series No. 16). Text of a talk give to the Grolier Club in 1998; Bajetta, a scholar in literature with an interest in Italian printing, states that it was intended as “a lively—but not necessarily original—introduction” to the subject, and acknowledges considerable debts to Lowry and Davies.

Salzberg, Rosa. Ephemeral City: Cheap Print and Urban Culture in Renaissance Venice. Manchester (UK), Manchester University Press, 2014. ISBN: 9780719087035; 240pp.; $110.00.
    Salzberg’s study, building on much new research by Salzberg and other historians into the documentary evidence from the period, greatly expands the conventional picture of early printing and its cultural impact, to include the large and lively business of “cheap print,” and that business’s large and lively audience, which was apparent in Venice from the late 1400s. Salzberg describes the printers and street hawkers, and their typical backgrounds, along with the social, physical, political, and professional setting of the business, and its role in the culture of the time.
    Cheap print includes pamphlets, broadsides, and flyers (fogli volanti) of all sorts—popular songs, bawdy poetry, religious images and writings, poetic treatments of current events, plays, political tracts, folk medicine, popular instruction on common practical topics, almanacs, etc.—as well as the cheap books, which were typically extracts from vernacular Italian literature (notably Ariosto).
    My notes on this book have grown too large for this bibliography, so I have placed a complete review and précis here in the History section of this site.

Nicholas Jenson—see the Printers page.

Ogg, Oscar, ed. Three Classics of Italian Calligraphy: an unabridged reissue of the writing books of Arrighi, Tagliente, Palatino. New York: Dover, 1953.
    Facsimiles of writing books by three leading calligraphers of the early 1500s, who represented writing styles that were imitated in the types of the Renaissance, notably in the italic of Aldus. The original books were printed from wood blocks engraved from the handwritten manuscripts of the calligraphers.


*** and §   Kapr, Albert. Johan Gutenberg: The Man and his Invention. Douglas Martin, tr. Aldershot, UK: Scolar Press, & Brookfield, VT: Ashgate Publishing, 1996.
    The first edition, Johannes Gutenberg: Persönlichkeit und Leistung, was published in 1986. There was a second, revised German edition in 1988. Kapr revised and updated the book again for the present English translation, which is therefore described by the publishers as the third edition of the work.
    I have not looked to see if any significant literature on Gutenberg’s role has appeared since the third edition. I doubt that this impressive book has been superseded as an account of Gutenberg and his work. In any case, the study of the origin of printing in the West was badly embroiled for several centuries, not least by crackpottery and uncritical nationalist history.
    Kapr clears away a great deal of mess, both about Gutenberg and about the origins of printing, adds new knowledge about Gutenberg, and sums up quite coherently what is known. This is important to note, since many superficial writers and talkers are still repeating old nonsense.
I would add that the main source of confusion about the origins of printing was (and is) people who unthinkingly took it for granted that they knew what it was that Gutenberg did, and that they understood the most basic concepts of printing—but didn’t, and therefore didn’t even see what was unique and important about what Gutenberg did. When you hear someone who speaks in terms of “the invention of movable type” rather than “the invention of printing,” you are dealing with one of these people.
    Movable type has probably been invented several times, and can be invented by a small child with a set of alphabet blocks and a stamp pad. Only Gutenberg invented what the term “printing” normally refers to—a complete industrial technology that the Chinese, Koreans, Coster, and the late medieval woodblock printers never dreamed of. That technology was already, before Fust and Schöffer laid hands on it, working as well as it would for three hundred years. (See the next entry, on Scholderer.)
    The importance of the whole of that technology is a lot more obvious if you make your living by spending all day, all of your working days, producing printed texts from type.
Scholderer, V. Johann Gutenberg, Inventor of Printing, 1st ed. London: British Museum, 1963.
    A brief earlier work, by a noted scholar of printing history. Among other things, contains a succinct statement of the difference between inventing movable type and inventing printing. (A second edition, which I haven’t seen, was published in 1970.)
Fuhrmann, Otto W. (ed.). Pages from the Gutenberg Bible of 42 Lines: 25 Facsimiles from the Copy in the General Theological Seminary, New York. Introduction and notes by Otto W. Fuhrmann. New York: The H.W. Wilson, Co., 1940.
    As noted above, Gutenberg wasn’t just the first. He was one of the best ever, given the fact that he had to create the technology and techniques that later printers could take for granted. Knowledgeable printers, when they can look at one of the original Gutenberg Bibles, contemplate it in awe of the workmanship and the technical achievment, and are apt to stand there staring at it until the museum guards start getting edgy. Having a collection of facsimiles at home can help avoid regrettable incidents in museums.
De Vinne, Theodore Low. The invention of printing: a collection of facts and opinions descriptive of early prints and playing cards, the block-books of the fifteenth century, the legend of Lourens Janszoon Coster, of Haarlem, and the work of John Gutenberg and his associates. New York: Francis Hart & Co., 1878.
    I haven’t read this yet, but De Vinne’s name carries weight as an endorsement for his account of what was known in his time. main page for the book, with all available formats including PDF.
Febvre, Lucien, and Henri-Jean Martin. The Coming of the Book: The Impact of Printing, 1450–1800. Third Edition. Verso Books, 2010.
    A very important book which, I regret to say, I have not yet read. Among other things, treats of the technological history behind the invention of printing.

Knowledgeable typographic criticism requires a more than superficial knowledge of the larger context of the nature and development of writing systems. Much of that context is not to be found in even the best books on typography. It is scattered in works on a number of other subjects.
    Among the lessons of this context is that many of the typographic usages that some are pleased to regard as matters of recent and arbitrary convention are in fact constants that have persisted for millennia, and across widely different cultures. Where there has been change and development, it is seen to be in response to identifiable functional imperatives, which operate persistently to produce the same results.
    The exceptions to this rule are seen to be places and times when literacy is confined to elites who can evade functional imperatives. This was notably the case in the European Middle Ages, and was not the case in the preceding Classical period. Modern fashion typography, which began with Bodoni and continues in the world of design chic, is also a phenomenon of elites who are immune to, and ignorant of, the practical factors that ground perennial typographic practices.

Here are a few of the more important and obtainable sources on the nature and development of writing systems:

Ullman, Berthold Louis. Ancient Writing and its Influence. (new introduction for the 1969 edition). Cambridge, MA: M.I.T. Press, 1969. (Original publication: New York: Longmans, Green, 1932.)
    Still in print. Ullman is a noted authority.

Higounet, Charles. L’Écriture. 4th ed. Series: Que sais-je?. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1969.
    Comparable to Ullman, but briefer. The current edition, which I have not seen, is the 11th, published in 2003.

Morison, Stanley. Politics and Script: Aspects of Authority and Freedom in the Development of Graeco-Latin Scripts from the Sixth Century B.C. (The Lyell Lectures, 1957.) “Edited and completed by Nicolas Barker”. Oxford: at the Clarendon Press, 1972. (The Sandpiper edition, dated 2000, is not one of the poor-quality Sandpipers.)

Parkes, M.B. Pause and Effect: Punctuation in the West. Berkeley: U. of California Press, 1993.
    A rich and scholarly history of punctuation, in a package that could pass for a coffee-table book. Frequently cited in recent works on the history of books and reading. “The standard modern account of the subject,” in the words of Alan Cameron, one of the greatest scholars in the field.

Blanck, H. Das Buch in der Antike. Munich, 1992.
    I haven’t read this, but it is recommended by Anthony Grafton (a noted classical scholar and historian of the book, whose work I respect) as “an up-to-date survey” of the history of the book in ancient times.

Diringer, David. Writing. London: Thames & Hudson, 1962.
———. The Book Before Printing.

Chadwick, John. The Decipherment of Linear B: The Key to the Ancient Language and Culture of Crete and Mycenae. New York: Vintage (imprint of Random House), 1958. (Copyright, and perhaps original publication, was by Cambridge University Press.)
    Chadwick, with Michael Ventris, first achieved the decipherment of the script used by the earliest Greek civilization, which caused a revolution in our understanding of early Western history. This book is an account, for a general audience, of that discovery and its implications.

See also the books by Tracy, Grafton, Cameron, and Dehaene, below, under “Deep Background”.

Deep background...

Other sources include books on the history of modern and ancient languages and civilizations, on Greek and Latin paleography, and on the history of textual scholarship (a discipline which goes back over 2000 years) and textual transmission, and also ancient writers who mention or discuss matters related to writing and reading.
    For the deepest background, there is also philology. Philology is the study of how spoken languages perform the various functions of spoken language, how they work as systems, how they are related to one another, and how they develop and adapt. The terms “philology,” and “linguistics” are often used to refer to the same discipline, but “linguistics” may also refer to one or another of the travesties of philology that more or less explicitly claim to have superseded philology. I’ve put down some notes on the nature of philology, and the natures of linguistics, in a separate article: Philology and/or Linguistics.

Most serious books in these areas are written by and for specialists. Occasionally specialists may write such books for beginning students or the general public. Treatments of these subjects by non-specialists are apt to be cursory, badly oversimplified, and based on a very foggy understanding.
    I don’t know of any single book, or even a specific course of informal study, that I could recommend as a way for book arts people to get acquainted with the basics of this area of knowledge. I’m sure such a book or article could be written, and it’s quite possible that one has been that I don’t know about.
    In the absence of more targeted recommendations, here are a few of the more important and conveniently available of the standard treatments by specialists. Most of them function both as surveys for beginning students in the specialties, and as reference handbooks for more advanced specialists.
    Looking over them, and dipping into the text where it seems feasible, would at very least give one an idea of what is there and how it is important. More than this is not essential to the book artist, who has his or her own specialty to learn and practice. But the details can be very stimulating. Most importantly, some aquaintance with the scientific and scholarly study of the roots of language and writing will be a corrective for a great deal of pseudo-science and pseudo-history that is current on all subjects relating to any aspect of language.

Conway, R[obert] S[eymour] (1864–1933) The Making of Latin: An Introduction to Latin, Greek, and English Etymology. Reprint: New Rochelle, NY: Caratzas, 1983. Original publication: London: John Murray, 1923.
    From the author’s Preface: “The object of this little book is to explain as simply as possible the principles of the modern science of language, and to indicate the chief results of these principles in the study of Latin, with some of the consequences in that of English and the Romance languages.”
    Aimed at inquisitive first-year Latin students and other beginners. Works up from basic phonetics to the principles of phonetic change in languages, and the use of these principles in the study of language and languages. Pages 1 to 38 cover general material, and don’t require interest in or knowledge of Latin. This is one of the books I started on. Some of the terminology may be outdated to a degree, but that is not a serious obstacle to learning from the book—you won’t notice it unless you read recent books on the subject. The tools, concepts, and conclusions of philology have been refined since Conway’s time, and their application greatly extended, but there have been few or no fundamental changes in the principles and general conclusions, so everything here is still valid.
    Available and affordable used. In print until recently from Caratzas, but I don’t find Caratzas on line any more; the publisher, Aristide Caratzas, died on June 16, 2016. Ave atque vale. If the house is gone, they will be sorely missed by classics students. No PDF that I know of.

Reynolds, L.D, and N.G. Wilson. Scribes and Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature. 4th ed. Oxford University Press, 2013.

Bischoff, Bernhard. Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Tr. by Dáibhi Ó Cróinín and David Ganz. Cambridge U.P., 1989. (Revised and updated for the translation. Original publication: Paläographie des Römischen Altertums und des abenländischen Mittelalters, Berlin: Erich Schmidt Verlag, 1979; 2nd rev. ed. 1986.)
    History of Roman-alphabet writing in all its forms, with a focus on bookhands and the informal hands that influenced bookhands. Also chapters on the physical form and visual presentation of books. A more accessible treatment is Ullman, Ancient Writing and its Influence, above.

Speaking of manuscripts, there is the Digital Scriptorium, “a growing consortium of libraries and museums committed to free online access to their collections of pre-modern manuscripts.” I haven’t had a chance to explore this much, but there are some beautiful and interesting things here.

Gordon, Arthur E. Illustrated Introduction to Latin Epigraphy. University of California Press, 1983.
    Epigraphy is the study of “writing on things”—things other than paper and, maybe, coins. (Coins are sometimes treated as a special area of study by themselves.) Such inscriptions had an important influence on the letterforms written or printed on more common substrates.

Pfeiffer, Rudolph (1889–1979). History of Classical Scholarship: From the Beginning to the End of the Hellenistic Age. Oxford U.P., 1968. (Sandpiper Books reprint, 1998.)
———. History of Classical Scholarship: 1300–1850. Oxford U.P., 1976. (Sandpiper Books reprint, 1999.)
    “Classical scholarship” here means the study of the grammar, literary techniques, and, in later periods, philology of Greek and Latin. (In the West, similar study of other languages was not done until the modern period.)
    Pfeiffer skips the Middle Ages. For coverage of the scholarship of that period, see Reynolds & N.G. Wilson, Scribes and Scholars: A Guide to the Transmission of Greek and Latin Literature, listed above. Also very valuable are: Alan Cameron, The Last Pagans of Rome, and Paul Saenger, Space Between Words: The Origin of Silent Reading, described below. Both books contain vastly more on the subject of scholarship and the practice and processes of making texts than their titles would suggest.

Cappelli, Adriano, M. Geymonat, M. Troncarelli. Lexicon Abbreviaturarum: Dizionario di abbreviature latine ed italiane. 7th ed. Milano: Editore Ulrico Hoepli, 2011.
    A standard work, first published by Cappelli in 1899, that has been issued in updated editions since. The title of the 5th edition continues: ... usate nelle carte e codici specialmente de medio-evo, riprodotte con oltre 14000 segni incisi... .
    A 500-odd-page dictionary of ligatures (“tied letters”), and the abbreviations made with them, used in writing and printing in the medieval and early renaissance periods. This is the dictionary needed by people who have to actually read whole books that use these abbreviations and ligatures.
    This is also the book to show to people who claim to think that some sort of “richness” was lost to typography when those hundreds of ligatures fell out of use. The sight of it will help remind them that they’ve never read a book in which those ligatures were much used—and that other people have.
    For more about ligatures, see the Ligatures page on this site. PDF of the 2nd edition, 1928, in German: direct link to PDF.
    The book may be found, in the 5th and earlier editions at least, in the Wilson Library at the U.

Grafton, Anthony. Commerce With The Classics: Ancient Books and Renaissance Readers. U. of Michigan Press, 1997.
    From a blurb or review: “The style of reading in Renaissance Europe, as seen in the margins of books and in the texts of Renaissance intellectuals themselves, is deftly charted.... This book describes the interaction between books and readers in the Renaissance, as seen in four major case studies. Humanists Alberti, Pico, Budé, and Kepler, all major figures of their time and now major figures in intellectual history, are examined in the light of their distinctive ways of reading.... Grafton describes life in the Renaissance library, how the act of reading was shaped by the physical environment, and various styles of reading during the time. A strong sense of what skilled reading was like in the past is built up through anecdotes, philological analysis, and documents from a wide variety of sources, many of them unpublished.”

Cameron, Alan. The Last Pagans of Rome. Oxford U.P., 2011.
    In a work of astonishing scholarship, Cameron uses the evidence of manuscript books, and historical documents related to reading, to study some key aspects of reading and reading culture in the late Roman Empire, an important period in Western cultural history, and particularly important in the transmission of earlier literature. The entire work is rich in new material related to the history of the book. The two chapters on “Correctors and Critics”, in particular, contain much technical detail.
    The implications and importance of much of that detail were generally missed by historians of the subject before the late 20th century, and the wider implications of Cameron’s findings overturn important assumptions generally made by specialists in the history of the period.* (The primary subject is the relationship between paganism and Christianity in the late Roman Empire. The history of the book, as Cameron shows, is a key to understanding that subject.) Cameron writes for a scholarly audience, and presumes the reader’s familiarity with classical literary history, and some acquaintance, at least, with the technical methods of the history and textual criticism of manuscripts. But a scan of the “Correctors and Critics” chapters might still give some valuable impressions to anyone curious enough about the subject.
* Cameron notes, on p. 429, that 20th-century editors and scholars of classical texts were already aware of some of what he is saying—but scholars in other fields were not. And it is apparent elsewhere (e.g., the chapter on Livy), that even recent textual scholars, such as Reynolds, missed much.

** and §    Dehaene, Stanislas. Reading in the Brain: The Science and Evolution of a Human Invention. New York & London: Viking (imprint of Penguin), 2009.
    A wonderful and excellently written description of what is behind the mental activity of reading. Based on many recent advances in neuroscience. Not a casual read, at least for me, but richly repays the effort it requires.

Another one I plan to read soon:

Saenger, Paul. Space Between Words: The Origin of Silent Reading. Stanford U.P., 1997.
    Combines data from the history of texts and manuscripts with psychological research to outline the development of the ability for silent reading and the history of the textual conventions that made it possible. (I’ve started on it. Wow.)

There are, of course, plenty of other books on the history of books and reading. Of course, they vary widely in quality. Any topic related to literature, or any other prestigious aspect of culture, will generate many popular works of varying depth and worth, for varying audiences, that don’t aspire to do more than preserve and communicate established knowledge. It will also generate a large literature of pretense which, in turn, will be read, or at least written about, by players at all levels. There is also a considerable body of experimental research on the psychology of reading.

Some miscellaneous items I haven’t read but which sound like they may be of general interest and worth mentioning:

Cavallo, Guglielmo and Roger Chartier, eds. A History of Reading in the West. tr. Lydia G. Cochrane. University of Massachusetts Press, 2003.
    A widely hailed anthology of recent articles by scholars in the field. Anthony Grafton is there, and it looks like there’s interesting new information in some of the other articles. Others look like nonsense. But that’s not unusual in anthologies of specialized scholarship covering the latest work as of the date of publication. It’s probably inevitable in such collections.

Catich, Edward M. The Origin of the Serif: Brush Writing and Roman Letters. 2nd ed. Davenport, IA: Catich Gallery, 1991 (310pp.) (First ed. Davenport, IA: The Catfish Press, 1968.)
    Catich was a professional sign-painter, calligrapher, Catholic priest, trained artist and paleographer, printer, and teacher. He is “noted for the fullest development of the thesis that the inscribed Imperial Roman capitals of the Augustan age and afterward owed their form (and their characteristic serifs) wholly to the use of the flat brush, rather than to the exigencies of the chisel or other stone cutting tools.” (The brush was used to paint the letters on the stone, as a guide for the carver.)


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See also History, above; the categories often overlap.

The following are a few of the best writings:

** The Fleuron. A famous book arts periodical that ran for seven numbers. It was mostly edited by Stanley Morison, who wrote many articles for it. The other articles on type are also notable and influential, including those by Beatrice Warde, under the name Paul Beaujon. These include a famous article showing that the type on which ATF based its Garamond wasn’t actually by Garamond. Like Morison, perhaps best appreciated after you have done some basic reading, especially in Updike.

There have been other such periodicals, also famous and influential, which also ran for only limited times. Among these are Imprint and more recently, Matrix (below) and Fine Print (below). There’s also The Colophon and The New Colophon (both aimed at book collectors). Other names I have seen that look interesting include Signature, Serif, and Typographica. There were also the house periodicals of the British and American Monotype companies.

** (Matrix.) Type & Typography: Highlights from Matrix, the review for printers and bibliophiles. West New York, NJ: Mark Batty, Publisher, 2003.
    A desirable anthology, since buying the original issues on the used market would run into a lot of money.

* & *** Lawson, Alexander. Printing Types: An Introduction. Second, revised ed. Boston: Beacon Press, 1990. (First ed., 1971.)
    An excellent general introduction to type, and, as one of the blurbs says, indispensable to all practitioners. This is the book you should start with if you want to learn about type. The main emphasis is on a useful, general, and instructive classification of typefaces, and it is one of the best and sanest discussions of this question that I know of.
    Apparently out of print. Available used on the Web at a wide range of prices. If the second edition is not available or affordable, the first edition will do at least as well.
** ———. Anatomy of a Typeface. Boston: David R. Godine, 1990.
    Detailed historical studies of a number of important typefaces and categories of typefaces. In print; affordable. Also available used online.

(Fine Print.) Fine Print on Type: The Best of Fine Print Magazine on Type and Typography . San Francisco: Fine Print / Bedford Arts, 1989.
    Used copies are affordable.

Morison, Stanley. See the entry above, under History.

*** Tracy, Walter. Letters of Credit: A View of Type Design. Boston: David R. Godine, 1986.
    This is what knowledgeable typographic criticism looks like. Tracy was a veteran typographer, and manager of typeface development at Linotype for thirty years. He is highly knowledgeable and perceptive, and stands well above the fads and superficiality reflected in most writings about type. His bibliography is a good place to start if you are looking for more specialized studies after reading this page.
*** ———. The Typographic Scene. London: Gordon Fraser, 1988.
    Criticism and history. Like Letters of Credit, an example of what the real thing looks like.

Wallis, L.W. Type Design Developments, 1970 to 1985. Arlington, VA: National Composition Association, 1985.
    It’s been a while—I’m going to have to read this again to see if it rates any stars. Looks like lot of inside history of contemporary developments here.

** Zapf, Hermann. About Alphabets: Some Marginal Notes on Type Design. Second, revised, ed. M.I.T. Press, 1970. (First edition: The Typophiles, 1960.)
    Zapf, who died in 2015, is considered by many to be the greatest type designer of the twentieth century. Some of us would go even farther than that. He is also probably the most revered and best liked. He has written a number of other books, and designed a number of famous and influential typefaces, including Palatino, Aldus, Optima, and Melior.
Note on Palatino: Palatino and Aldus were designed by Zapf as variations on the same theme. As Zapf notes in this book, he intended Palatino for display use (typically from about 18-point up, or for smaller headlines), and Aldus as the variety to use for long text.
    Most of those who revere Palatino and use it as a text face seem to have missed this. Palatino can certainly be used to good effect in long text, by those who know how and who reserve it for situations that can accommodate it. But its shortcomings as a text face, for all its great beauty, are known to those who have often set text in it, for they have often seen it thoughtlessly specified, without the leading and tracking it requires, in situations that cannot accommodate its requirements and to which its conscious elegance is inappropriate. In such situations, it is the old standard text faces–a category that now includes Aldus–that knowledgeable typographers will choose.

** Rogers, Bruce. Paragraphs on Printing. New York: William E. Rudge’s Sons, 1943.
    Miscellaneous thoughts by a famous and influential authority, going into practically useful detail, on a great many topics in book design and book typography, amounting to a pretty thorough overview of the craft at its highest level.

Rehe, Rudolph F. Typography: how to make it most legible. Carmel, IN: Design Research International, 1974.
    Apparently based on serious research. It’s been a long time since I read it last; I’ll have to check again.

† Bringhurst, Robert. The Elements of Typographic Style. Fourth edition. Seattle: Hartley & Marks, 2012.
    An astonishing achievement and an unusually rich resource—but only for people who already know most of what’s there. It is a dangerous book for typographers in the early stages of their careers, or for anyone, regardless of experience, who has not been heavily involved with the professional production of content-centered typography on a daily basis, for a long time and at a number of diverse establishments.
    Grave shortcomings in the author’s knowledge on some key points (mainly related to production, text typography, and editorial matters) mean that certain parts of the book are major pitfalls for virtually all who may read the book. These shortcomings can also impair Bringhurst’s judgment on details in other sections of the book.
    If you are in the business of communicating meaning with type, in any medium, and you use this book as a primary authority, you will rapidly get into trouble with the people who produce and consume the content you are setting into type. You will produce inferior text settings, especially in digital type, and waste time doing it. You will also be prevented from learning the real skills that would enable you to do these things quickly and well.
    An adequate discussion and justification of the above criticisms would take more space than is appropriate for the present list. That discussion is available here.
    Doing justice to the book’s many and remarkable merits would require much more space, and is less urgent, since many others have praised the book. Suffice it to say that many parts of the book deserve to be accorded the scriptural authority the blurbs claim for it. However, given Bringhurst’s somewhat overextended ambitions, only one who is both an expert typographer and an expert editor, with considerable real-world professional experience in both fields, can independently determine which parts those are. It is conceivable that there might be dozens of such people; there are not hundreds. Such an expert can still gain a great deal of advanced knowledge from Bringhurst, on very many topics, and will want to spend a lot of time studying this book.

†† Rosendorf, Theo. The Typographic Desk Reference. 2nd ed. New Castle DE: Oak Knoll, 2016.
     Far from being The Typographic Desk Reference, this is probably the most inaccurate, misleading, and insultingly sloppy book on typography that I’ve ever seen—and that’s saying a LOT. Grossly unreliable even about basic information that is transmitted accurately and without fuss or pretention in innumerable other books. Avoid it strenuously. Here’s why I think so. (Note that, in the introduction, even the author fudges the explicit claims for the book made by its title and presentation. This suggests that he has some awareness of some small fraction of its shortcomings.)
    Even granting that there is any reliable content in the book, that content will already be handy in better sources which an experienced typographer will already have available, and that a less-experienced person will need to acquire in any case.


§   Williamson, Hugh. Methods of Book Design: The Practice of an Industrial Craft. 3rd ed. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1985.
    A thorough practical manual of all aspects of book design.

Lerner, Abe. Designing a Book. Minneapolis, MN: The Ampersand Club, 1993.
    An Ampersand keepsake. A nice 11-page pamphlet on the designing of the Typophiles Chap Book Bibliography, with instructive reflections on the details of resolving the design issues for this particular book. Lerner was a noted book designer and Typophile.
    The Typophiles edition (New York, 1993) is available from Oak Knoll.

Gaskell, Philip. A New Introduction to Bibliography. Oxford University Press, 1972.
    Covers all aspects of book production, from the perspective of the large-scale consumer and scholar of fine books.

§    International Paper. Pocket Pal. (various editions).
    An indispensable crib A valuable desk or pocket reference for graphic arts professionals. If you’re dealing professionally with offset printers for commercial work you really should have it handy, in the latest edition. Otherwise, recent used ones could do. The first edition was in 1934. The latest, the 20th, was published in 2007; I haven’t seen it, but it was edited by Frank Romano, which suggests that it has at very least maintained the standard that made Pocket Pal a household name in the industry.

Glaister, Geoffrey Ashall. Encyclopedia of the Book. 2nd ed. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books, & London: The British Library, 1996. (First ed. published as [Glaister’s] Glossary of the Book, [1979].)
    550-page encyclopedia covering all areas of the book arts. A standard reference.

Dreyfus, John, François Richaudeau, et al. La chose imprimée: histoire, techniques, esthetique et realisations de l’imprime. Paris: Éditions Retz, 1985.
    A French Glaister, but with more emphasis on industrial processes. Prepared by French and English specialists, including Dreyfus and Nicolas Barker.


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TO COME (if I can find anything current that’s worth recommending; there’s got to be something)



I’m a beginner in bookbinding, but here’s an interesting, thorough, and wide-ranging book that is perhaps isn’t too well-known, at least to fellow beinners, and that can be downloaded as a free PDF:

Pleger, John J. Bookbinding and its Auxiliary Branches. (4 vols.) Chicago: The Inland Printer company, 1914.
    I’ve seen a few references to this set on bookbinding blogs, but it may have gone under the radar for many because of its industrial emphasis and the fact that it was intended for and publicized to an industrial audience. In fact, the last two volumes give extensive coverage of the same hand processes used in fine binding, and Volume 4 is mainly oriented toward fine hand finishing techniques.

Links are to the download pages for each volume, where you can get PDFs and other formats:

Vol. 1: Paper Ruling.
    Just paper ruling with machines.

Vol. 2: Punching, Crimping, Eyeletting, Pamphlet and Quarter Binding.
    Every fabrication process that happens to printed material after printing, except full-dress flexible or case bookbinding: jogging, punching, perforating, drilling, round-cornering, collating and gathering, machine stitching and sewing (for pamphlets and other non-book uses), perfect binding, cutting and trimming, and lots more.
    These processes tend to fall through the cracks in craft-oriented education, but they’re still a part of the making of many things that craftspeople do, or would like to do, and this volume may be a useful overview, for all that the technology has evolved somewhat since 1914. The processes are pretty basic in nature, so the evolution hasn’t always been radical. Much here (including a good deal of the machinery) looks familiar to me from the printing plants of the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Some of that machinery occasionally shows up in present-day craft institutions.
    In printing establishments of the 1800s, these processes were referred to as “warehouse” work, because that’s where they were done. In the 1900s, they diversified and became more important, and were regarded as a more distinct and important department of production, referred to as “finishing” or, rather confusingly, as “bindery” work. In this period, the work was often done by specialized businesses, distinct from the companies that did the typesetting and printing.

Vol. 3: Blank, Edition and Job Forwarding, Finishing and Stamping. (Page 35, in the marbling section, is unreadably distorted in the PDF.)
    The emphasis in this volume is on industrial processes, but there is a good deal of information on hand binding techniques, as well as general information common to all processes. There is also at least some treatment of repair and restoration.
    The extensive sections on Job Forwarding and Finishing may be of particular interest to the hand binder. The book may also be of technical interest to those who restore and rebind machine-bound books. Other sections of detailed specialized information (for example, on spring-backed and looseleaf bindings) may be of interest to some hand binders.

Vol. 4: Gilt Edging, Goffered Edging, Marbling, Hand Tooling and the Care of Books.
    This volume is concerned almost exclusively with the same hand processes used in fine binding. The goffering (gauffering) and tooling sections, especially, seem oriented toward a very high level of artistry. Marbling applied to the edges of the text block is also covered.

And here are a few miscellaneous items that may be worth your noting:

Young, William Tandy. The Glue Book. Newtown, CT: The Taunton Press, 1998.
    For woodworkers, but comprehensive coverage includes PVA and hide glue, which are important for bookbinding as well. Lots of detailed information on how each type of glue works, how to work with it, and why. Hennepin County Library has at least one copy. Taunton is a well-known publisher of books on fine woodworking techniques.

Operating Instructions for the Kingsley [Hot Foil Stamping] Machine main page for the book, with links to all formats.

Kamph, Jamie. Tricks of the Trade: Confessions Of A Bookbinder. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2015.
    Says the publisher: “Written for competent binders and knowledgeable collectors, it brings quirky but effective binding techniques out of obscurity and into the professional repertory.” Publisher’s page for the book.
    Indeed not a book meant for beginners like me. Much of it deals with refinements in the execution of tasks no beginner would attempt; much is for craftspeople who can concentrate on refinements because they no longer have to devote conscious attention to the basics. Even so, the initial chapters, covering general reflections and simpler tasks, were an inspiration, and I made a number of notes for some of the more difficult projects I have in mind. Kamph was a writer, editor, and publisher before becoming a bookbinder, which certainly adds depth to her perspective on bookbinding. A well-designed, well-illustrated, and well-produced book, and a pleasure to read.

Ford, Thomas K. The Bookbinder in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg: An Account of His Life & Times, & of His Craft. (Williamsburg Craft Series.) Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg, 1986.

Outside of that, I can just list a few standard books in case it’s useful to someone ...

Abbott, Kathy Bookbinding: A Step-by-step Guide. Ramsbury, Wiltshire, England: The Crowood Press Ltd., 2010.
    Very handy step-by-step instructions supplemented with corresponding photos.

Johnson, Arthur W. The Thames & Hudson Manual of Bookbinding. London: Thames & Hudson, 1978.

Middleton, Bernard C. The Restoration of Leather Bindings. 4th ed. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press & London: the British Library, 2004.

Johnson, Arthur W. The Repair of Cloth Bindings. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2002.

Cockerell, Douglas. Bookbinding, and the Care of Books: A Text-Book for Bookbinders and Librarians. 4th ed. London: Sir Isaac Pitman & Sons, 1927.
    A very thoughtful book, in addition to being a fine craft book by a noted practitioner. Interesting on the choices a bookbinder must make when deciding how to treat a repair or restoration project.
    Probably not hard to find a used print copy. Here’s a link to a free e-book version from Project Gutenberg. I have no idea of its quality.

Diehl, Edith. Bookbinding: Its Background and Technique. (2 volumes in one.) New York: Dover, 1980. Original publication, in 2 volumes: Rinehart & Co.,1946.
    Well known, thorough, and useful, but I think the books above are better books to start on.

Greenfield, Jane. The Care of Fine Books. New York: Nick Lyons Books, 1988.
    A conservation and repair guide for librarians, conservators, and collectors.
——— ABC of Bookbinding.
    A glossary of bookbinder’s terms—not a how-to book. (Note there is a considerable glossary in Middleton.) $50.
——— , and Jenny Hille. Headbands: How to Work Them. Corrected reprint of 2nd ed. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2008.
    “A comprehensive manual showing how to reproduce numerous historical endbands. Thoroughly diagrammed instructions to reproduce headbands with a bead on the edge, bead on the spine, French Double, Coptic, Ethiopian, German Braided, Greek, Armenian, Islamic, Italian Renaissance, Monastic, Chevron, [etc.].” $15.

... including some things I haven’t seen but which sound like they may be of general interest and worth mentioning:

Mitchell, John. An Introduction to Gold Finishing. Five Oaks West Sussex, UK: Standing Press, 1995.
    Sounds like a comprehensive guide by a master craftsman, with items of interest to experienced craftspeople, and coverage of some steps common to foil stamping.

And also:


The page for this series, elsewhere on the present site, includes general information on the series, with notes on the contents of each book, and, for the books that are viewable on the Web, each book’s usefulness to today’s craftspeople. There are also links to free PDFs, directly downloadable from this site, of nearly forty of the books, including most of those of greatest interest to book arts people today.

Titles on paper and papermaking, for which PDFs are linked, include:
    Paper Cutting Machines
    How Paper is Made
    The Printer’s Dictionary




Belanger, Terry. Lunacy and the Arrangement of Books. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2003.
    Belanger knows a lot about books. Here he takes a break from the rigors of sanity, and discusses the far side of what happens when people arrange and catalogue libraries. Of enduring clinical interest, and therefore still in print as of 2016.


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The MCBA library! There are a lot of real treasures there, on typography, printing and all the book arts. It’s a wonderful place to browse, where you will find many of the books listed on this page, and many other excellent sources on all aspects of the book arts.

The Hamilton Wood Type Museum’s shop has a number of fine books on type.

Rulon-Miller Books Right here in St. Paul. A large, diverse, and well-catalogued stock of rare and fine books, including many, many examples of fine printing—the books you read about in histories of printing and typography. At the MABA fair in the summer.

James C. Dast, Bookseller, Madison, WI. Books about book arts, among other things. At the MABA fair in the summer.

Midwest Antiquarian Booksellers Association (MABA). Their fair comes to the State fairgrounds every summer. Always good for book arts books and book arts people.


Oak Knoll Books
    “Oak Knoll Press, publisher, and Oak Knoll Books, rare and out-of print bookseller. Our database contains the world’s largest inventory of books about books and bibliography.”
    Oak Knoll publishes a lot of good books on the book arts, and sells used books, including foundry specimen books. Their catalogs, which are available in PDF, are an interesting and entertaining survey of the literature past and present. I’ve bought many of my type books from Oak Knoll over the past twenty-odd years. I tip my hat to them for introducing me to some of the items on this page, and for publishing many of them.

RIT Press Rochester Institute of Technology: a leading printing school, lots of books on type.

Books at NA Graphics. NA Graphics is the famous letterpess supplier.

First Folio. Specializes in fine copies of rare and beautiful books, including including examples of fine printing, typography, and binding. Luscious and expensive. At the MABA fair in the summer.


Letterpress Commons: Books On Letterpress Printing

CircuitousRoot Typefoundry & Press
CircuitousRoot home page

Luc Devroye’s books page.

Metal Type (UK). Note the Library page, with many PDFs, including much information on casting machinery, including downloadable manufacturer documentation.


A Web search is probably the best way to start looking for good out-of-print books on type if you want to find particular titles. I suggest (my favorite), AbeBooks, or Alibris when searching for used print editions of specific titles. Your local booksellers may use these sites to list their stock, especially the harder-to-find titles.
    Searching for specific titles isn’t the only way you should look. Browsing the shelves and catalogues of used book stores that specialize in book arts or books on books, and also library shelves and book fairs, is the way to find lots of things you wouldn’t think to look for.

If you’re buying online, be sure you know exactly what you’re ordering. Listings by non-specialist booksellers are often vague about which edition is being offered, and whether all volumes of a multi-volume work are included. It’s best not to take chances. This is a particular problem with downloadable versions or print-on-demand versions of old books, but is increasingly a problem with used print books.

Beware of “print-on-demand” editions. They can be good sometimes. In particular, a couple I have seen from Cambridge University Press (in their series of reprints of books on the history of printing, publishing, and libraries) are affordable and very well done, in fact better than many printed books. However, print-on-demand production is often extremely shoddy, which is particularly useless for books on visual topics like book arts.
    Even reputable publishers may sell shoddy print-on-demand books—the name may just mean a higher price. Oxford University Press is a notable offender: they have no scruples about charging several hundred dollars for a pale imitation of a printed page.
    It’s not unusual to find a good used copy costing less than a shitty print-on-demand edition. This won’t be true, however, for books that are collectible.
    To exclude print-on-demand books (and those annoying listings of unavailable books) from a search, try adding the following Boolean string to the search terms:

    -ebook -Kessinger -nabu -BiblioLife -CreateSpace -tredition - Gyan -ReInk -India -FQ -demand -reproduction -replication -unavailable

    I’ve used this on sites like and AbeBooks; on a general Web search it might exclude pages that had both printed and print-on-demand books, but this might be worth trying first to see if it turns up enough printed books.

A free PDF may also be more desirable than a bad print-on-demand version, and is always worth searching for. (See “sources for e-books,” below.)
    For downloadable versions, I insist on PDFs; text versions of public-domain books are commonly useless, with garbled, unreadable, and incomplete texts. Text versions are especially problematic for books on visual subjects like type, since the illustrations probably won’t be there. HOWEVER, texts and epub e-books from Project Gutenberg are getting better all the time, and can be just fine; some of them include the images from the original book, and look very well done.
    Even PDFs can be poor: don’t assume they’re complete and readable until you’ve checked every page. And beware of suspicious-looking download sites. See the following list of recommended sites. See also the notes “About the PDFs” at the beginning of this page, for more about downloading PDFs.

sources for e-books:

Here are the best places I’ve found to look for usable books in electronic formats. Most of the good electronic books I’ve found were on Internet Archive, or linked from listings in Worldcat. (Project Gutenberg doesn’t do PDFs.)
    So it may well be best to check those sites before wading through all the stuff a Google search will come up with—even though Google is the original source of most of the PDF scans. (Not to mention that it’s simpler, and perhaps safer, to download Google-scanned books from Internet Archive and other reputable non-Google sources.)

Internet Archive (which I usually refer to on this site as
    advanced search page
    Free downloadable files in PDF and various other formats. There’s one page for each book. Books are carefully identified, and there are links to related books, which is especially useful if you’re searching for multiple books in a series.    advanced search page
Mainly a vast listing of library holdings of print books. But they also link to e-editions of the books, and I’ve often found this a quicker route to e-books than is a Google search. You may also find that a nearby library has the book.

Project Gutenberg home page    search page
    It’s amazing how many obscure books they have. They don’t seem to do PDFs, but their epubs ebooks and plain-text files can be quite good. One page for each book. If one of my links to a Project Gutenberg book page doesn’t work, try going to their site and searching the title: I think old book pages may be superseded if a new and better edition is prepared.

Google Books search page.

Aside from Google Books, a plain old search on Google can also turn up books and a lot of interesting related titles and information. But you have to wade through a lot of junk. Google isn’t the only search engine around; I also use DuckDuckGo, which may be less abusive of its users than is Google.


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