Inspecting our type

L: Erhard Ratdolt's type specimen (taken from
R: Caslon's Caslon specimen (
Taschen’s A Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles)
It's been some months since we got our presses, and we are still not managing to print with them… So to indulge our addiction to letterpress we have been buying up type left, right and centre, with a particular weakness for woodtype. But being bought from various individuals, with varying degrees of knowledge on typefaces, we often have no name to put to the fount. To us, this is annoying – a piece of the puzzle is missing, and a little bit of history lost.

Luckily, way back when (or more accurately 1486), Erhard Ratdolt, a printer, type designer and punchcutter, came up with the idea of a decorative type specimen to showcase his talents in typography (above left). From then onwards type specimens became the norm for foundries to demonstrate the all point sizes and weights available in their typefaces. For instance, in 1734 William Caslon, 'letter-founder' extraordinaire, created a rather impressive and well known one (above right) for every iteration of Caslon. And he wasn't alone. So, in theory, this means that we can trace our fount collection. Once we've found the right specimen books of course. Fingers crossed St Brides and the British Library combined with a few hallmarks can lead us in the right direction…

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