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Printer’s blog- Typefaces, what are they?

Typefaces – what are they?

Museum volunteer Chris Pink brings us another blog from the print workshop, taking a look at typefaces, what they are and how we use them.

Typefaces are the shape of the letters that we use to write down words either by hand or mechanically, using wood or metal type or via computers.

We are often asked what typefaces we use to print our posters and the easy answer is that we often haven’t a clue.

There are thousands of typefaces in use today and to identify just one amongst them is well nigh impossible; to give you an idea, we have a catalogue of typefaces issued by a German foundry in 1984; it lists 1,350 “western” typefaces, 34 Greek, 28 Cyrillic (Russian), 16 Arabic, 12 Indian, 4 Vietnamese, 2 Armenian and 2 Thai.  Admittedly some are duplicated, so you get for instance, Caslon, Caslon Bold, Caslon Old Face, Caslon Condensed, Caslon Italic, and etc. but there are still lots and lots.

We can identify certain styles, mostly based on typefaces designed by 15th and 16th century type designers like Bodoni, Caslon, Baskerville and so on but there are many that we can only guess at.

The easiest letter to look at to identify common typefaces is the lower case letter “g”; it can be quite distinctive.

Some are easy to tell apart but some are very similar; a further complication is that lots of our larger wood type only have capital letters so we can’t use lower case letter “g” as a clue.

These are usually called “poster type” for the obvious reason that they were used to print large posters where lower case letters wouldn’t be needed and that is what we use that wood type for today at the Museum.

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