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5.27.17 / Weekend Heller: Type to Go Ahhhhh For


At a recent launch for Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type (Rizzoli), a book I did with Esther K. Smith of the Purgatory Pie Press, she recounted something a professor once said: “You can appreciate things by Oooohs or by Ahhhs. The Oooohs were, I guess, the emotional reaction—loving something. The Ahhhs were understanding it on an intellectual level (maybe something like William Blake’s Innocence and Experience).”

This book offers both Oooohs and Ahhhs.

Before the turn of the twentieth century, individual typefaces were imbued with personalities – or voices. These idioms or styles or veneers or eccentricities or whatever differentiated messages and products from one another. On a more limited but no less significant scale, shifts in typeface popularity occurred as frequently as the length of hemlines or thicknesses of men’s ties and cravats. Type may not have been as aesthetically over-analyzed in the early to mid-twentieth century as they are today in the digital environment but they were tools of commerce and the promotion and marketing thereof. This was evidenced by the dozens of typographic trade magazines that sold type and ornamental borders to printers and production agencies. Some of the fanfare for new decorative typefaces was akin to the introduction of a new Apple product.

Typographic documents were not released as frequently as Apple gear but they were met by enthusiastic type users and supplied by a handful of nationally recognized foundries for wood and metal fonts.

One of the most ambitious and ubiquitous was Wm. H. Page & Co., whose type catalog and specimen publishing program was extensive and whose most remarkable document was this illuminated manuscript of a book, Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type Borders &c.


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May 26

Mechanical Art in the Mechanical Age

May 25

Untutored Art

May 24

A Museum to Compete With Starbucks

Previously on heller goes here


• Data Humanism: The Revolutionary Future of Data Visualization

• The Regional Design Awards Winners

• Magazine Covers by Famous Artists: Dali, Picasso, Braque & More



is the co-founder and the co-chair of the MFA Designer as Author program at the School of Visual Arts. He writes the Visuals column for the New York Times Book Review and the Graphic Content blog for T-Style. He is the author, coauthor, and/or editor of more than 120 books on design and popular culture, including the recent book Born Modern: The Life and Design of Alvin Lustig (Chronicle).