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200 Years of Typography and Letters Found Online

Digitizing a treasure trove of letter-blocks, sketches, and inkings for viewing serving designers everywhere.

From Letterform Archive: work by Ladislav Sutnar

When Letterform Archive opened in 2015, it became an immediate destination for lovers of typography and letters — it’s already had over 5,000 visitors from 30 countries. They come for letter-blocks, sketches, and inkings; for the title graphics of Pixar films; for 19th-century Kanji scripts; for calligraphy, design, and typography. Founded by Rob Saunders, the nonprofit library and museum is dedicated to the preservation of (and education in) letterform arts. The contents of the San Francisco-based archive span thousands of years, from 2,300 BCE to today. They host exhibitions and events, and offer workshops in type design.

And now, if you can’t visit, you can access it at home.

A screencap from the digital Letterform Archive
From Letterform Archive: work by Elaine Lustig Cohen

On November 29, early participants in Letterform Archive’s membership program received access to the online Archive — a digital space of highlights from the museum. It has launched with an initial 1,000 items; when it opens to the general public, you’ll have access to over 3,000 images, from 1844 through 2016. You’ll find book jackets, manuals, advertising design, posters, typeface “blueprints,” images of boxes and tins, and in-store displays. You can create your own sets of typography, too, described as tables — a reference to the actual table at the Letterform Archive, where collections are curated for visitors.

From Letterform Archive: work from Wendingen Magazine.

A few highlights from the collection include work by: Michael Doret, who’s known for his contributions to Moana and other Disney films; Jacob Jongert, the Dutch modernist who in the 1930s created advertisements for Van Nelle, a manufacturer of tea and tobacco; and Zuzana Licko’s and Rudy VanderLans’s graphic design magazine, Emigre., first published in 1984. Its first 11 issues have, for the first time, been digitized and made available in the Archive.

From the digital Letterform Archive.
From Letterform Archive: work by Martin Venezky.

Membership fees are wide-ranging and reasonable — if you’re a student or an educator, it’s $30 a year; a regular membership is $60. There are other options, too — named Bold, Extra Bold, Black, and Ultra, in keeping with theme — and they’re all tax-deductible. The benefits exist offline, too: members of the digital Archive get discounts on workshops and preorders for Archive publications, as well as recordings of Salon Series talks and panels, which is great if you, like many online members, can’t make it to San Francisco.

For more information or to join, click here.

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