American Wood Type: 1828-1900

(2 customer reviews)


Notes on the Evolution of Decorated and Large Types
by Rob Roy Kelly

The first and most authoritative history of wood type in the United States has been reissued in paperback. Long out of print, the book is still regarded by scholars and designers as an invaluable resource for a rich legacy of typographic art. The book features a new foreword exploring the renewal of interest in the subject among designers, graphic artists, letterpress printers, and typographers.

SKU: ISBN 978-0-9785881-7-5 Category:


This book tells the complete story of wood type, beginning with the history of wood as a printing material, the development of decorated letters and large letters, and the invention of machinery for mass-producing wood letters. The 19th-century heyday of wood type is explored in great detail, including all aspects of design, manufacture, and marketing, and the evolution of styles. Many related trades interacted with wood type production; the book examines the influence of lithography, letterpress, metal-plate and wood engraving, sign painting and calligraphy, poster printing, and type-founding.

A brief epilogue on the use of wood letters in the 20th century documents a curious phenomenon: a hundred-year gap between the original wood letter designers and contemporary graphic designers who once again realized the rich design qualities of wood type. The figure-ground properties of many 19th-century wood types show a visual sophistication uncommon in any of the arts of the period.

More than 600 specimens of wood type are classified and annotated, as are more than 100 specimens of complete fonts. This reissue includes a new foreword by David Shields, Design Curator of the Rob Roy Kelly Wood Type Collection at the University of Texas at Austin, discussing the renewed interest in the subject since the mid-1990s as well as ongoing research into the history of wood type. In addition, the reissue includes the essay “Search and Research” by Rob Roy Kelly about the many years he spent pursuing wood type fonts, researching their origins, and writing and producing his book (the essay is reprinted with permission from Specimen Book of Wood Type from the Collection of the Silver Buckle Press).

“Forty years ago a publication appeared that became the definitive volume on wood type. In the 1969 Introduction to American Wood Type: 1828-1900, Kelly wrote that ‘my intention is to present a number of pertinent facts concerning their origins, the men who produced them, and the use of them in their own time.’ Twenty years later it was out-of-print. The reissue of Rob Roy Kelly’s American Wood Type: 1828-1900 will reach a new audience of 21st century educators, designers, and historians who will once again marvel at the ingenuity and beauty of historic wood type.” —Dennis Y Ichiyama FAAR’07, Professor, Department of Art & Design, School of Visual & Performing Arts, Purdue University

“Rob Roy Kelly was one of the world’s outstanding design educators and experts on the history of antique wood types. His thorough research and scholarship stands as the seminal reminder for this rich historical section of American typographic history. With the availability now of American Wood Type: 1828-1900 this important resource is again available to designers, students, scholars and type lovers everywhere.” —R. Roger Remington, Vignelli Distinguished Professor of Design, Rochester Institute of Technology

“This extraordinarily beautiful book demonstrates the broad range of ingenuity and elegance in 19th-century American type design. . . . with full historical and technical summaries, the subject is covered with a complete satisfactory thoroughness; it is also a superb picture book, exciting, amusing, rewarding.” —The Nation

Rob Roy Kelly established professional graphic design programs at the Minneapolis College of Art, the Kansas City Art Institute, and Arizona State University. He also served on the faculty of Carnegie Mellon University and Rochester Institute of Technology. In 1989 he received the first Master Teacher Award given by the Graphic Design Educators Association. In 2001, a web site titled Everything is a Work in Progress was developed by graduate students at Rochester Institute of Technology to present Kelly’s collected writings on graphic design education. He died in 2004, and his obituary in The New York Times noted that his “influential book on 19th-century American wood type prompted a major typographical revival in the 1970’s.”

352 pages, paperback, 8.25″ x 11.7″
Published April 30, 2010


2 reviews for American Wood Type: 1828-1900


    This type represents a fundamental part of American heritage, the building blocks that were used to define American visual culture during the 19th century.

  2. Sean King

    Beautifully printed book and crisp quality throughout. Amazing type specimens shown in large format.

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