An A to Z of Wood Type

An A-Z of

Wood Type

Design set and printed  exclusively for Hole & Corner, issue 2 by Kelvyn Laurence Smith at Mr Smith’s Letterpress Workshop in a limited edition of 26. Available in gold and grey.

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The idea behind my collection is to have types and fonts that can be used together in typographic harmony. The manufacture of wood type ceased when Mr Delittle of York retired some 15 years ago. It’s often hard to trace the origin of the types, but it’s safe to say that many of  the British types were made by Delittle, Stephenson Blake and Monotype throughout the 20th century. It’s important to me to refer to where, or from whom, I got the type. I distinguish them with a simple system: size, name, weight and style – for example: ‘12 line slab serif condensed thin’. Wood type is classified pretty simply: the size always comes first, specified in ‘lines’. A line (also known as a pica) is made up of 12 individual points. So 4 lines is 48 point, 6 lines is 72 point, etc. It might sound complicated, but it simplifies the maths at larger sizes.

A21 line Sans condensed thin

The 21 line denotes that this is a European (possibly German) type. This is an odd size, most British types are made to an even line size.

B12 line Akzidenz Grotesk bold

This ‘Aks-Grot’ is gentler in form than the original Berthold Type foundry original type of 1896. Many of the characters are severely scratched and cracked, which just adds to their character.

C12 line Sans condensed ultra thin

I only have a handful of these elegant 12 line characters. They came in a box full of odds and sods bought from Brian Hubbard at the Hubbard Type foundry in 2009. So I tend to call it ‘Hubbard condensed ultra thin’.

D6 line Akzidenz Grotesk

A one-off character from Mr Hubbard; a lovely even stroke width on the D gives it a simple, strong beauty.

E16 line Grotesque condensed medium

This damaged character (and a few others like it) was borrowed from an art school letterpress workshop department – it’s been on loan ever since! Most college wood type is in pretty bad condition, usually because of constant use and abuse. This E was covered in bright blue paint and had obviously been used for some ‘hand-stamping’. Amateurs!

F14 line Grotesque condensed bold

A gorgeous horizontal grain on this elegant Grot always lends a grey tone to the character of the outcome.

G10 line Egyptian slab serif

This Egyptian is another acquisition from a now defunct art school letterpress workshop department. The condensed nature and the boldness of this font always creates interesting shapes in the counter spaces. Heavy use of this font tends to make the work look too much like a ‘Wanted!’ poster – always beware of over using ‘playbill’ types!

H7 line Sans medium elegant

This European size type has a general elegance to it. Its considered,  mechanical form often feels understated and quiet in usage.

I12 line Slab serif condensed light

This lovely 12 line condensed slab came as an oddity in my first case of 12 line sans serif type. It has a strong, proud demeanour and sits beautifully with other 12 line Grots of various weights.

J8 line Egyptian bold

I love the flat bottom of this Egyptian. The gentle slope on the apex of the tail softens the very heavy serif and lends it legibility. It feels very humanist.

K20 line Grotesque condensed bold

One of my favourite characters. This K is hardly usable because of its severe surface deformity. It always draws attention to itself and shows off whenever it shows its beautiful face!

L10 line Egyptian bold round

I describe this character as ‘round’ because of the gentle curves on the slab serif. Most Egyptians are quite severe, with strong geometric slabs, but this is different. The whole font is pot-marked with these little shards which have probably come from extensive usage over the years and ‘dirty ink’ (ink with died ink skin mixed in with it that attaches itself to the wood type during printing and causes marking and scarring).

M24 line Grotesque condensed bold

This M is a workshop mainstay and one of the most used fonts in my workshop. I have six prized cases of mixed 24 line condensed that I use on a daily basis – bought from Bill Naylor and added to as and when I uncover any more.

N30 line Slab serif ultra condensed

I picked up nine of these Ns in a junk shop in Norwich. I rarely buy oddities but these proud, sharp-countered, elongated slabs are very beautiful. I was at art school in Norwich 25 years ago and it seemed poignant to find them on a rare returning visit.

O6 line Gill sans light

This is in fact the Gill sans light inline used to print the second colour inside Gill sans shadowed. It was originally designed for Monotype by Eric Gill in 1931.

P16 line (15.5) Sans condensed

This P is a slight oddity in that it sits shy of 16 line size by three points on the top and bottom of the body, which causes an uneven alignment when it’s in action. I love its shape though, a slightly podgy bottom and open counter space give it a bright character.

Q12 line Slab serif condensed thin

This lovely 12 line Slab serif came as another oddity in my first case of 12 line sans serif type. You can’t really tell it’s an Egyptian, but the cheeky swash tail gives it away. Some tails on the Q really let the form down, but this is confident and poised and always feels very positive in use: classy!

R4 line Akzidenz Grotesk bold

The smallest wood type size I have. Rarely does wood type come in any size under 6 line. It’s tricky to make. This is the only R in the font and has a beautiful flared leg.

S10 line Grotesque condensed

This sophisticated S was given to me as a present (as part of a font) by one of my oldest friends, Lucienne Roberts. I’d taught with her father Raymond for years at Middlesex University and always think it came from his extensive collection of ephemera and typographic goodies.

T20 line Grotesque condensed

This slightly bent, extremely condensed T comes from a plentiful but battered (and often illegible) 20 line case bought in the early 1990s along with my first Vandercook Proofing Press from George at the Mouldtype Foundry in Leyland, Lancashire.

U6 line Egyptian bold

Pinched from Camberwell College of Art’s letterpress workshop by my first apprentice to use on a job – and never returned! It has a gorgeous lolly shaped counter-space.

V18 line Sans condensed

A nice even condensed sans, with lovely horizontal grain. The slight nick on the lower right draws you back to the sharp apex of the counter space; modest and upright.

W20 line Slab serif condensed medium

This very condensed slab is the pride of my collection. Simple, legible and upright, it can do most things… well, except for spell anything with an E in it, which is most things!

X14 line Slab serif condensed

A lovely and rare 14 line condensed Egyptian from Buckinghamshire College in High Wycombe. It has a lovely even weight and stroke width to it, but I have no Ns in the font, which can be frustrating – I often end up using the Us upside down.

Y12 line Grotesque ultra light

This is a companion character to the C A Brian Hubbard ‘odd and sod’, its very narrow width allows me to get out of some tight typographic scrapes!

Z10 line Grotesque condensed bold

This Z props up his other 26 friends with its robust form. The 10 line font is strong, bold and robust and is certainly the most used in my collection.

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