Type specimens with a 2020 twist by the printers at Bowne & Co.
February 11, 2021 – Christine Picone, designer at Bowne & Co.
If you follow Bowne & Co. on social media, perhaps you’ve noticed our specimen project called #IsolationType! Suddenly finding ourselves working from home in the spring of 2020, we wanted to express our thoughts, struggles, and triumphs as the pandemic unfolded we all came to grips with a very different way of life.
In our first post, nearly a year ago, we wrote: “Even when we feel alone, #design makes us happy.” As letterpress printers, this often means one thing: type. We quickly turned to our own archive of type specimens, and to many others that are preserved in the public domain.
Similar to the way an entomologist might gather a specimen of butterflies, or a geologist might collect minerals, printers’ specimens are surveys of typefaces. Type specimens from the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries exist in the form of books, catalogs, pamphlets, or single sheets. Most were published by the manufacturers of the typefaces themselves and distributed to printers to advertise their wares. As commercial objects, type specimens were often produced as quickly and cheaply as possible, and were typically disposed of just as quickly as new offerings became available. In most cases, visual appeal was a secondary priority, but to modern eyes, many type specimens possess great beauty and undeniable charm. For this project, we chose to give our specimens a modern treatment by isolating individual words or phrases from their original context to create images that expressed our moods.
Above left: A page from “Caractères en Bois,” H. W. Caslon & Sons, sales agents of Hamilton Mfg. Co., 1900.
Above center: A page from “Morgan Press Wood Type,” Morgan Press, 1964.
Above right:: A page from “Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type, Borders etc.,” Wm. H. Page & Co., 1874.
In the second half of the year, we were invigorated by participating in both online museum programming and outdoor, socially-distanced printing on Water Street. As summer gave way to fall, Isolation Type continued to reflect what was on our minds, in particular our civic duties (and Thanksgiving pie).
We were especially proud to find some of the most timely examples within our own specimen book, produced at Bowne & Co. in 1985 and in our opinion, one of our shop’s greatest printing triumphs—a topic that is surely worthy of a blog post all its own in the future.
Above: Spreads from “A Specimen Book of Nineteenth-Century Printing Types, Borders, Ornaments & Cuts in the Collection of Bowne & Co., Stationers,” 1985, pp. 98-101.
As we headed into the holiday season with our Stationers closed to the public, we launched our first-ever online shop with a core collection of our favorite items, including our own line of notecards and broadside posters. It was a very proud moment for us, and we were pleased to have so much support.
Social distancing is not over, but we are wrapping up Isolation Type soon. As we move on, we want to thank everyone who commented and wrote to us, excited to talk about type and perhaps escape for a little while. We all still need plenty of escape, so we’ll continue with projects that showcase our collection and our love of design.
This coming spring, we’ll post a single character each day from our favorite typefaces as part of the annual 36 Days of Type challenge on Instagram. Dates are yet to be announced, so be sure to follow us at @bowneprinters so you don’t miss any posts!
Together we can save the South Street Seaport Museum!
The pandemic has put the Museum at great risk of closing for good. We’re asking all those who love New York to step forward and join the die-hards who have kept the Museum alive through a myriad of challenges. Join the Our City, Our Seaport: Campaign to Save the Seaport Museum.