Scanning Around With Gene: American Type Founders

A very generous and thoughtful reader, Linda Anderson, was kind enough to send me something I’ve coveted for many years: a 1912 catalog from American Type Founders, then headquartered in Jersey City, New Jersey.

This isn’t a small, run-of-the-mill catalog it’s a massive 1,300-page specimen of the finest turn-of-the-previous-century hand composition, and it weighs in at more than 12 pounds. I could fill a year’s worth of columns just from this one source, but today I’ll look just at sample advertising that was designed to show off various type styles. Even so, I’ve had to break up this article into three pages, or loading all the samples would slow down your Web browser! Click on any image for a larger version.

American Type Founders (ATF) was created in 1892 by the merger of 23 different type foundries, which represented about 85% of all type manufactured in the United States at the time. By 1912 when this catalog was produced, ATF had 21 offices around the country and was the preeminent supplier of popular type styles to America’s printers and newspapers.

Both the 1912 and 1923 editions of the ATF catalog are prized as masterpieces of letterpress printing. In addition to hundreds of sample ads such as those shown here, the catalog has line and paragraph specimens of the many ATF type designs, which included the standards Century, Franklin Gothic, Bodoni, Caslon, and many others.

Considering that the entire catalog was likely set by hand, one letter at a time (all the way down to 4 point!), it is a monumental effort that must have required many men working thousands of hours. Much of the type in these ads is justified, which required careful planning and the use of small metal spacing material to even the lines.

One ATF story has Frederic Goudy selling his first type design to the company for $10 (which was double the $5 he asked for). ATF’s chief type designer was the prolific Morris Fuller Benton, who worked at the foundry from 1900 to 1937 and is responsible for many of the standard type designs still in use today. He designed more than 200 styles for ATF, including Hobo, Bank Gothic, Broadway, Franklin Gothic, and News Gothic.

Go to pages 2 and 3 for many more examples.

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Posted on: July 16, 2010

Gene Gable

Gene Gable has spent a lifetime in publishing, editing and the graphic arts and is currently a technology consultant and writer. He has spoken at events around the world and has written extensively on graphic design, intellectual-property rights, and publishing production in books and for magazines such as Print, U&lc, ID, Macworld, Graphic Exchange, AGI, and The Seybold Report. Gene's interest in graphic design history and letterpress printing resulted in his popular columns "Heavy Metal Madness" and "Scanning Around with Gene" here on CreativePro.com.

6 Comments on Scanning Around With Gene: American Type Founders

  1. Thank you for sharing your type treasure! I hope you’ll show us more in the near future.
    I own a 1927 type catalog from The Thomas P. Henry Company in Detroit. One of my mentors and friend, Dick Isbell, gave it to me in 1986. It has an embossed design on the leather cover with touches of gold leaf and is about 2″ thick. It has pegged pages so one can take out the page needed without injury to it. I also kept a 1987 and 1991 catalogs of Letraset transfer type. When I went to college in the late 70s, transfer type was all students could afford to use for headlines for design projects. A few years later learned to set type on a VGC phototypositor- the good old days!

  2. Yes, the fonts are great…the layouts are great…but I love the borders!! Very art deco — right up my alley. That book must be a gold mine. I’m sure I’d be spending many hours pouring over every page, as I’m sure you will be!

  3. Great article, but the image links to the larger scans don’t work… Any way to fix that to see more of the detail?

  4. My apologies — that was an oversight on my part. The links to the larger versions are now functioning.

    Terri Stone
    Editor in Chief, CreativePro.com

  5. I love the scans, and the one I love most does not have the font named. Do you know which font is used on this: /wp-content/uploads/sites/default/files/story_images/20100716SAWG_fg01a.jpg

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