Wood Type and typography: Hamilton Wood Type Museum

About two weekends ago I accidently came across a show on television about wood type and, mainly, the Hamilton wood type museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, USA.

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I think I might have mentioned this before way back in my postings somewhere but I am sort of into type, fonts, and typography. Back in the early 90s I went to a half-day training event held by Adobe themselves in Sydney. I was in Sydney attending a Microsoft three day TechEd event at Darling Harbour and went the day earlier in order to go to the Adobe event. Out of the something like 1,500 people who were at TechEd that year there were only 22 of us at the Adobe session. I don’t think there were many other people wanting to pay (I think it was around $395) to go and learn about fonts.

The point being that font usage and page layout is something that interested me then and still does today.

But even with this interest in typography and the couple of books I have on the subject I had never before come across wood type—and I am not sure if that should be written woodtype (which Microsoft’s spell checker does not like), or as the two words “wood type”. I am going to go with “wood type”.

I have to say that I found this one hour show on wood type and the Hamilton Wood Type museum in Two Rivers riveting. While the craft of cutting the wood type is now almost lost and gone there were still two or three (now very old) type cutters featured in the show. As old as they were they were still able to cut amazingly perfect letter type.

Seriously, can you image the precision needed to cut the letters from wood for the following letterpress print below?

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The letter blocks have to be all exactly the same height so that when the pages run over the inked letters in the letterpress block they all apply perfectly to the paper sheet. And look at that top font used in “7 Dancer Exodus Heading for Alaska”. It has a relief cutting around the edge of every letter!

The TV show was a bit sad in parts and actually brought tears to my eyes when they talked about the millions of wood type letters that have been dumped or burnt since metal letterpress took over and then, more recently, since computer-based page layout and printing took over from that.

According to Wikipedia the Hamilton Wood Type museum was established in 2000 and they have ‘saved’ and estimated 1.5 million pieces of wood type and continue to seek wood type from around America.

The Hamilton museum is a working museum and interested groups can make arrangements to use the equipment and wood type to product wood type ‘art’.

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There are not too many places in the world I would bother to take the trouble to go and see but along with Seattle (where much of the TV series Twin Peaks was filmed) I have now added the Hamilton Wood Type museum in Two Rivers, Wisconsin.

All pictures link to the Hamilton Wood Type museum Web page.

BarryMark