Wood Type


Wood Type - Grecian | International Printing Museumby Jim Thompson, IPM Board of Trustees

We begin this year 2012 with a wood-type for January that is called Grecian. It is believed that this typeface originated as wood-type and was designed by Wells and Webb in the 1840s. It first appeared in 1846 in a wood-type specimen book prepared by Wells for the L. Johnson Foundry. It was the practice back then for wood-type manufacturers to distribute some of their product for sale through the metal type foundries. It was a win-win situation with increased sales for both companies. Wells showed the type in their own catalog in 1849. The initial showing included condensed and extra condensed versions. It was soon copied by all of the wood-type manufacturers. Some added full face and other variations of Grecian. The lower case however did not appear until the 1870s.

The distinctive feature of the Grecian typeface is the absence of any curved edges on the letters. Rather the curves are replaced by straight-line approximations to a curve. The letter “O” for example has an external boundary consisting of an elongated octagon, and an interior boundary of a smaller and narrower elongated octagon. The serifs from antique type are retained. The resulting letter shapes convey an image of strength.

Although the Grecian typeface enjoyed popularity in the 1800s, it is not used much today. Accordingly, our example of Grecian type is shown below in the Civil War recruitment poster for a Union rifle regiment. Various typeface are present, but note that line 7 “REGIMENT” and line10 “PAY COMMENCES AT ONCE” both use Grecian extra condensed type. Our sample “TROOPS” is a 16 line condensed version of Grecian manufactured by Cooley sometime between 1859 and 1868.

Civil War recruitment poster | International Printing Museum