Wood Type


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

The ingredients of a wood-type column seem simple enough; an interesting wood-type font, its identity, a bit of its history, and some current use of that typeface. But the current use is often the most difficult part to find. My approach is to start with an interesting typeface, check to see if we have a wood-type version in our collection, and if we do then identify it, and write about its history.

A few years of proofing wood-type and writing columns does wonders for one’s typeface awareness, and interesting typefaces show up anywhere in daily life. This month’s column began one day about a year ago at lunch at “Chicago for Ribs” where their intriguing logo (shown below at end) was displayed on their menus and their take-out bags. The three lines of type beginning with RIBS with the thick/thin lettering just looked like it should be in wood-type. So I took a take-out bag as a sample, and found a match in the Hamilton 1906 Catalog (No. 658 below right). I began looking through our wood-type proofs and found that we had a 10-line version in the widest (No. 657 below left) of the four varieties shown in the Hamilton Catalog. These four entries were identified only as Hamilton Nos. 657 through 660. However, no typeface name was provided, hence no information on its origin. Google searches did not provide anything useful, so the information was put in the “future columns file”.

Recently I found another sample of this typeface, a more condensed version (No. 659 below left) that the museum had acquired. Both of our samples RIBS RIBS (shown above) are the Hamilton10-line variety. Last week I did yet another Google search on these Hamilton type numbers and finally found a bonanza of information.

Someone with this same woodtype had asked for help identifying it on Briar Press, a useful website for the letterpress community. One knowledgeable person responded that the typeface is McCullagh (named after a St Louis newspaper editor) and was issued by AFT (American Type Founders) in 1898. When Hamilton did the wood-type version they increased the range to include four variations (expanded No. 657 through extra condensed No. 660). Also on the Briar Press dialog thread, David Shields from the University of Texas added that Hamilton first showed this type in 1899, and that it was later produced by Tubbs Wood-Type Co. In fact checking the information on McCullagh in various printing references, I also learned that the designer of the McCullagh typeface was Gustav F. Schroeder. That last fact completes the story, and that is pretty much how a typical wood-type column comes together.

Chicago Ribs logo | International Printing Museum