Leafing through the pages of “Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type, Borders, & c.” a type specimen book that displays wood typefaces used for posters in the late 1800s, I felt like a child in a candy shop. I was bedazzled. And I am grateful to Esther K. Smith for fulfilling her dream to reprint “the most beautiful book in the world,” making this extraordinary book and typographic history available to the public. In 1874, wood type foundry Wm. H. Page & Co. published 1000 copies of this catalog that was marketed to trade only. Today, rare copies can be found at certain libraries like the Columbia University’s Rare Book & Manuscript Library, but aren’t so readily accessible to all. Smith explains that back in 1874, people got their news and announcements from reading posters, and the development of large wood type allowed multiple printing of the same poster. These letterpressed posters were pasted up around buildings and the messaging was more effective at reaching a larger audience than newspapers. “Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type Borders, &c.” not only showcases the beautiful wood type of Wm. H. Page & Co. but also the spectacular and vivid colors of Wade’s Inks (during a time period when such dynamic colors were not that widely available in ink). The sequence of words, carefully selected to show the best qualities of the typeface, also reads like poetry. The lusciousness of the colors, details of the type, and elaborate borders in the book are fabulously delicious. It’s a true feast for the eyes. Here are some examples from the book to give you a sample.
Credits: © Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type, Borders, &c., Edited by Esther K. Smith. Rizzoli New York, 2016