wood type is amazing.
there are so many things to love about it. by design, it is used at headline sizes (sometimes as large as 12 inches or 72 lines – sometimes larger!). because of this you can see some amazingly unsubtle designs. the type has been stripped down to its basics and any extraneous frivolity has been removed. because of the easy availabilty of wood, woodtype flourished in north america
the other thing we should remember as users and viewers of woodtype is that it is made out of wood. wood breaks. wood can be cut. and wood can be glued. wood can be used again.
recently, i sorted through a long-neglected box of woodtype given to me by harold kurschenska (university of toronto press designer and proprietor of the purple partridge press and one of the nicest men in the world). the contents weren’t earth shattering – mostly various weights and sizes of railroad gothic – but i did find some lovely little oddities that i wanted to share.
when you print letterpress, you have probably crushed a letter or two along the way. things happen. too much pressure. forgetting to move your guidepins. you drop something. obviously, the person who used this type had some problems.
i think the original letter was a ‘C’ and the bottom got mangled somehow and the printer of yore magically introduced a period (tittle of an exclamation mark?) because they needed to use this ‘C’. as a bad amateur woodworker, i can tell you that the printer of yore did a hell of a job on this. as you can see from the sideview below, the hairline that the repair causes is not really that noticable and if it’s on a poster that is viewed from a distance, you would never notice anyway.
one of the reasons that the letter was able to be repaired was because of the simplicity of the design. the thickness of the period is the same as that of the verticals of the ‘C’. problem solved without having to recut a letter which you may not have the wood for. you will also notice that they did not cut up an ‘O’ to make the ‘C’. as a vowel, an ‘O’ was/is a much-used commodity and was/is not to be trifled with. you are more likely to use an ‘O’ than you are a ‘C’ when typesetting something.
the box turned up a number of weird stuff like this and i find it both charming and very human. something that we don’t see very much of now in our digital world. we have an infinite number of letter and they are all the same without variation.
there are more of these lovely frankenstein monsters coming up.