The Right Type

The Alcalde
3 min readJun 29, 2022


Photographs by Romy Suskin

Within the collection of the Department of Design of the College of Fine Arts at UT Austin is a lesser-known, but remarkable, specimen collection of 19th-century wood type — wooden blocks used to mass produce artistic text. These varieties of popular wood type lent an aesthetic appeal to posters, newspapers, books, and other printed materials primarily in the 19th century.

Housed in the Department of Design’s Design Lab, The Rob Roy Kelly Wood Type Collection is a comprehensive assortment of wood type amassed by noted design educator and historian Rob Roy Kelly in the 1950s and 1960s. Comprising nearly 150 typefaces of various sizes and styles, including examples of the most popular printing types in use between 1828 and 1920, it remains, as Kelly intended, an active study collection for students and scholars.

A new book by David Shields, the former head of the design program at UT, updates and expands upon Kelly’s historical information about the types, clarifying the collection’s exact composition and providing a better understanding of the stylistic development of wood type forms during the 19th century. Featuring more than 300 color photographs and examples, The Rob Roy Kelly American Wood Type Collection: A History and Catalog, released in April from UT Press, provides a stunning visual context of wood type and its uniquely American design.

GOTHIC: This face was first shown as wood type by Edwin Allen in George Nesbitt’s 1838 First Premium Wood Types, Cut by Machinery.
SPECIMENS OF WOOD TYPE: Manufactured by Wm. H. Page & Co., Greenville, Conn. 1872; ATF Library Collection, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.
ANTIQUE XX CONDENSED: This face was first listed as wood type by Wells & Webb in the 1854 “Specimen of Wood Type.”
AETNA: Describing Aetna as an innovative reaction against the perceived fragility of the long popular Fat Face Roman, Kelly said it was developed to “withstand rough handling, be highly legible, and be heavy enough for display.”
NO. 514: This face was first shown as wood type at least as early as the May 1890 “Specimens of New Process Wood Type!” by Wm. H. Page & Co.
ANTIQUE LIGHT FACE EXTENDED: The type block is “Stamped Hamilton | Two | Rivers, Wis.,” which was used between c. 1910 and the 1950s.
GOTHIC TUSCAN POINTED: This face was first shown as wood type in “The Printer,” Vol. 2, №4 (August 1859), in a four-page advertisement for James Conner & Sons’ wood type offerings.
COLUMBIAN: Columbian was a full-faced variant of the Ionic/Clarendon pattern, which became a near-ubiquitous style, offered by almost all type foundries and wood type manufacturers in Europe and North America.
FRENCH CLARENDON NO. 2: This face was first shown as wood type by Vanderburgh, Wells & Company as early as 1872.
PAGE’S WOOD TYPE ALBUM, VOL. 1, NO. 1: Book Arts Collection, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.



The Alcalde

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