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.