Two Collections Type on the Page at the Houghton and Newberry Libraries

Main Article Content

Paul F. Gehl


The period often considered the golden age of American type design (ca. 1900–ca 1940) saw the creation of a number of library collections specialized for the study of printing history. The most important of these were the John M. Wing Foundation at The Newberry Library of Chicago (founded in 1919) and the Department of Printing and Graphic Arts at Harvard’s Houghton Library (established in 1938). Both took inspiration from contemporary advances in bibliography and textual studies and both set out to exemplify printing history with specimens of type on the page for scholarly comparison; but they had differing emphases from the start, determined by the personalities and programs of their founders. The will of journalist John M. Wing (1845–1917) specified a collection that would allow study of “every significant development of the arts of printing and book production.” The first curator, Pierce Butler (1886–1953) began with incunabula and collected typeface by typeface through the centuries. Harvard’s Philip Hofer (1898–1984) was influenced by Butler’s classification scheme, but as an art historian, he began with aesthetic categories and emphasized design issues like illustration. As the two collections developed there were additional divergences, but also parallel interests, and both collaborations and rivalry. All the curators involved (Hofer in Cambridge and three successive librarians in Chicago) responded to ongoing developments in textual studies and in some cases anticipated them, both in their collection building and in their publications on printing history.


Download data is not yet available.

Article Details