Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Chromatic Type

One highlight of the Hamilton Wood Type Museum's Wayzgoose was Paul Gehl's presentation on chromatic type specimens. Gehl is the custodian of the John M. Wing Foundation on the History of Printing at Chicago's Newberry Library. (He joked that he's sometimes confused with the janitor.)

Paul Gehl beside a projected screen of a wood type specimen book title page
Chromatic type is printed from multiple pieces of type, each in a different ink color. The following samples are all from the William H. Page company's 1874 book, Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type, Borders, Etc., which is held in the Newberry Library. The specimen book was used to sell the wooden pieces of type to printers. The types cost around 25 cents per letter, per ink color.

I apologize for the color shown here -- these are photos shot off a screen from a relatively dim projection. But that should motivate us all to go see them in person!

The word SIN in green and blue letters
Check out the thin white line between the light green and dark green of these letters. That's the paper showing through, and it's an intentional part of the design meant to add another color. Remember, each color is the result of the sheet of paper making a separate pass through the press.

Another chromatic wood type specimen
Getting each piece of type to hit the sheet of paper in exactly the right spot relative to the other colored parts of the same letter required amazing craftsmanship. The system of controlling positioning is called registration. These chromatic types were designed to register as much as possible (they were cut from a single multi-level pattern), but given the inherent inexactness of the presses, it's still quite a feat.

Chromatic wood type sample with color overlaps
Figuring out how many ink colors were used is sometimes tricky, because areas of color overlap create secondary colors. For instance, the sample at left, above, is only two colors, but appears to be three.

Another sample using the word Sin
Sin was a favorite word of the printers who designed and typeset the specimen book. Nice and short. And catchy, too.

A sample showing the fancy borders used
The borders around the pages are intricate as well. Each one is made up of many separate pieces along the sides, plus the corners.

As Gehl said, "There's a way in which this book spoils you" for other specimen books, because it's so beautiful.

1 comment:

peacay said...

Columbia U has the whole book for viewing online or d/loading as pdf. Tis wonderful indeed!