Wild West Typography

shockomotive's picture

Howdy everyone!
As my Google-Fu did not turn up too much useful info in the subject, I was wondering whether somebody might recommend a good specimen book for american poster typography covering the era from around 1840-1900.

I am especially interested in the kinds of ornaments that have been used. So far however, I have mostly seen remakes of the style and am now wondering what really rolled of the presses back then.

Any input much appreciated.

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Wesley.Bancroft's picture

Might want to check this out... it is not exactly what you are looking for but still might be interesting... www.withoutwalls.com

Here is their disclaimer:

These are NOT keyable fonts. They are IMAGES made from scans of actual, hand printed, wood type, suitable for use in any Image Editing Program like Adobe Photoshop or Paint Shop Pro. You CANNOT TYPE with them. Each letterform or graphic element will need to be hand set one piece at a time... much like using real wood type! Intended primarily for use as Display Type.

Chris Keegan's picture

The Hamilton Wood Type Museum might have some information for you: http://www.woodtype.org/

shockomotive's picture

Wesley: thanks for that link, this gives me great inside in the printing quality of the days of yore. While my budget on this does not allow me to purchase the collections, the gallery images still make a great guide.

Chris: have checked out the museum site. While it has very little information in itself, I have sent some mail to the proprietors and hope they might be able to guide me on. The search term "wood type" however has turned out to be pure gold. Much thanks!

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

How about Wood Type Alphabets, by Rob Roy Kelly?

(RRK is also the author of American Wood Type, 1828-1900. But that book is quite rare and very expensive.)

gillo's picture

It's kind of a pain in the butt, because you have to download these huge files and then they really slow down your computer (or at least my computer—a couple of years old macbook pro) but the internet archive has some fantastic typeface resources. They have scans of a whole bunch of original type catalogs (the resolution is low, but tolerable) and manuals and stuff. I'm sure you could find original wood type sources there.

For example, you might try "Specimen book and catalog; a price list of printers' supplies, showing types and rules in which are embodied all the latest ideas that enable the printer to produce superior work" from the Inland type foundry, St. Louis, 1897.

I haven't downloaded that one, but I did download an 1895 Cleveland Type Foundry book of specimens which has a wood type section with some ornaments including those I've uploaded.

Ricardo Cordoba's picture

What a great resource, Gillian! Thanks for the links.

aluminum's picture

Play poker like they did back when Texas was part of Mexico?

Do they mean everyone at the table is packing heat?

Here's a good online source for ornaments of the era:


Better yet, stop into a local letterpress shop. They'd likely be willing to print you some sample sheets of various ornaments.

maaike's picture


You might find this book about Hatch Show Print interesting: http://www.amazon.com/Hatch-Show-Print-History-American/dp/0811828565

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