1923 American Type Founders specimen book

American Type Founders was born of a merger of 23 type foundries in 1892. In the early 1920s, American Type Founders had come to dominate the huge metal foundry type market in the United States. They budgeted a whopping $300,000 (millions in today’s dollars) to produce 60,00 copies of their 1923 Specimen Book.

American Type Founders 1923 specimen bookThis immense, 1100-page catalog was distributed to print shops across North America. Most surviving copies were referenced for decades by printers with inky fingers, so clean copies are hard to find, and we’ve never seen one in mint-condition. Many copies have illustrations and decorations cut out of the book (probably to be used in a paste-up for an offset project).

ATF finally succumbed, in 1993, to the pressures of “cold type” and offset printing. Luckily for letterpress shops, which have had a resurgence in popularity in the digital age, Mackenzie & Harris Type Foundry, in San Francisco, still produces metal type. There’s also eBay, for metal foundry type.

The Specimen Book and Catalogue 1923 is available occasionally from used book sellers, but you can view the entire catalog on pdf here.