In 1878, J Edward Hamilton founded J.E. Hamilton Holly Wood Type Company off the coast of Wisconsin in the town of Two Rivers. In just 20 years, it became the world’s largest supplier of wood type.
Hamilton later transitioned into a museum dedicated to studying and preserving the production of wood type. The collection has grown to include over 1.5 million pieces of wood type and advertising wood cuts from around the world.
In the Spring of 2015, I was fortunate enough to spend an extended time in Two Rivers to work beside Hamilton's crew as an intern.
One of my first assignments at Hamilton was to identify wood type from the GramLee collection. The collection is a large assortment of wood engravings that belonged to S. George & Company in Wellsburg, West Virginia. The company manufactured heavy duty sacks for packages of flour, cornmeal, and other household staples.
The collection of wood engravings was later bought by Bob Graham and Pat Lee. It included 2,000 woodblocks, an assortment of metal engravings, and 120 cases of wood type–a total of nine tons of printing materials. The few woodcuts in the collection that have identification marks can be traced back to Hamilton Manufacturing Company.
You can identify wood type several ways. First, most wood type has maker's marks on the A character. If there is no maker's mark, you can also identify the manufacturer with David Shields' method of studying the saw marks on the back of the wood. More of his research on wood type can be found on Wood Type Research.
After you identify where the type was manufactured, you can look up the type in a variety of specimen books. Most historic specimens have now been scanned and reprinted for contemporary uses. One of the most comprehensive books on wood type is Rob Roy Kelly's American Wood Type: 1828-1900.
Sorting of the Patterns
One of my main projects at Hamilton was dealing with their type patterns. To make wood type, a pantograph operator would trace a pattern in the shape of the character being cut. These wooden patterns can be scaled up to a third to make different sized type from a single block. Hamilton offered many different typefaces that were available in foreign languages, reversed, outline, and streamer cuts.
With the many templates in Hamilton's collection, a book was created in 1985 that contains all of the templates that were available in the factory at the time. This also included additional cutting and trimming notes for the pantograph operator and trimmers. A chart accompanied the book to allow the factory workers to locate patterns based on their style number.
I started to translate this information into a new database for archival purposes. The contents of the pattern drawers continue to be photographed and checked for accuracy. This allows for the museum to assess what patterns are available for the cutting of new type.
Time on Press
During the course of my time at Hamilton, I had ample time on press to ink up Hamilton's collection.
Infatuated with the local slang of Two Rivers, I payed my homage with an Er' No poster while printing with a visiting workshop.
A poster was needed for the upcoming Spring/Summer workship series happening at the museum. I took this opportunity to push my typesetting skills and experiement with my first split fountain on press.
Georgie Liesch and Mardell Doubek let me take a hand at trying the pantograph to cut some wood type of my own. Mardell was an original Hamilton factory worker from 1968–1992, and is currently teaching Georgie how to operate the pantograph as part of a grant.
William Leavenworth introduced the pantograph in 1834 which allowed wood type to be produced on a production basis. It is essentially a large copy machine that translates the movements of the operator through a series of arms that controls a router that is cutting the wood.
Seeing the traditional means of producing type was truly a special moment in my design career.