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Wood Type Manufacture Hamburg – history and future

Wood type are single letters made of pear, maple or box wood. Where as lead letters distinguish with small sizes, sharp edges and thin lines, wood type letters fascinate with their great size, massive figures and their vivid look in print.

Since the beginning of the 19th century wood type was used for example for posters and headlines. The production of big size letters in lead was only possible with a huge effort. So the production in wood was more economical and the used wood was perfect to work with and stable because of the short grain.

Since the invention of the pantographer in 1834 by William Leavenworth in the USA the production of wood type was also possible in mass production. In the following years a lot of companies specialising in the production of wood type were founded in England and the USA. A reason for this should have been the upcoming advertising: To differentiate from the competitor new and high attentive typefaces were asked for. Out of this a real culture of advertising typefaces was born.

It is only less documented about the German wood type production. Early type specimen books of Eduard Haenel, Emil Gursch und Schelter & Giesecke proof the existence of wood type since 1843. In opposite to England and the USA wood type was produced only by type foundries in Germany. Apart from that the German type foundries and designers were not that experimenting with new designs, but expanding the ›classical typefaces‹ with big letter sizes.

In the course of the replacement of letterpress through offset printing the German type foundries stopped their wood type production in the 1960th. To cover the remaining demand the type foundries commissioned the production from now on to the company ›Gedi-Type‹ (Brothers Diller) from Bamberg. This workshop took over the machines and type templates from the type foundries D. Stempel AG, Berthold, Ludwig & Mayer and Haas and became almost the one and only manufacturer of wood type in Germany until they had to close her production because of less demand.

It was in 2004 when an initiative started the reopening of the wood type production: The Museum of work in Hamburg was able to buy the last complete wood type manufacture in Germany, the mentioned company ›Gedi-Type‹. The workshop contains besides the wood type router of Klingspor from about 1920 79 original type templates of the most important German type foundries and famous designers like Paul Renner, Hermann Zapf and Rudolf Koch and a lot of tools for the pre- and postproduction of the letters.

From the inventory of the company ›Gedi-Type‹ an exhibition workshop should be started up in the Museum of Work, which preserves and teaches the old technique and makes it usable for new ideas. But until the starting up there is a lot to do: the machines must be set up, the type templates must be sorted out and the wood must be prepared which waits for its processing since 30 years.

The idea was to give the exhibition workshop a corporate design of a manufacture with an own logo and a type specimen book to make the technique and use of the produced letters more illustrative and obvious to the visitor. The exhibition material – there is a type specimen book, examples of use and a project book – shows the rich variety of the exhibition workshop: It documents its history and builds a bridge between the old technique and innovative possible uses. The type specimen documents the holdings in type templates and is at the same time a tool to be used for the production of new wood type character sets. The examples of use show the use of wood type in letterpress and are at the same time a source of inspiration for new typographical work of art.

The box with the type specimen, the portfolio with 15 multicolour prints and the project book was produced in a small print run of only 10 copies in many worksteps in letterpress.

The following typefaces are as original wood type templates in the holdings of the Museum of Work in Hamburg:

Gebr. Klingspor:
Kabel condensed semibold / bold
Stahl Plakat

D. Stempel AG:
Binder Style
Memphis semibold
Plak condensed bold / extra condensed bold / bold

H. Berthold AG:
AG regular / semibold / bold / condensed bold / condensed semibold / outline
Block Eng
Block Signal

Ludwig & Mayer:
Colonia bold
Erbar condensed semibol / bold

Kleine Herkules
Permanent regular / heavy
Gedi regular / semibold / 3/4 bold / bold
Gedi Grenoble condensed semibold

Pica Plakat

Haas’sche Schriftgießerei:
Helvetica condensed semibold
Helvetica Compakt
Helvetica Kleine
Helvetica Plakat
Haas 1266
Haas 1571
Haas 5024
Haas 5025
Haas 5028
Haas 5029
Haas 5030
Haas 5061
Haas 5070
Haas 5833
Haas 5834
Haas 5835
Haas 5836
Haas 5837
Haas 5840
Haas 5844
Haas 5847
Haas 5848
Haas 6003/6120
Haas 6161
Haas 6163
Haas 6170
Haas 6170
Haas 6180
Haas 6183
Haas 6191
Haas 6199
Haas 6218
Haas 6219
Haas 6225
Haas 6228
Haas 6229
Haas 6233
Haas 6815
Haas 5026

– Type Directors Club New York, Student of the year 2005
– Art Directors Club Germany, Student of the year 2005
– Red Dot Design Award, Winner 2005
– Red Dot Design Award, Award Concept 2005