Where to find specimen sheets of old classics

I'm a life long typefan and newly aspiring "font maker" and I was wondering if there were any good sources for online scans of "classic" font faces like Garamond or Caslon. I'm looking to teach myself at least the "mechanics" of font making by creating some nice digitizations of the old classics for release under an Open Source license (probably the LGPL but I haven't decided yet and probably won't until I have an actual preliminary release that someone might want to use and/or help build)

Ideally the samples should contain a complete set of numbers, letters and punctuation, but seeing as that's not the way they seem to have done things "back in the day", I'd be happy with links to almost anything.

2 Nov 2007 — 4:58pm
General Discussions

You could always visit LetterheadFonts(.com) and check out what they have. I'm always inspired by their early vintage type styles.

Not sure what Letterhead Fonts has to do with this request. I think Michael's looking for something like this set of specimens. They are not suitable for tracing, but that's the best online collection of metal type specimens I know. I would seek for some old catalogs from used bookshops and Ebay.

Oops, bad lama.

Wow. Thanks for the pointer. Archive.org has large TIFFs of this book, so maybe I can get something useful :)

I found this while searching for that 1923 ATF book on the Flickr site:

The original going for $400. I also located someone on Amazon who still has a copy.

If you're patient (and lucky), you may be able to get a copy for substantially less on eBay...

Well the archive.org copy of the ATF catalouge was a "bust", but I did find some quite high-resolution scans on the website of Ghostscript maintainer Raph Levien. He has a nice scan of ATF Garamond (normal only) and a few others up. I think I'm going to try my hand at ATF Venetian, which despite its name, actually seems to be a "Modern" style font a la Bodoni. I figure that since there's already at least one decent FOSS old-style (URW Palladio, an actual Zapf-approved version of Palatino), I might as well start where I'll be forgin new territory... Pictures, PDFs and info will be provided as things progress.

That's me, and the scans (and a few other things) are at levien.com/type. The original 2400 dpi versions are also online at the TUG site.

But there are also many, many excellent specimen books available at an affordable price. Either the 1934 or 1941 edition of the ATF specimen book is $14 or so from abebooks. Don't forget European founders either. A lot of the ATF fonts have been mined out, especially by Bitstream in the 80s. If you can visit San Francisco, the Grabhorn collection at the SF Public Library has an awesome collection of specimen books, and there are no doubt other similar collections near you (the Cary in Rochester, etc).

Best of luck in your efforts.

Apart from foundry specimens, old science books are a good source, as they tend to have figures and fractions, math symbols, and often for the natural sciences, species names in small caps or italics. And superiors and footnotes. You get a strong feeling for the personality of a typeface seeing it in real use. Some foundry specimens, such as Linotype, 1923, or Bauer c.1936, have a lot of faux usage (pseudo advertisements, letterheads, etc.), which is almost as good.

In general, I would say work from actual letterpress originals rather than scans. Why copy a copy? Without seeing how a design works in its intended medium, your education will be missing something.

Raph: Thanks for the pointers. ATM I have to save my pennies for a photo class trip to NYC, but after that I'll look into getting a copy of either the '34 or '41 editions (or both). As for European foundries, I'll have to look into it. At the moment, I'm pretty restricted to what's online and what I can find in the Boston Public Library (which has a few things including the Keystone Type Foundry's 1906 book, the '34 ATF, the 1924 Caslon specimen, and a bunch of from the 1850s to the 1940s) Guess that'll hold me over until I can travel ;) As for the ATF being "over-mined" by Bitstream already, I'm not really concerned... proprietary fonts aren't very useful to true Linux nerds, after all.

Nick: At this point I'm still "playing around" with the basic mechanics of things, mainly by tracing from scans. Once know what I'm doing a bit more I will look for more "real usage" sources, but at the moment, having all the characters in one place for me to shamelessly rip off is of utmost importance :P


i'm coming late in here but I have a quite high resolution scan of the Egelnoff-Berner Garamond specimen sheet (1592). Would that be interesting to you?

David R


And, if someone looks for something special: just ask and I'll can look into my specimen:

No, its not for sale...
But these ones are:


Thanks for the suggestions. I've been moving more slowly than I thought, thanks in large part to the fact that RL has interfered a bit. Still, I have a whole free four day weekend... Maybe I'll finally finish my first set of capitals...

@David R

Dude, that sounds awesome! Could you post a link?

I have a facsimile copy of Caslon's specimen book. I've been fishing around to see what it's worth, and by Googling "caslon 1924" (the year of publication) I got this link http://www.addisonhall.com/caslon-1924-specimen/ , which has some useful scans from the book. Have a look at the rest of the site, well worth a visit.

Not among these scans is the fold out A2 specimen sheet - a facsimile of the original 1734 poster - a quick digital of which I have attached. I can scan it if you would like - too big to post here of course.

I'm not selling the book by the way, and I do wonder how much Samaritan type Caslon sold - not to mention Syriac!

View original article