The Height of Chromatic Type
These images are from a rare type specimen housed in Columbia University’s Butler Library.
Printed in 1874 by William H. Page & Co. The Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type, Borders, Etc. contains over 100 pages of the most colourful, eye-popping type. These excellent photos are by Becca Hirsbrunner.
“Chromatic” typefaces are designed so that each character has separate layers that are intended to be typeset in alignment and printed in different colours. Many of the designs above overlap each other creating a third colour.
This specimen book was used to sell the woodtype to printers. The type is said to have cost around 25 cents per letter, per colour layer, certainly not cheap back then.
From the introduction to Specimens of Chromatic Wood Type, 1874:
To Color Printers
We have the pleasure of laying before you a Specimen Book of Chromatic Wood Type, and would say it is now eighteen years since we began Type making. Progress in the Art can be seen by comparing the present volume, with Specimens of that date. There were at that time five or six other manufacturers in the country. Now we manufacture seven-eights of all the Wood Type made, and are now able to show by itself a Book of Chromatic Type and Borders that is not excelled in the world. It has taken years of time to prepare and perfect it. The designs with two or three exceptions are entirely original with us. The demand for Chromatic Type is quite limited, therefore we cannot apply this book free, only to our Agents.
Most Respectfully Yours,
Wm. H. Page & Co.
There are many modern versions of chromatic type, including Terrance Weinzierl’s award winning Pizza Press face.