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Ralf Herrmann

Starting an online archive of type specimens

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Ralf Herrmann

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Type specimen scans can be found scattered over the internet—on Flickr, the Internet Archive or some private websites for example. But there is no central place where information, let alone hi-res scans, are collected and can be browsed and used in an easy way—may it be for scientific research, for font digitalization or simply as a tool for type specimen collectors. 

For some time I have been thinking about building such a place, and with Typography.Guru as new place for global discussions around the field of typography and a dedicated type specimen forum I would like to start a discussion about this now. I am hoping to discuss ideas around this concept and find people interested to take part in such a project. Here is the concept so far:

The site:
Based on my experience with running typography sites for some time now, I am willing to set up a dedicated site for a global type specimen archive and maintain it with the help of other volunteers. It would be a non-profit project run by people who are interested in type and type specimens. But money would of course be an issue. Since it’s meant to accept hi-res scans of tens of thousands of pages, the web space costs would rise quickly and it would need a reliable concept to finance this for years to come. I would be interested in discussing this. Fees for contributors and/or users? Ads? Sponsors? Partnerships? Donations? What could work?

The database would be designed around the specific topic. So the catalogue could then be easily filtered by time, region, foundry, keywords and so on. Users could easily create new entries, discuss them, add information, get in contact with other collectors and so on. 

Local partners:
The more common type specimen sheets and brochures can easily be scanned and uploaded by type enthusiasts from all over the world. But that has limits. Some specimens are very rare and expensive. And large hard cover type specimen books can hardly be put on a regular flatbed scanner and just holding a camera above the double-spread pages leads to low-quality images with a distorted display of the pages. Proper book scanning equipment would be needed.

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So the site could team up with local institution like museums and libraries who have type specimens and probably even professional equipment to scan them. And if they don’t have it yet, there could be crowdfunding campaigns within the typographic community to pay for the needed equipment and labor. 

What do you think about it?

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George Thomas

I like this idea very much but a lot of thought should go into it so that the end result doesn't resemble something built by a committee. For example, while many organizations likely have proper equipment to scan the books, a standard should be established so what is made available is consistent in resolution and quality, to the extent possible.

One plus in the photographic or scanning process of the books would be a size reference symbol either at the beginning of the scan or on each page.

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thetypographist

Excellent idea to collect old specimen scans in one place. It’s quite annoying to search the entire internet for some badly scanned spreads.  So a database would be quite luxurious.

Did you already thought about how people can contribute their scans? Users could upload them by themselves, that would be the easiest thing but it could look quite messy after a while. The look of the scans will vary from top notch hi-res to grainy looking made with a bad smartphone camera—I think.

The first thing who cames up in my mind was the beautiful book “Type. A Visual History of Typefaces & Graphic Styles” by Taschen Verlag. They scanned every specimen book very carefully. Fantastic homogeny look.

And the finances, what about sponsors? I’m pretty sure companies like FontShop (Monotype), Adobe or maybe even Taschen (?) would contribute to this project. Otherwise donations or kickstarter could be a good way to earn some money. Ads could distort the beauty of the site in my opinion. 

Best regards

 

 

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Ralf Herrmann

Users could upload them by themselves, that would be the easiest thing but it could look quite messy after a while. ​

Yes, it would work like this site here. Anyone can upload, but there would be editors in the background to make sure that everything is correct and has sufficient quality. 

And speaking of quality: I am currently thinking that such an archive could be used with very different aims. If you want to digitize a font or reproduce a specimen in a print layout, you might need the best quality. But maybe you are just looking for inspiration and you want to check out the type specimen styles of the 1920s. Then you don’t care much about the scan quality. A way to accommodate this could be, that the quality of the entries is ranked and when you search the archive you can choose to include or not to include low-quality scans. 

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thetypographist

Good reasons. I thought it would be really cool to download/view the scans in multiple resolutions. Maybe low- and hi-res, so you can choose if you just want to have a look for inspiration or as you mentioned to digitize a specimen.

 

 

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Riccardo Sartori

Some thoughts:

One source of revenue could be that, while the browsing will be free, the download of high resolution scans will entail a fee.

However, given the scope of the project, some sort of institutional sponsor (museum, foundation, or similar) would probably be the best option, both financially and for recognition.

Both users’ input and editors’ supervision would be fundamental.

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Ralf Herrmann

One source of revenue could be that, while the browsing will be free, the download of high resolution scans will entail a fee.

​I like that idea. With such a cultural and scientific concept, the site should be as free, open and uncommercial as possible, but charging for additional services (like proving scans for professional use) and putting that money 100% in the service again would certainly be possible. 

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ÖNordling

This sounds like a great idea. Are there any copyright issues when it comes to old specimen books? Time limits? 

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Ralf Herrmann

Are there any copyright issues when it comes to old specimen books? Time limits? 

​It depends on the country when a copyright expires. Something like 70 to 100 years. But even when the specimens are younger, it’s usually no problem. A page of a type specimen book is no single piece of art like a painting—rather it’s just advertising and might not even reach a level of creativity which makes it copyrightable by itself. And foundries will have hardly any reasons to try to stop the publication of a 50 year old type specimen scan. 

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ÖNordling

I would be happy to contribute with material.

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Ville P

Awesome idea! Have to double check these copyright issues if contributing.

Riccardo Sartori: I dissagree, everything should be free.

We could get free hosting space for files from users.

Of course if some1 wants to donate money there could be some paypal button..

Or... Why not think BIG, let's ask funding from 1 big company or goverment. This is culture history after all..

Edited by Ville P

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Ralf Herrmann

Starting big or starting small is a question I am pondering too. The site could be set up in a few weeks and then just grow slowly dealing with everything along the way. Or there could be just planning, funding, legal preparations, web development and so on for months and the site wouldn’t get online until everything is figured out and works perfectly. Not sure which way is the best. 

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Dikko Faust

Do you see this archive as metal type only or wood as well?

For historical reasons, the range of wood type is not as well documented as metal, so in my own (Purgatory Pie Press) and School of Visual Arts' collection there are wood faces that are not in Rob Roy Kelly's book or the various sites like http://www.unicorngraphics.com/wood type museum.asp or (your link to) Silver Buckle, which I could proof and scan.

If so, I'll need specifics (jpeg or other, aspect, file size, etc)

Dikko Faust, www.Purgatory Pie Press.com, SVA faculty, NYC USA

 

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Ralf Herrmann

Do you see this archive as metal type only or wood as well?

​Anything that is a font presentation made by the maker of the font. Metal, wood, photolettering, digital fonts shown in books, booklets, pdf specimens, videos … The full range. 

Edited by Ralf Herrmann

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Stephen Coles

Hi Ralf. I’d like to see this too. Fortunately, there are at least two related efforts underway:

there is no central place where information, let alone hi-res scans, are collected and can be browsed and used in an easy way—may it be for scientific research, for font digitalization or simply as a tool for type specimen collectors. 

I believe this is one of the main goals of Type Record: http://typerecord.com

the site could team up with local institution like museums and libraries who have type specimens and probably even professional equipment to scan them

Letterform Archive http://letterformarchive.org, a non-profit in San Francisco, has one of the world’s most complete collections of specimens. Digitization is central to the org’s mission and it recently invested in the equipment to do very high quality captures using cameras (instead of scanners) and automated software for rapid processing. I am on the board of the Archive and will do my best to champion the specimen digitization effort, including partnerships with Type Record and other enthusiasts who want to share these images.

 

P.S. Your link button in the forum input editor doesn't seem to work. I am on Mac Chrome.

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Ralf Herrmann
On 25 April 2015 at 10:34 PM, Stephen Coles said:

I believe this is one of the main goals of Type Record: http://typerecord.com

Sounds good. 
I just would like to point out, that my Library of Type concept really only focuses on type specimens, not fonts itself. It is meant to be a visual online archive, not a font data collection. 

On 25 April 2015 at 10:34 PM, Stephen Coles said:

Letterform Archive http://letterformarchive.org, a non-profit in San Francisco, has one of the world’s most complete collections of specimens. Digitization is central to the org’s mission and it recently invested in the equipment to do very high quality captures using cameras (instead of scanners) and automated software for rapid processing.

Sounds like a perfect partner organisation for Library of Type. :happy:

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Ville P

I wish these kind of sites would have better index structure to browse specimens. Second most important thing is search box that let's you search type specimen by name, but the most important thing is the info about the image. It should say where this page was scanned and what year was the scanned book/print released. Also every bit of info that is available should be there in plain text.

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Ralf Herrmann

Also every bit of info that is available should be there in plain text.

So you mean for easy copying of everything from the page?

The print/publication year is often unknown for individual type specimens, which makes filtering the catalogue by time frame difficult if many records simply don’t have a value for this field. But we could work around that by either letting people enter guesses (which are clearly marked as such or not shown at all and only used internally) or by allowing the records to be assigned to larger time frames like decade or century, which then could be used for filtering.  

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Riccardo Sartori

the most important thing is the info about the image. […] every bit of info that is available should be there in plain text.

I agree. Metadata are essential, but also ideally every page should be scanned with OCR.

Edited by Riccardo Sartori

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Ville P

Ralf, i only use type specimen scans to look for info & lettershapes about certain typeface. Because if multiple type foundries have made their own copy of specific type, i wanna see which one is closest to original so i know what version should i buy.

So random scans without any info are useless in this kind of case..

Edited by Ville P

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Ralf Herrmann
On 26 September 2015 at 6:16 PM, Ville P said:

So random scans without any info are useless in this kind of case..

Certainly. Having quality scans, extensive information about them and a catalogue that can be browsed and filtered in various ways is the core of the project discussed here. :happy:

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barefootliam

For my own Web site - http://www.fromoldbooks.org/ - I use a museum-quality flatbed scanner that does A3 (a little over 11×17 inches) and generally scan at 2400dpi (8bpp or 16bpp greyscale up to 16bpc colour in a very few cases). I also have metadata stored about each image, including keywords that can be searched. I have not scanned many type samples, although I do have scans (at varying resolutions) from some Victorian books of calligraphy and lettering.

The Taschen Visual History of Typefaces and Graphic Styles appears to have used a lower resolution, which is acceptable for print reproduction but not for study, e.g. to recreate a typeface.

Unfortunately image storage is expensive, as is bandwidth. I support my Web site with a mix of advertising and image sales (I charge when it’s for commercial use or if people are wearing boring socks) and would be happy to expand the project.

I can envision some of the rare book libraries being willing to be involved if there’s someone to apply for and manage the necessary academic grants; it would have to be someone suitably “academic” of course.

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Ralf Herrmann
2 hours ago, barefootliam said:

For my own Web site - http://www.fromoldbooks.org/ - I use a museum-quality flatbed scanner that does A3 (a little over 11×17 inches) and generally scan at 2400dpi (8bpp or 16bpp greyscale up to 16bpc colour in a very few cases).

Can you tell me the model of the scanner? 

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Ralf Herrmann

I started this discussion last march and people asked my via email whether this project is still alive. So just a short update: Yes, it is. I’m currently in the process of setting up a new typography library here in Germany, which includes a large collection of type specimen books. 

This will be a great core collection for the Letter Library project to scan pages from and to research all the relevant information. The library will be officially open later this year and we will also have scanning equipment including an A3-size book scanner (with a modest quality). 

I didn’t have time to work on the website in the last months, but I am still considering a Kickstarter campaign to get ball rolling again in this regard. 

So hopefully we will see some progress this year. :happy:

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