Books on Type and Typography for Compositors

  • Here’s a basic collection printers interested in typography should own
  • History, type design, typography and biography in recommended listing
  • Individual opinions vary; printers may want to add other important works

Some time ago this department listed the manuals which, since Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises, circa 1683, had influenced the compositor’s craft. There have been several inquiries concerning books on type or some phase of typography, and where to buy them. The really good books on type are few and far between. Furthermore, since most of them are out of print, it is often difficult to secure copies.

Any listing of this kind will of necessity be personal opinion. In this respect, the list may be incomplete. There probably will never be a completely adequate bibliography of books on type, individual preferences being what they are. However, in my judgment, the books itemized here represent a basic collection that all printers interested in typography should want to possess.

I’ve chosen four main categories under which to present the basic list. Because an understanding of today’s types must be prefaced by a sure background of information concerning their development, it is paramount to place the first group under the heading, “History.” In the second group, “Type Design,” are listed the volumes specifically concerned with that subject. Third is “Typography,” which contains those books discussing the procedures of type use. Finally, “biography” is important if we would understand and appreciate the great workers in the craftsmanship of printing. Naturally, many books are difficult to classify, but I have attempted to list each volume in the area of its greatest importance.


Printing Types: Their History, Forms, and Use, Daniel Berkeley Updike. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, 1937. Two volumes.

Here’s the classic text on printing types, without which no typographic library (or education) is complete. However, I have some reservations about offering Updike as a book for the beginner. Although the information is there, it is not always easy to extract. Several readings probably will be necessary. Ideally, an examination of some of the historic volumes mentioned in Updike’s text will contribute much to complete understanding and appreciation.

The Shaping of Our Alphabet, Frank Denman. Alfred A. Knopf, New York, 1955.

This most recent addition to books about type is listed immediately under the Updike for a particular reason. Then traces the development of our present-day types in a most readable and interesting fashion, attempting to explain the reasons for changes of style in accordance with periodic moods of art and social history. I believe that this volume is an excellent introduction to the Updike work.

A History of the Old English Letter Foundries, Talbot Baines Reed. Revised by A.F. Johnson. Faber and Faber Ltd., London, 1952.

The first edition of this treatise was published in 1887 and was long out of print. The revision was brought out in 1952. English typefounding is traced well into the nineteenth century in this definitive text, which is of great importance to American printers because the English types were much used in American Colonial printing.

The Fleuron. Edited. Oliver Simon and Stanley Morison, London, 1923–30. Seven volumes.

While the Fleuron was primarily an annual of the typographic arts, it contains some of the most valuable contributions to the history of types, particularly the essays in each volume by Stanley Morison, the foremost living scholar printing. In these essays Morison parallels the work of Updike and presents new insights in the development of type. Throughout the seven volumes are important contributions by some of our period’s best-known writers.

The Dolphin. Edited. The Limited Editions Club, New York, 1933–41. Four volumes.

An American annual devoted to the book arts, somewhat in the manner of the English Fleuron. Each volume contains first-rate articles, but Volume Three, A History of the Printed Book, is a particularly fine record of the development of type.

Type Design

Typographical Printing Surfaces: The Technology and Mechanism of Their Production, L.A. Legros and J.C. Grant. Longmans, Green & Co., London, 1916.

Despite the unprepossessing title, this is the standard reference on typefounding and the development of composing machines. It is by all standards the definitive text on the subject. Copies of Legros & Grant, being most difficult to obtain, bring a premium price but are worth it.

Typologia, Frederic W. Goudy, University of California Press, 1941.

From the pen of the most prolific of all type designers, just six years before his death, here are his most carefully considered opinions on the design of printing types. The chapters on type history have been done with greater clarity by other writers, but on the problems of design, Goudy is at his best.

Making Printers’ Typefaces, R. Hunter Middleton. The Black Cat Press, Chicago, 1938.

A short essay on type design by the present director of typography of Ludlow Typographic Co., and one of America’s top type designers.

Encyclopaedia of Type Faces, W.T. Berry and A.F. Johnson. Blandford Press, London, 1953.

While this is an English book and concerned with many types not generally available in the United States, it has by far the most complete coverage of information on the present-day types, their designers, originating foundries, and dates of design. The most disappointing feature of an otherwise admirable volume is the fact that types are frequently shown with one or two lines and not in complete alphabets.

Type specimen books.

A type specimen book from a foundry or machine company is of course a valuable addition to a typographic library. Because such books are not as easy to acquire as they were even a few years ago, the second-hand bookseller will have to be resorted to. However, specimen books are often the main items on the printing bookshelves of such dealers, so the task of locating them is not difficult.


Paragraphs on Printing, Bruce Rogers, with James Hendrickson. William E. Rudge’s sons, New York, 1943.

This beautiful book contains essentially the philosophy of Bruce Rogers, undoubtedly the most distinguished book designer, now his 85th year. With many illustrations of Roger’s work, the volume consists of short opinions on most phases of book typography. It is written quietly and, like the man himself, is without dogma.

Layout in Advertising. William A. Dwiggins. Harper & Bros., New York, 1948.

Written originally in 1928 and reprinted, without revision, 20 years later, this is one of the basic references on the design of printed material. Since Dwiggins is one of the America’s finest typographic designers, what he has to say is of real value. The book does not fall into the trap of most texts on layout, which reproduce current (at publication date) designs. It therefore wears well. Due to the literary skill of its author, it is one of the most amusing books ever written on the subject.

Modern Type Display, J.L. Frazier, Chicago, 1929.

Readers of this magazine know the contribution made by its former editor, and they’re probably following with interest the current re-publication of his excellent text, which has long been out of print. This book, if used in conjunction with Frazier’s Specimen Review, should be required reading.

Books and Printing, A Treasury for Typophiles, edited by Paul A. Bennett. World Publishing Co., Cleveland, 1951.

Without question this is the finest compilation of articles on typography in all its phases. It is a one-volume shelf all by itself. The table of contents is a “Who’s Who” of the typographic greats of the last thirty years. A must book for the person seriously interested in type.


A Half-Century of Type Design and Typography, Frederic W. Goudy. The Typophiles, New York, 1946. Published in two volumes.

Goudy’s autobiography, written just prior to his death, listing every design from his hand, and getting the story behind each. For the Goudy collector (and what printer isn’t?) this is the definitive work.

Updike: American Printer. American Institute of Graphic Arts. New York, 1947.

A collection of essays written by friends of Daniel Berkeley Updike, and well descriptive of the notable contributions of one of America’s greatest printers.

This article first appeared in the December 1955 issue of The Inland Printer.

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