The Letterform Archive

by Margaret Penney | October 12, 2016

The Letterform Archive is a library and museum dedicated to the letter arts located in San Francisco, CA with an archive of over 30,000 items related to lettering, typography, and calligraphy. They also have a wonderful online gallery with a curated selection of type designs from 1120 through contemporary times. The web interface for the museum is beautifully made and you can search by year, famous typographer, style, and by movement—Avante Garde type, Aldo Novarese’s designs, and wood engravings are all simple to find.

It’s an incredibly inspiring collection with web previews that expand to really show the detail in each letterform, plus they offer high-resolution samplers from recent acquisitions of type collections.

For an aspiring or seasoned type designer alike, it’s one of the best resources for historical type reference online. Included here is a selection of some favorites from the gallery, but don’t just take our word for it, visit the gallery yourself.

Letterform Archive Gallery


Cassandre's First American Specimen of Bifur

Cassandre’s First American Specimen of Bifur

Hand=painted label sketch, Lehmann Printing, circa 1930.

Hand-painted label sketch, Lehmann Printing, circa 1930.


Albert Klijn, sketch for brochure, Venetian blinds.

William George Sutherland, The Sign Writer and Glass Embosser (1898)

William George Sutherland, The Sign Writer and Glass Embosser (1898)

To find out more about this wonderful design museum, visit The Letterform Archive.


Margaret Penney is the Managing Editor of Notes on Design. Margaret is a teacher, designer, writer and new media artist and founder of Hello Creative Co.


If you are interested in learning to use typography, Sessions College offers Basic Typography and Advanced Typography courses as well as a course in Web Typography.  Contact Admissions for more information.

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