The Culture and Craft of Wood Type



报告嘉宾:Helen Smith教授

Invented in China in or around 1040 CE, wood type began to be widely used in the nineteenth century, particularly for poster printing and advertising materials. Wood type manufacturers in the US, Britain, and Europe produced a huge variety of designs and alphabets, including Cyrillic, Burmese, German blackletter, Hebrew and Chinese pictograms. Research into wood type has to date focussed primarily on the history of wood type in the US, and on catalogues and specimens, along with the history of particular manufacturers. This paper will draw on important recent research into the colonial histories of print, paper and bureaucracy to argue for the entangled global histories of wood type. It will explore the materiality of wood type as a product of global trade and the commercial exploitation of hardwoods, and as a means to navigate and express colonial relationships, translation and communication across languages. Taking DeLittle of York, the UK’s last wood type factory, as a case study, the paper will trace the varied cultures of wood type, and the craft associated with its materials, design, manufacture and use, as it travelled from forest to factory, and on to customers both local and international. The paper will explore DeLittle’s relationship to ideas of Britishness and national identity, including through its ‘Empire’ border, royal printing, and the distinctive ‘white letter’ Eboracum face, named after Roman York. It will briefly discuss DeLittle’s creation of a unique pantograph, allowing letters and other forms to be cut in two sizes at once from a single pattern, and will trace the journeys of DeLittle-created typefaces including Cyrillic, Gaelic, Tamil and Sinhalese. The paper will conclude with a brief account of the artist’s residency funded by the World Wood Day Foundation, showing how these themes have been interpreted and given new creative life.