Poster printed at the Cary Collection with wood type.
There has always been a need for communicating with large letters. Take for example, monumental inscriptions carved into an edifice read from below or afar, or hand-lettered signs beckoning from shop windows. Carving and painting are relatively simple tasks for the human hand to scale larger, but printing in large sizes was limited by the method of type manufacture. For to cast type larger than 20 lines or 240 point, often produced unprintable letters with concave faces caused by uneven cooling of the type metal in its mould. Wood was a much lighter and more forgiving substance to work for large type, but early on, all characters had to be carved by hand.
Enter New Yorker Darius Wells who engineered the lateral router in the 1820s, the machine that could mass-produce wood type letters. And so an American industry was born in the manufacture of oversized relief block wooden type, flourishing into the twentieth century. This movement in printing history produced some of the most interesting letterforms conceived before digital typefounding, which continue to inspire and delight us even today.