Rare Type Specimens at the Open Library (2012 update)

Collecting rare specimen books from type foundries can be a really expensive hobby. Luckily there is a growing number of digitized type specimen books available online. The Open Library project offers a free and enjoyable way to browse in those books. The magnifying glass isn’t working yet, but you can download most of these type specimen as PDFs with a sufficient resolution. Here is a selection of the available type specimen books:

William Caslon – A specimen of printing types (1785)

Caslon: A specimen of cast ornaments (1798)


Franklin type foundry, Cincinnati – Convenient book of specimens (1889)

Barnhart bros. & Spindler, Chicago – Book of type specimens (1881)

Keystone Type Foundry, Philadelphia – Abridged specimen book (1906)

Cleveland Type Foundry – Catalogue and book of specimens of type faces (1895)

Palmer & Rey, San Francisco – New specimen book (1884)

American Type Founders Company – American specimen book of type styles (1912)

Lanston Monotype Machine Company – The monotype specimen book of type faces (1922)

Inland Type Foundry, St. Louis – Specimen book and catalog (1897)

MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan Co, Philadelphia – Specimens of printing types (1892)

Selections from the specimen book of the Fann Street Foundry (1874)

Fifteenth book of specimens from the Cincinnati Type Foundry (1882)

Condensed Specimen Book from the Boston Type Foundry (1860)

Specimen of printing types from the foundery of Binney & Ronaldson, Philadelphia (1812)

Book of type specimens by Barnhart bros. & Spindler in Chicago (1907)

Related Links:

  • Hi-Res Scans of type specimens of typefaces from Justus Erich Walbaum
  • Crucial Fuel online gallery
  • Flickr sets by “Nike” from Germany including cover shots and specimen spreads
  • Nick Sherman’s specimen collections on Flickr
  • Type Specimen Flickr Group
  • Berlintypes huge type specimen collection (mostly cover shots)
  • More specimen book cover shots by “Typefaces World”


  1. Ale Paul 2008/02/18 at 7:07 PM #

    lovely! sad the mackellar pdf is not online, I can not wait to see it with zoom! thanks for the links.

  2. Nick Sherman 2008/02/18 at 7:19 PM #

    This is an amazing resource. The resolution of some of these PDFs is a bit lower than ideal, but they’re great to look at regardless.
    I’ve always liked the Internet Archive (the group behind Open Library) for offering public domain horror movies, but never thought to search their database for type specimens.
    Thanks for the info.

  3. ralfherrmann 2008/02/18 at 7:26 PM #

    sad the mackellar pdf is not online

    It is! They just used the wrong URL. This should work.

  4. Ale Paul 2008/02/18 at 7:33 PM #

    Nick, Ralf, what ones you were able to open pdf?

  5. ralfherrmann 2008/02/18 at 7:38 PM #

    Remove the »_lt« from the links and they should all work fine.

  6. Nick Sherman 2008/02/18 at 8:33 PM #

    It might be easier to get them here (different presentation of the same stuff at the Internet Archive site).

  7. paul 2008/02/19 at 3:38 AM #

    i just love the MS&J book! great find.

  8. Mark Simonson 2008/02/19 at 7:13 AM #

    Neat! Did you notice the bitmap fonts in the back of the Caslon catalog?

    (The stern notice saying I should be using IE6+ or Firefox to view the site was kind of silly. It seems to work fine in Safari.)

  9. Beth Budwig 2008/02/20 at 11:40 PM #

    Wow, thank you for linking to these! I am blown away by the “New Specimen” book - just the “A”s in “A Business Talk” on page 5 are inspiring.

  10. Beth Budwig 2008/02/20 at 11:41 PM #

    The Palmer & Rey’s book, that is.

  11. AGL - Andre 2008/03/19 at 1:59 PM #

    Oh God! Oh God! Oh God!

  12. AGL - Andre 2008/03/30 at 1:25 PM #

    I had no words on my previous comment, but I should have said: Thank You Half! You’r da man!

  13. Louis 2008/06/03 at 3:18 AM #

    The Type catalogues are great. There are more on the site.
    the copy of the ATF 1923 catalogue on the site is not perfect.
    I scanned my copy of the catalogue into a pdf file,it is quite karge.When I put it in cd disks I spread it over 5 disks. It is in color and is clear. some of the pages are a little crooked .
    I tried to send it to the librarym but can’t figure out how to do it. Would you like a copy, ar can you help get it on the net..

  14. Julie Godinez 2008/07/22 at 5:34 PM #


    I have a copy of a type specimen book that I cannot find any information about. It is entitled, “Twentieth Century Desk Book of Type and Printing Material” by American Type Founders Co., dated 1900-1901 and printed in Chicago.

    I literally cannot find any informatio at all anywhere about this reference book.

    Thank you for your help!


  15. ralfherrmann 2008/07/22 at 5:38 PM #

    I literally cannot find any informatio at all anywhere about this reference book.

    What do you wan’t to know?
    You might start here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/American_Type_Founders
    And also try the links at the bottom of this page.

  16. Julie Godinez 2008/07/22 at 5:53 PM #


    That is what I’m saying, it is driving me crazy! I find ATF specimen books for before and after that date, printed in Buffalo or New Jersey, but none for that date printed in Chicago.


  17. Julie Godinez 2008/07/22 at 6:05 PM #


    I am trying to determine the rarity or importance of this reference but can find nothing to help me do that. Your link was very helpful learning more about AFT history, but it does not reference this book either.


  18. William Creswell 2008/08/25 at 6:13 PM #

    I have the same 1901 type book, “Twentieth Century Desk Book of Type and Printing Material”, as well. It’s a beautiful book. There was a copy on the Belgium Ebay about a month ago that sold for around $300 US. The copy I have, was purchased at a flea market this weekend. I got it for $25. It was originally priced at $250! I can’t find any info either. I’d like to scan it and put it online.

  19. xavier 2009/03/04 at 10:32 PM #

    Does anyone know where I might borrow a copy of any of the actual Mackellar books so that I can scan a few pages at a much higher resolution than shown here (or, alternatively, pay a fortunate owner of such a treasure to scan some pages for me)? If I had an extra thousand bucks, I could find an original to buy (they appear once in awhile in online auctions but always with a huge reserve), but all I want is some scans. Anybody got any ideas? Thanks!!


  20. Song 2009/06/18 at 2:17 PM #

    it is the reason why i love digital life. it just narrow the gap between the rich and poor (of course i am poor). we can enjoy some thing like “Rare Type Specimens” which was only available for richs.

  21. Gary Barsch 2010/09/08 at 11:13 AM #

    Thank you very much. This site helps in my type research work.

  22. Stephen Saxe 2010/12/13 at 10:58 PM #

    ATF published several editions of the Desk Book from 1898 to 1901, all of them about the same trim size: 5-3/4″ x 8-1/2″, with from 1024 to 1186 pages. They were imprinted for various locations such as Chicago, New York, Philadelphia, etc. but they were all printed at the former MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan foundry in Philadelphia. None were printed in Chicago.
    -Steve Saxe

  23. Mac 2011/06/06 at 10:27 AM #

    really great stuff. Didn’t know that there’s such a history in specimen books. Thanks

  24. Wei 2012/01/25 at 9:14 AM #

    Great list, there is collection of scans in the “Silver Buckle Collction” from the University of Wisconsin Digital Collection http://digicoll.library.wisc.edu/SilverBuckle/Browse.html

    includes the following:

    Add “punch” to your printing with Hamilton wood type. 1951
    American line type book: borders and ornaments price list, printing machinery and material. 1906
    ATF Spartan: medium and italic.
    Automatic white space.
    Bauer types in use.
    The Blue Streak Linotypes: master models 31 & 32.
    The Blue Streak Linotypes: model fourteen.
    Hamilton printing plant equipment / manufactured by Hamilton Manufacturing Company. Hamilton Manufacturing Co. (Two Rivers, Wis.) ([1922-1932])
    Instruction on installation, care and operation of the chandler & price 10×15 and 12×18 craftsman press with rice automatic feeder 1934. Chandler & Price company (1934)
    [Letter from Ray C. Cook, sales director of Hamilton Manufacturing Company regarding Hamilton wood type catalog no. 25]. Cook, Ray C. (1951)
    La lettre d’imprimerie: origine, développement, classification & 12 notices illustrées sur les arts du livre. Thibaudeau, F (1921)
    La lettre d’imprimerie: origine, développement, classification & 12 notices illustrées sur les arts du livre. Thibaudeau, F (1921)
    Linotype news. 1963
    Nickel-alloy type: Keystone Type Foundry. 1906
    The Nubian: a new fashion in types.
    Price list of printing type and typographic material. Mackellar, Smiths & Jordan Co (1891)
    The printing arts: selected from a detailed description of all guilds. Sachs, Hans, Ammann, Jost (1968)
    Two-series modernage typography introduced by the American Type Founders Company.
    Type specimen book. Democrat Printing Co. (Madison, Wis.) ([1940])
    Types: fancy metal rules and metal furniture too.
    Wood 2. Morgan Press ([1964])
    Wood type. Hamilton Manufacturing Co (1938)
    Wood type. 1897
    Woodcock’s printers’ and lithographers’ weekly gazette. 1881
    Woodtype: selective emphasis for fine typography. 1960

  25. Veronica 2012/04/08 at 4:32 AM #

    I just found your site and going through these type specimen books is like poring over treasure…thank you so much for sharing them!!

  26. Stephen Saxe 2013/07/17 at 1:20 PM #

    The Barnhart Bros. & Spindler specimen book list for 1881 is actually dated 1907. The date should be corrected.

    For anyone interested in the American specimen books shown, I’d recommend Maurice Annenberg’s “American Type Foundries and their Catalogs”, published by Oak Knoll Press in 1994. I helped to revise it after Mr. Annenberg’s death. It contains a listing of all American foundry type specimens and histories of all the founries. It can be found here:
    -Steve Saxe


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