RIT Cary Collection preserving Hebrew wood type

Messenger Post Media
Monroe County Post

Rochester Institute of Technology is preserving a collection of Hebrew wood types used by the Jewish-American press at the turn of the 20th century. 

The collection will be made accessible online for students and scholars in advance of a digital and print publication.

RIT Cary Graphic Arts Collection will print, digitize and publish its collection of 30 different wood types of the Hebrew alphabet with a grant from the Rochester Area Community Foundation’s Historic Preservation, Restoration and Literature Fund. RACF is supporting the initial preparatory work needed to create a digital and print monograph of the wood types, including typesetting, printing, cataloguing and digitizing the collection. Work on the project starts in December.

“This collection is one of the most extensive private non-Latin wood type collections in the United States — outside of the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum — and its significance crosses the boundaries of graphic arts teaching, as the type represents the development of the immigrant press in the United States,” said Amelia Hugill-Fontanel, associate curator at the Cary Collection housed in RIT Libraries.

A collection of 30 different Hebrew wood type alphabets are housed at the Cary Graphics Arts Collection.

European Jewish refugees arrived in the U.S. in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and created a Jewish-American press in major cities like New York, Philadelphia and Chicago. The Hebrew wood types in the Cary Collection include sets from one of the longest-running Yiddish daily newspapers still in publication, The Forward.

“One of the missions of the Cary Graphics Arts Collection is to tell the history of American printing through artifacts, typefaces and printing presses, but the story wouldn’t be complete without referring to other languages and scripts,” said Shani Avni, visiting assistant curator. “The immigrants who came here spoke in different languages and they are an integral part of the story.”

Letterpress printing fell out of favor in the mid-20th century with the advent of lithographic printing and wood type alphabets were cast aside. The hands-on printing method has gained new interest among the maker culture, Hugill-Fontanel said, and spawned “informal blogs and printers’ communities, digital font revival foundries, institutional collections, and working printing collections at private presses, book arts centers and universities across the country.”

Over the past six years, Cary Collection staff and members of the student-run program Adopt-a-Font cleaned and restored thousands of characters in the Hebrew wood type collection using archival preservation practices. Now, RACF is helping the project enter its next phase.

Hugill-Fontanel and Avni will lead a team of RIT student technicians, as well as a research and design assistant co-op student hired for the project. Hugill-Fontanel, who is a master printer, will typeset and print the alphabets using letterpress printing presses in the Cary Collection. Avni, a Hebrew design expert, will analyze and catalog the print specimens. 

RIT student technicians will digitize the Hebrew alphabet specimens and publish the digital-type images online in RIT Libraries’ Digital Collections repository, making them accessible to the public. The student research and design assistant will digitally trace several of the Hebrew alphabets’ designs for use in desktop publishing applications and archive the wood fonts.

The Cary Graphics Arts Collection is making its collection of Hebrew wood type alphabets accessible online through RIT Libraries’ Digital Collections.