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Wood Type came in to use in the 1820s at the same time Slab Serif fonts were developed and for a similar purpose. As I mentioned earlier in the course the Industrial Revolution increased production which in turn created the need to market products. As more broad sides went up advertising various products and services and as more newspapers started selling more ad space, sellers wanted to use larger, more elaborate fonts.
Individual fancy letters could measure 2 to 3 inches high, because sellers wanted to catch the buyer's eye. But lead type is heavy, and casting new, fancy, elaborate, unique fonts for the simple purpose of competing with the other guy was expensive. That's when Wood Type entered the scene. Wood Type was lighter and cost half as much to produce. In addition, when prepared by machine Wood Type had smoother, more even surfaces. Now the earliest known Chinese wood block print dates from 868.
So it wasn't a new idea in the early 1800s. It's just the up until that time type design and print shops were focused on books. Suddenly, with the shift to advertising, print shops and newspapers needed lighter, cheaper type. Letters needed to be made with something other than lead. I wish I could just hand you a piece of each kind of type. It's hard to truly understand the weight of large lead letters, but here I have, side by side, a wood capital M on the left and it weighs slightly more than two quarters.
Each quarter weighs just over of 5.5 grams. On the right is a lead capital M. The slag is a little bigger than the wooden ones so it's not a perfect match, but it's pretty close. The lead M weighs the same as 30 quarters or a 170 grams and that's for only one relatively small display letter. Remember in the 1820s letters were getting bigger. Here we have two pieces of wooden type. Each one measures just over 4 inches or 10.5 centimeters tall.
Together they weigh about the same as 9 quarters. If these letters were lead they'd weigh 674 and 3/4 grams or the equivalent of 119 quarters, which is one quarter shy of three rolls of quarters. If we were going to set our current headline reading one book is like eating one potato chip and lead letters of about this size and shape it would weigh about the same as 62 rolls of quarters.
Lead type is heavy. It's cumbersome to work with at large sizes. Wood Type, because of its original purpose to market products and services by catching the buyer' eye, came in a variety of shapes and sizes. Today, digital versions represent the variety of forms created during the 100 years Wood Type was popular for printing. Although, Hamilton Wood Type continued to manufacture fonts until the end of the century Wood Type fell out of favor in the 1920s.
This is not surprising since the first radio commercial was broadcast in 1922.
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