Copy, Transform, Combine: Extrapolating from 19th Century American Wood TypeOld World, New Forms: Extrapolating 19th Century American Wood Type

The repurposing of Variable OpenType technology as a tool of digital preservation

Javier Viramontes
Visiting Lecturer
Rochester Institute of Technology

“Copy, Transform, Combine,” refers to a 2017 University of New Haven exhibition of historically significant Swiss posters from the private collection of Tom Strong, with the aim of deepening the historical/practical education of graphic design students with a more immersive material and contextual experience. The title of the exhibition outlines a methodology of using archives in an experiential manner to engage history, not as a static memory, but rather as an experience that allows students to revisit design history through their own perspectives, allowing them to copy, transform, and combine new works based on historical exemplars.

“Copy, Transform, Combine,” can also serve as a unique way to rethink historical preservation. For this presentation, we will discuss the repurposing of Variable OpenType technology as a tool of digital preservation of Aldine Expanded, a 19th-century American Wood Type design, first manufactured by The Hamilton Mfg. Co., Two Rivers, Wis. As indicated by the research of David Shields, Associate Professor, Department of Graphic Design, Virginia Commonwealth University, 19th-century letterforms such as Aldine Expanded were produced in a time without standardized classification systems. Furthermore, without notions of intellectual property or copyright, 19th-century movable wood type designs were often plagiarized, altered, or expanded without a sense of attribution. This typographic revival aims at mapping and classifying Aldine’s various copies and offshoots into a single digital Variable Opentype font file sourced from various design archives.

This presentation will discuss the early and middle stages of this experiment. We are interested in engaging design educators looking to engage archives through preservation, remixing, and the study of historical visual culture through contemporary design technologies.

This design research is presented at Design Incubation Colloquium 10.3: Tenth Anniversary, St. John’s University (Hybrid) on Friday, June 7, 2024.