Revival etiquette

I've ran into some beautiful carved type on a music box for sale in an antique shop some time ago. After some chit-chat with the owner, he agreed for me to come back and take a picture sometime. I was thinking of redrawing it as a personal project and seeing if I could come up with a lower case set at least to practice some. For now, this is all it is, just an idea.

But it got me thinking about the etiquette of retracing an old font.

- How would one go about tracing back the origins of the font of something that old? (other than whatfontis and posting it on a forum)

- If I managed to pull something nice out of this and would like to add it to my portfolio, should I take any further steps than referring to the original photo?

- When dealing with a revival, what should be done differently from releasing original work?

- Could it even be called a revival if I have just 4-5 words to work from? I don't think of it as inspiration as I was planning on retracing the letters precisely.

Thank you for your time,


  • James PuckettJames Puckett Posts: 1,785
    Letters carved into an antique probably are not type to begin with. If you are starting from a few words that were never type this is going to be a new typeface inspired by old lettering, which is fairly common. If the music box is only a few decades old it would be good to try and track down the source of the original design; if it is based on type or something in a lettering manual there might be a typeface already.

    And if you do start work on this, buy the music box. Otherwise you’ll be kicking yourself later when you really want to pick it up and compare.
  • I think it is a wonderful exercise. When I begin a font from a logo all I have is a minimal number of letters. The joy is in discovery, what a wonderful way of learning.

    Buy the box :-)
  • Thank you for your replies!

    I agree that buying the box would be best but it is definitely unfit for my budget (a few thousand dollars from what I recall). In fact, the shopkeeper doesn't even really expect to sell it and uses it as a showcase piece which is why, I think, he agreed on letting me take a photo. I'll try to go snap it this week before he forgets he even talked to me before. I've been putting this off for a long time!

    I don't know how the box is called neither in French nor in English but it plays using carved metal discs and has an amazing sound. Maybe a looked similar to this :

    From what I remember, I also thought it must be a custom lettering because I remember the caps had a lot of swashes. I saw it a long time ago although I drop by the shop just by curiosity every now and then to see if there are any cool posters or old lead type. I hope the lettering is as good as it is in my memories! I've sometimes had it happen when I seemed to remember something as great only to come back to it later and notice a bunch of flaws, I hate when that happens!
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