Where to find old fonts?

I wanted to make a revival of an old, pre-1800s, serif typeface. I, however, don't know where to look. I have found one place, but it wasn't too helpful (almost all had already been revived). Does anyone else know where to look? 


  • John Butler
    John Butler Posts: 257
    Your link above would be my own first choice. My second choice would be Letterform Archive. Some of their material requires membership.
  • Simon Cozens
    Simon Cozens Posts: 725
    Archive.org has some specimen books, but you really ought to look at the Letterform Archive.
  • James Puckett
    James Puckett Posts: 1,976
    You aren’t going to find many good pre-1800s typefaces that haven’t already been revived. That mountain has been strip mined. Take a look at Vervliets’s French Renaissance Printing Types: A Conspectus, maybe you can find something good in there that hasn’t already been revived, but you’ll need to track down the original sources because the Vervliet book is mostly scans of photocopies.

    Find something you like and make something new out of it. A great example of this would be Kris Sowersby’s recent typeface Martina Plantijn.
  • John Butler
    John Butler Posts: 257
    See this related thread about high-resolution text type scans. The good news is the hardware and software is exponentially cheaper than it was when OpenType 1.0 came out.
  • Stephen Coles
    Stephen Coles Posts: 998
    edited July 2023
    Any reason you’re limited to pre-1800? There was a lot more stylistic innovation and experimentation in type design in the 19th century – thousands more typefaces, many of them not revived. That said, visiting a library (like Letterform Archive in San Francisco or St Bride is London) will reveal a lot of early type specimens (let alone typefaces) that haven’t yet been digitized.
  • Nick Shinn
    Nick Shinn Posts: 2,152
    edited July 2023
    You are quite right Kris, high res is not necessary, but it doesn’t hurt to see the fine details of historic typography, for educational reasons, and if one is attempting a close facsimile effect—100%, of course, is impossible unless one is using the same letterpress medium.

    I would also caution that a low-res image without the idiosyncrasies of letterpress printing makes it easy to fill in the details of one’s type according to present day conventions and tech prompts, such as alignment zones and stem width conformity, which can lead to blandness. Often, the tiny quirks of metal type, the trace of process, can suggest ideas which may be developed in novel directions.

    “The task of renovating or recreating a design from old impressions is the most difficult of all. The effect of impressing upon damp paper, of worn type, and of the spread of ink, have to be reckoned with; and great skill is needed if, while removing blurred* outlines, the subtleties of the original engraving are not to be lost.”
    —Stanley Morison, A Tally of Types.

    *blurred by ink spread, not low res photographic reproduction.
  • C.Fransen
    C.Fransen Posts: 7
    edited July 2023
    You might want to have a look at the online library from Museum Plantin-Moretus. Lots of treasures to be found there. link
  • konrad ritter
    I took a look at Caslon's 1786 Pica Roman no. 1, and now I'm smitten. Why hasn't anyone brought that face back? Wouldn't it more useful than the 594th iteration of Helvetica?
  • Helmut Wollmersdorfer
    edited July 2023
    Any reason you’re limited to pre-1800? There was a lot more stylistic innovation and experimentation in type design in the 19th century – thousands more typefaces, many of them not revived.
    Agree on that. There are not so many pre-1800. Let's estimate them in hundreds. Gessner, Buchdruckerkunst (Art of Book Printing) Vol. 1, 1740, p. 145 ff., lists for

    Bernhard Christoph Breitkopf, Leipzig

    17 Fraktur fonts
    5 Schwabacher
    18 Roman Antiqua
    9 Roman Cursives

    In total 49 fonts excluding Greek, Hebrew, symbols etc. Most of them were cut by Johann Caspar Müller or Christian Zinck. Breitkopf married the widow of Müller. That was the usual way at this time to transfer companies, if someone died without male children.

    A Roman typeface at this time had 107 glyphs incl. digits and punctuation, a Fraktur 78 glyphs.

    One of the sons of Breitkopf, Immanuel Breitkopf, improved and harmonised the fonts. The 1787 specimen contains:

    30 Fraktur
    11 Schwabacher
    47 Antiqua
    40 Cursives

    He also offered 7 original Baskerville fonts. This counts to a total of 135 fonts, nearly 3 times more as 1740. He also created something like font families, i.e. each size of the Romans in a bold and cursive variant.

    Breitkopf was the largest and most important company at this time. Therefore I estimate the number of fonts in the German speaking area in the range 500 to 600 including the ones of the preceding centuries. Add Dutch, French, Italian and English type cutters and we have something like 2,000 different fonts.

    Many of them are still digitised, at least the interesting ones. The same is true for the fonts of the 19th and early 20th century. Sure, there are some forgotten gems like Postillenschrift (16th century), Jean Paul Fraktur (late 18th century), and some Art Nouveau ones.

  • Florian Hardwig
    some forgotten gems like […] Jean Paul Fraktur (late 18th century)
    I’m not saying they are the last word on the subject, but there are at least two digital interpretations of Jean-Paul-Fraktur.