Typeface index hack

Filed under: Diversions, typewriters — olivander July 9, 2009 @ 10:29 am

Typeface index book

For some time, I’ve been taking typeface samples of my typewriters. The primary purpose is to tell me where problems lie (is the typeface clean and aligned, do the keys work smoothly, does the line advance, etc work properly?). Eventually, I realized that the accumulated samples compose a pretty good reference of different type styles and sizes. Sorted by brand or date, you can also see the typefaces evolving, and companies borrowing from one another. If you’re a complete typeface nerd like me, you can also play “guess the typeface” that the company altered for their machines (“I spy Memphis!”).

The book itself is a discarded Franklin Covey planner binder that I found. The size was perfectly suited to the slightly-larger-than-an-index-card paper I had taken to using. (These are pads of 5×8 recycled scrap paper that we have here at work. I’ve found them perfect for typecasting.) I type two samples per page–type one at the top, then flip it upside-down for the next use. Those are cut in half, leaving two 4×5 slips. The problem was finding a properly-spaced hole puncher, as Franklin Covey apparently gave their rings a goofy 3.5″ spacing, probably so nobody could re-use them for non-Franklin purposes. Happily, at a thrift store I found an old Mutual Centamatic punch with variable hole spacing and sliding paper guide that is the perfect solution.

With all of my type sample slips punched, I next cut some blank sheets in two and affixed gummed paper index tabs to them so I can quickly locate all of the various typewriter brands. In retrospect, I ought to have typed on the tabs before I glued them on, because folded in two they are too thick to feed through a typer. This is still experimental and may get rearranged, so penciling on the tabs may be best for now anyway.

The final touch was to label the binder itself, using an old 3.5″ floppy disk label that I doubt I will miss.

At the moment, the index contains roughly 50 type samples. Many early samples that are simply marching down 8×11 sheets of paper will need to be re-typed before they can be included. I’m trying not to duplicate models unless they are spaced far apart in time. For example, most ’50s Smith-Corona portables have identical tyepface, so it’s pointless to include ten alike samples from Sterlings and Silents. Eventually, I hope to cross-reference the index by type style and pitch. So if, say, I want a 12-pitch san-serif typeface for a particular purpose, I can quickly identify the appropritate tyepwriter to use.

Admittedly, I’m unlikely to ever actually need to do that. But the part of me that is compelled to obsessively break down, categorize, and document the tiniest detail about my typewriters is quite cheerful about this.

Typeface index book


  1. THIS is the kind of thing I come here for.

    Dude, post it up!

    Comment by Mike.Speegle — July 9, 2009 @ 11:37 am

  2. My OCD gland is throbbing in sympathetic rhythm.

    (or something less dirty sounding.)

    Comment by duffymoon — July 9, 2009 @ 12:41 pm

  3. How do you mean, Mike? Do you want me to scan and upload the individual cards?

    BTW, the other Mike (not to be confused with The Other Michael) draws our attention to the ingenious concept of edge-notched cards, an early form of non-machined data sorting. I practically wet my pants just reading about it. You can be sure I’ll be experimenting with this paleotech soon.

    Comment by olivander — July 9, 2009 @ 1:02 pm

  4. Yes. I demand a comprehensive catalog of typefaces to go with my Olivander Brand™ Calendar.

    Comment by Mike.Speegle — July 9, 2009 @ 1:15 pm

  5. For the record, I am in /no way/ responsible for any gland-throbbing or pant-soiling. I’m simply acting as your local card-geekery-crack-dealer.

    G’won kid… first one’s free…

    Comment by mpclemens — July 9, 2009 @ 3:19 pm

  6. OH MY GOSH. I just got around to reading the edge-notched cards article. My glance was cursory at first, but once the concept was explained fully my mouth was hanging open. How is it that I’ve never heard of this? Also: where can I find them?

    Comment by Mike.Speegle — July 9, 2009 @ 3:36 pm

  7. One site I found mentions using spiral-bound index cards as a start. With a pair of pliers, you can remove the spiral, leaving you cards with a nice pre-punched edge along the top margin. A very slim knitting needle (#2?) should fit in there, or even an unbent wire coat hanger.

    Comment by mpclemens — July 9, 2009 @ 4:22 pm

  8. I am starting to feel that index cards could spin off their own obsession-blogging franchise. They are all the rage in typelandia (population… 10?)

    Comment by Strikethru — July 10, 2009 @ 10:34 pm

  9. Blinded by the card index and the promise of typeface porn, you’ve all missed the real star of this post: the Underwood it leans against and near.

    I’m normally a typeface connoisseur/addict, but too busy right now coveting the sexy Underwood to focus.

    Damn you and your pretty typewriters.

    Comment by monda — July 12, 2009 @ 7:19 am

  10. Oh, that’s Lilian, Julieta’s sister.

    Comment by olivander — July 12, 2009 @ 12:48 pm

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