Love Letter: Letterform Archive Goes Digital

Credit: Letterform Archive

Rothschild Book of Hours, ca. 1470.

Like nearly every other aspect of modern life today, what can migrate online is doing so at a rapid clip, and at first blush, it might seem that the announcement of San Francisco-based Letterform Archive opening its virtual doors to the public was a decision made over the course of a few days. But in fact, the nonprofit museum and library dedicated to the history of typography and graphic design has been preparing this leap to digitization for the past four years. 

In consultation with 42-line founder E. M. Ginger, who specializes in digitizing and preserving rare materials such as those in Letterform's collection, nearly 1,500 items of the 60,000-piece archive have been meticulously prepared for the online world so far. That means everything from a fifteenth-century Book of Hours to early style manuals printed for Apple are now available for careful examination from the comfort of one's home.

The goal from the outset was simple and ambitious: to make the entirety of Letterform Archive's trove available to the public online for free. Online Archive was launched in beta format in 2018 and was accessible only to members at the time. Now, researchers, scholars, and the general public can examine books, artworks, and other materials with unprecedented precision. 

Since opening its brick-and-mortar doors to the public five years ago, over 27,000 people have visited Letterform Archive from 30 countries. This announcement of the online archive comes at a time when many of us are housebound, providing a much-welcome service in the era of social distancing.   

“This project is a labor of love for everyone on our team, with many generous volunteers, and we hope it provides a source of inspiration and delight to all who love letters and design," said Saunders. "At a time when good news is in short supply and so many resources have gone dark, we hope to light a creative spark.”

Find design inspiration here.