During the summer of 2015, 2500 metal and 260 wood fonts of type found a new home at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design. The collection, which was amassed by Boston printer TJ Lyons between the 1920s and 1980s, is the largest of its kind. In addition to the type, Lyons’ collection includes thousands of borders and ornaments.
By preserving and printing with this type, making it available to other printers, and leasing some of the collection to the film headliner industry, Lyons was largely responsible for the revival of the popularity of vintage type.
Many of the fonts in the collection are extremely rare and a few are unique.
You can see some specimens from the collection in Artstor’s Shared Shelf:
After Lyons’ death in 1986, the collection was bought be David Greer. In 2015 Greer donated the collection to MassArt.
MassArt is a natural home for the collection. The Graphic Design Department boasts excellent letterpress printing facilities, teaches a variety of letterpress classes, and has superb faculty who specialize in letterpress. The surprising element regarding this gift is that is was accepted by the college on the condition that it be an archival, interdisciplinary resource for the whole college community.
Our former Library Director Paul Dobbs assisted professor emeritus Al Gowan in securing the collection. The gift was accepted with no funds to maintain it. The College paid to move the collection to MassArt and is providing 500 square feet of prime real estate to house it, but to date have not budgeted to hire a manager for the collection. The majority of the work done to organize and promote the collection has been done gratis by two faculty members from graphic design, one emeritus and the other adjunct, in consultation with me as the current Chair of the Library. The division of labor looks something like this: they design posters, signage, and provide tours of the collection; I submit budgets, set up funds, and consult the college’s health and safety officer about mold.
On April 26th there will an open house and lecture to celebrate the opening of the collection. While celebrating the opening of the collection feels premature to me, because we really aren’t ready to be “open”, I’m hoping the event will help motivate our administrators to fund a position to manage the collection. And if not, at least it feels like the library is part of what will be a monumental resource to the college and to letterpress enthusiasts everywhere.
If you are in or around Boston on April 26th, please join us.
Gowan, Al. T. J. Lyons: A Biography and Critical Essay. Boston: The Society of Printers, 1987.