Treasure Hiding in Plain Sight

Jun 27, 2016

As usually happens, we uncovered another bit of our history in the shop, while looking for something else. Our wall of type was built as the shop purchased dozens of fonts of large wood type (our type that is about four inches, or twenty-five picas high, or taller). The wall holds that wood type as well as our collection of hand-carved image blocks and vintage photo plates. Indeed, it holds much that we have yet to explore fully. While pulling type from the wall for one of our custom design jobs, we rediscovered a font of type in which every letter in the set is a “type twofer.”

A type twofer is a piece of wood type that has something carved into the back side—either another letter or an image. Often, the reason for the addition of the hand-carved letter is that the printer, possibly working under a tight deadline, either ran out of a particular letter in the size needed, or broke a piece of wood type while printing and did not have time to place an order for replacement type. A quick solution would have been to take a letter from the font, or set, of type that is a similar width to the desired letter, and carve the needed letter into the back side of that piece of type. That way it would also be type high (.918”), the correct height for printing. At Hatch Show Print, we have a couple of letters that were carved into the back side of a portion of a poster block cut to the size of the letter. Once a poster block was no longer used to make posters, the staff would cut it up to make shelves, or boxes, or, once in a while, a letter.  

Carved V

This 90 line V was carved into the back side of a piece of a one sheet (approximately 26 x 40 inches) poster.

It was a complete surprise to come across an entire font of type that has been cut into the back sides of poster blocks. Hatch Show Print has always relied on the type to ensure that the words our clients use totell their stories and sell their shows are easy to see and read on the poster. Type that has parts of the back side of it carved out would make it less reliable in the press, or would have taken a lot more make-ready to guarantee good prints, and as a production shop, Hatch Show Print has never had the luxury of time. There are always more jobs to get out the door.

So, if Will T. Hatch or his father were alive, we would ask him about this type, to find out more about why it was made. It was carved by hand, just like the poster blocks, so we can date it in the first six years or so of the shop’s history. It is only sixty lines, or picas, tall, which equates to ten inches, so it’s not very large. Type of this size was available from manufacturers on the East Coast, where HSP got most of its type in the early decades of operation.

On top of rediscovering this type, a bonus find is that, though the type appears to have been cut from six or eight different poster blocks, a number of them were cut from a very old half sheet (approximately twenty by twenty-six inches) and are an extra treasure in and of themselves.

Mollie Bailey Cut from Wood

Mollie Kirkland [Bailey] was born and raised in Alabama, and married into show life when she eloped with Gus Bailey, a cornet player in the circus, in 1858. Together with their respective brothers, Gus and Mollie formed the Bailey Family Troupe and performed vaudeville-style shows throughout the South, until the Civil War, when Gus became a bandmaster, and Mollie a nurse. After the war, they toured a bit on riverboats, and then retooled the show as the Bailey Circus, based out of Texas, in 1879. Shortly thereafter, Gus became ill, so Mollie took over the show herself, and renamed it the Mollie A. Bailey Show, and ran it until a year before her death, in 1918.

This half sheet would have been carved sometime between 1879 and 1885, and was one of a series of advertising posters the shop made for Mollie Bailey. We have another poster, a one sheet block carved after 1885 that is in very good condition still.

Mollie Bailey Poster

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