Looking for US Civil War era serif text used in books or newspapers of the time

Kurt's picture

Please help identify a font that would emulate a US Civil war era period letter style used by US newspapers (New York Times) and books or other publications of the time. Also, interested in knowing if there was an UC/lc letter style typically used for signage in public buildings of the time. I know Baskerville was used by the government for a time, but don't know if the use extended into the 1850's. I intend to use the font to carve a quote by Mr. Lincoln into wood and would like to be correct to the period. Thank you!

PublishingMojo's picture

In the mid 19th Century, newspapers were usually printed in what were then called "modern" faces, similar to Bodoni. (A 21st-Century version is Scotch Modern).
"Modern" faces have extremely thin horizontal strokes and hairline serifs, so they'd be a b**** to carve in wood. I'd recommend some of the heavier display faces popular in Lincoln's time, such as Egyptian Bold, Latin Bold, or Clarendon.

oldnick's picture

All caps sans serifs (or “Sans surryphs,” as Stephenson Blake labeled them) began showing up in the 1830s. The Egyptian Bold referenced above was alternately called Ionic, and Clarendon came in several flavors, neither of which was quite like the sample referenced. English Clarendon dates from around 1845, while French Clarendon—more like Barnum or Playbill—didn't arrive until around 1865. Grecian is another style which emerged in the 1840s.

DTY's picture

Although newspapers were most often set in a Scotch Modern style of type in the early 1860s, modernized Caslons, usually called Old Style, were often used for some kinds of publications, especially books and magazines with literary pretensions. Examples of this style include Old Style 7 and Bruce Old Style.

Public buildings back then tended to have much less signage than now; either you knew where you were going, or you asked someone. However, where signage was necessary, it would probably have been hand-painted by a professional sign painter. The display types that Victor and Nick have described are generally derived from sign painters' lettering; they would be much easier to carve in wood than the text faces of the era. All-cap bold sans serifs or Tuscans would have been common, with hand-painted compositions often making use of curved baselines.

Kurt's picture

This has been a great help! As a newbie to the world of typography, reading through these and other posts has been quite educational (and mildly addictive). Since I will be carving this in flat stock, I need to use a lighter weight letter style and will need to stay away from the display or slab selections. In carving the letters, the play of light on the carved letters is one key to a good result. Carvers often work with a 60 degree v-groove to create a shadow --essentially "coloring" the letter. When working with a more open v-groove, the shadows can be washed out and make the lettering difficult to see and read. Working with a larger overall letter size and a 60 degree v-groove on a thick letter style could mean I would carve right through the piece. One of the text styles should work well, but I might need to take some artistic license and thicken up the thinner lines a bit. Now all I need to do is choose!
Thank you all.

HVB's picture

You might also take a look at Walden fonts' Civil War series - mostly display, but there might be something useful.

You can access images of NewYork Times pages throughits search function (if you're a member or subscriber) or through third party newspaper archive sources. Here's a small sample from 1858:

Kurt's picture

I'm trying to find a font as similar as possible to the one in the photo. It is literally carved in stone. I started off thinking Trajan, but am now looking at Grand Central. Still, it does not seem to be a perfect fit. Any thoughts? Thanks!!

PublishingMojo's picture

Della Robbia is similar to your sample. It's chronologically later than the U.S. Civil War (T.M. Cleland, 1902), but that may not matter to your audience.

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