ATF Christmas Ornaments circa 1923

Years ago, as soon as the first snowflake would appear outside our home in Olean, New York, my daughter would spontaneously belt out the chorus of “It’s Beginning to Look a Lot like Christmas,” as made famous by Perry Como. It was as if the song had been living in her heart, her mind, her body since the Christmas tree came down eleven months past, and that song just had to come out, to announce the season that was, or soon would be, upon us.

151219 Christmas Holly Type_1
ATF 24-point Christmas bells, holly and ribbon, circa 1923, as received from Minneapolis, Minnesota letterpress vendor and letterpress lovers Perfection Type.

I have since moved to Fayetteville, North Carolina where it has been near one hundred degrees every day for a week. That is to be expected, of course, since it is mid-July and I live substantially south of the Mason-Dixon Line. Nevertheless, the song has been in my head for several days as I contemplate a new letterpress printing project at The Norlu Press because despite the weather, it is Christmas card season!

How can a printer not be in the holiday spirit when there are beautiful antique types, festive green and red inks, gorgeous paper and so many opportunities to create something magnificent on an 1863 Gordon Jobber press?

The material that has me anxious to get to my composing stick and imposition stone came into my possession through an ebay purchase from Perfection Type last December. The remarkable set of 24-point decorative Christmas bells, holly and ribbons arrived too late to be used for the 2015 Christmas card season, but I have been looking forward to incorporating them into a design for 2016 and happily, that time has arrived.

After receiving the beautifully packaged types, I attempted to learn more about them. I was happy to see there were two sets of corner pieces (invaluable sections of type for anyone wanting to form a frame or full border) and that the corner sections included four each of a bell facing into the border and four each of a bell facing away from the corner. Of the twenty-five straight types, twelve featured bells canted to the left and thirteen were canted to the right…interesting. I inspected each 24-point type, seeking a pin mark that might help identify its manufacturer, but the marks that existed were either too worn or not the sort that would help to determine its origin. They were no more than small circles, almost imperceptibly set into the types.

151219 ATF 1923 Specimen Christmas Holly Berry Border_2
Page 659 of the 1923 American Type Founders Specimen Book & Catalogue, displaying the Christmas border as No. 13 in 24 points.

I remembered that there was a discussion about Christmas borders and ornaments on the Briar Press website and was able to find it in the archive. This led me to a digital copy of the 1923 American Type Founders (ATF) Specimen Book and Catalogue and after an hour or so, I found my Christmas bells, holly and ribbons on page 659, and identified as No. 13 under the heading of “Decorative Material” and in the Christmas section. The illustration showed two additional types that were not in my set, but it was an absolute match and from the display in the catalogue, I could see how to assemble the types into a full frame.

All of which brings me to today, when I used some leads and slugs, quads and wooden furniture to assemble these beautiful types and locked the form up for proofing on the Gordon. As I worked in the print shop, the small air conditioner in the window did its best to keep the space at something like a tolerable temperature, despite the July sun pouring in the windows and the heat of the day bearing down on the third building to house The Norlu Press since my dad founded it as a thirteen-year-old boy in 1937.

151219 Christmas Holly Type Locked Up

Border No. 13 from the 1923 ATF Specimen Book & Catalogue, locked up and ready for proofing.


151219 ATF Christmas Holly Berry Proof
Proof of ATF Border No. 13.

While I am still not sure what the border printed from these types will frame, the proof shows a crisp, clean and unbroken image that is certain to reflect “the carol that you sing Right within your heart,” because it’s beginning to look a lot like Christmas!

Come back soon to see what becomes of No. 13.




One thought on “ATF Christmas Ornaments circa 1923

  1. Lovely post, beautiful ornaments.
    And there’s something wondrous about combing through a vintage type catalogue to identify the ornaments & type that sleep in our type cases. It’s inspired me to prowl through my ornament and start thinking about the Season. THanks!

    Liked by 1 person

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