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Should we be archiving fonts?

I am a fan of beautiful fonts. This is why I find myself on the mailing list if I recently received their Winter 2007 newsleter featuring the short article titled ‘A cast-iron investment’. It starts out with:

Of all the wonderful things about fonts, there’s one that is rarely mentioned by us font sellers. It’s this: fonts last for a very long time. Unlike almost all the other software you may have bought 10 or 15 years ago, any fonts you bought are likely still working well, waiting to be called back into action when you load up that old newsletter or greetings card you made!

Interesting. The article goes on to point out:

But, of course, foundries make updates to their fonts every now and then, with both bug fixes and major upgrades in features and language coverage.

All this leaves me wondering if there is a place in the world for a digital font archive. A single source of digital font files for use by archives around the world. Of course, there would be a number of hurdles:

  1. How do you make sure that the fonts are only available for use in documents that used the fonts legally?
  2. How do you make sure that the right version of the font is used in the document to show us how the document appeared originally?

You could say this is made moot by using something like Adobe’s PDF/A format. It is also likely that we won’t be running the original word processing program that used the fonts a hundred years from now.

Hurdles aside, somehow it feels like a clever thing to do. We can’t know how we might enable access to documents that use fonts in the future. What we can do is keep the font files so we have the option to do clever things with them in the future.

I would even make a case for the fact that fonts are precious in their own right and deserve to be preserved. My mother spent many years as a graphic designer. From her I inherited a number of type specimen books – including one labeled “Adcraft Typographers, Inc”. Google led me to two archival collections that include font samples from Adcraft:

Another great reason for a digital font archive is the surge in individual foundries creating new fonts every day. What once was an elite craft now has such a low point of entry that anyone can download some software and hang out their shingle as a font foundry. Take a look around Read about selling your fonts on

While looking for a good page about type foundries I discovered the site for Precision Type which shows this on their only remaining page:

For the last 12 years, Precision Type has sought to provide our customers with convenient access to a large and diverse range of font software products. Our business grew as a result of the immense impact that digital technology had in the field of type design. At no other time in history had type ever been available from so many different sources. Precision Type was truly proud to play a part in this exciting evolution.

Unfortunately however, sales of font software for Precision Type and many others companies in the font business have been adversely affected in recent years by a growing supply of free font software via the Internet. As a result, we have decided to discontinue our Precision Type business so that we can focus on other business opportunities.

I have to go back to May 23, 2004 in the Internet Archive Wayback Machine to see what Precision Type’s used to look like.

There are more fonts than ever before. Amateurs are driving professionals out of business. Definitely sounds like digital fonts and their history are a worthy target for archival preservation.

Posted in born digital records, digital preservation, future-proofing, preservation, software