August 28th, 2010

Prints On Display

I first heard about the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum in 2005 or 2006 while attending the “Seek” conference at Northern Illinois University. I believe one of the speakers was from Thirst and she showed a couple of images that caught my eye. After the talk, she mentioned how great this little place was — this place where they printed the images I liked. It was a design destination only a couple hours from Chicago and even better yet, she mentioned that it was a “working” print museum — a place that might even let you create your own prints. It was obvious that I needed to look into this a little more.

Fast-forward a few years, and a few jobs, and I still had not looked it up. It had almost completely slipped my mind until sometime in 2009 when someone mentioned a new design documentary called “Typeface“. All I could get from the hype was that it was about a museum in Wisconsin dedicated to wood type and somehow involved The Post Family, a group of Chicago area artists and designers who are constantly showing up on the scene. (If you are unaware of these guys, I encourage you to visit their site.)

So… by chance… I noticed that a 9 AM showing of the documentary was scheduled at the 2010 Geneva Film Festival. I bought my ticket Friday night, and headed to the Saturday-morning screening.

That’s when it all came flowing back. I had heard of it, had been told about it, and somehow had avoided going to it. I was one of the folks mentioned in the documentary — one of the people who have not been there. I was one of the folks who have not experienced it and I might even be one of the folks letting it die in obscurity. What a shame.

So, last week (August 22nd), we finally made it happen. I had a weekend that was not completely packed with freelance work, and it felt like a great time to take a break from the Chicago suburbs. It was my chance to go to Two Rivers, Wisconsin and check out the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing museum for myself.

The city of Two Rivers sits directly on the shore of Lake Michigan (map). It’s about a 3 hour drive by tollway and freeway from Chicago and is commonly used as a quick stop-over for Chicago area vacationers on the way to Door County. It’s a city known as the birthplace for both for the ice cream sundae and the automatic clothes dryer (invented by the Hamilton company, the very same company that made the wood type housed in the museum). People seem to do a lot of fishing here, but it’s actually becoming a world-renowned destination for the typographically inclined.

With only one full-time employee, Jim Moran, and the help of a few volunteers it’s a wonder how they keep things straight. Jim’s ongoing schedule of workshops and printings seems to be accelerating as more people hear about its existence. At a recent Two Rivers Historical Society meeting Jim mentioned that they had a couple of designers from overseas come in to the area specifically to visit the museum. Several well known Chicago design schools travel there yearly and according to Jim they were even asked to supply some wood type to the “Levis Workshops“. Unfortunately they were unable to fulfill the request because of under-staffing and time restraints. Many corporate design teams and design boutiques are constantly calling the office looking to hold workshops for their staff. There was a small rumor circulating that Nike’s design group may even be interested in hosting a workshop for its creative team. But you didn’t hear that from us.

Interest in typography has recently hit a high-water mark. Memberships in design groups like Chicago’s own STA “The Society of Typographic Arts” seem to be on the rise. And as you can tell, typography is even in their name. The art of placing type in meaningful and communicative ways into layouts is the very thing that makes most of us design professionals. Who else can FEEL the white-space between the letter “W” and the letter “A”, when inappropriately un-kerned? Past this initial interest, there seems to be a trend toward hand-rendered type and, most fortunately for The Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum, an interest in what existed before computers — before the mac ruled our world.

The Museum is quickly becoming the centerpiece of Two Rivers and will shortly unseat the ice cream sundae as a reason to stop in for a visit. Its future seems a little brighter than it did in the documentary and we hope its star continues to rise. With continuing support from its volunteers, the printing community and designers worldwide we can be sure it does.

For those of you lucky enough to live near the museum, what are you waiting for? Go go go! And for those who would like to go, but may be overseas themselves, they’ve recently opened a shop on etsy where you can buy one of their limited-edition prints. It’s worth the visit, and although more people are starting to notice it, it still seems to be one of the surprising hidden design destinations you can see before it get’s too big.

We encourage all those interested to follow the Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum on Twitter, as well as Typeface (the official twitter account of the Typeface Documentary).

We also invite those who have been here to post a little something about their experiences at the museum. Just use the form at the end of this article. We also ask that you feel free to correct us if we got any facts mixed-up in our post here — after all, I’m really just an Art Director not a Journalist.

A full link round-up is available at the bottom of this post — after the images.
(Click on the images to get a full description of what you are looking at).

An Understated Entrance

Exterior Wall Decorations

More Exterior Type Blocks

Hamilton Wood Type Logo Banners

Main Exhibition Hall

The Exhibits

Behind the Front Desk

O,2 B N 2 Rivers

Alpha on Post

Original Linotype Machine

Linotype Machine In Operation

Norb Brylsky (Pantographer) Illustration


White Brick, Black & White Poster

Shelf Sign

Cooper Old Style Has Nice "W"



Big Arse Press

Test Prints


Outlined Typeface

Reading Between The Lines. Wood Type Close-Up.

Calendar Girl

Woodcut Prints and Calendars For Sale

This Shop Uses Hamilton Wood Type

Dracula House of the Living Dead Print

The Guestbook


Link Round-Up:
Hamilton Wood Type & Printing Museum
Hamilton Wood Type on Twitter
Hamilton Wood Type on Facebook
AIGA Article written by Steven Heller
Typeface Documentary
Typeface Film on Twitter
Buy Hamilton Wood Type Prints on Etsy
Our Flickr Set About Hamilton Wood Type
A Flickr Group About Hamilton Wood Type
The Post Family
Hatch Show Print
Take a Trip! Get There by Google Map

Thanks go to Jim for opening the doors to me and my wife on his busy day.
Thanks go to you for being interested in such a unique attraction.

We’re always interested in hearing from you.
Please leave comments about the museum or the article here:


  1. Maggie says:

    I have been wanting to visit SO badly!
    It might be about time to catch up with those friends in Wisconsin and set aside a whole day to visit the museum. Those images are great, by the way, and only make me more eager to get there.

  2. Shampton says:

    Maggie, if you can, head up there for the “WayGoose 2010” November 3rd-7th. Seems like there will be a lot happening then.

  3. Shampton says:

    Another great review/experience at the Hamilton by a writer for the Poetry Foundation:
    My Type of Type by Kathleen Rooney.

  4. Shampton says:

    Congrats to Hamilton, Target and those who love wood type! Target stores will be carrying Hamilton Wood Type inspired T-Shirts.

    See the video:

    Alerted to this via tweet by loyal DesignChat attendee @Gariphic (Gary Holmes):!/gariphic/statuses/86847144304181249

  5. Shampton says:

    They’re in:
    Twitpic Of Hamilton Wood Type Museum Shirt Tag at Target

    Seems some of the shirts created for/inspired by the Hamilton Wood Type Museum have made it to the sales floor at your local Target store.

    Opinions on the finished work?
    (feeling undecided myself)
    Feel free to post your comments here.

  6. Bob Cornwell says:

    I am a physician who moved to TR three years ago. Since then, I have found that Hamilton-Fisher-Scientific is relocating to Mexico. I have devoloped a strong interest in helping to save the Wood Type Museum in its historic building, possibly by combining with Native American artifacts in storage. Time is short. Spread the word. Thanks

  7. Hey Bob, Thanks for commenting. I have a couple questions for you.
    • How can people find out more information about and help your cause?
    • How did you come across this post?
    You can respond here or email me at hupajoob at gmail dot com.

  8. Shampton says:

    Yes Bob, please tell us more…

    If Hamilton-Fisher-Scientific moves from Three Rivers, what would become of the Hamilton Wood Type Museum? What can be done and where can we get more information about the trouble they might be in?

    — Sean