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Shani Avni—Back to the Shtetl: The Prospects of Hebrew Wood Type

RIT Cary Graphic Arts Hebrew Wood Type Collection. (Amelia Hugill-Fontanel)

Sat., Nov. 7 | Shani Avni’s talk on Hebrew wood type was filled with so much interesting information that I realized while going through my many pages of notes that there is no way to recap everything. Avni is currently undertaking the cataloging of around 40 fonts of Hebrew wood type in the Cary Graphic Arts Collection at R.I.T. These fonts were acquired in 2014 from the artist Richard Rockford.

Avni first walked us through a brief history of the Yiddish language and Hebrew letterforms. There are several letters in Hebrew that are similar, and she gave examples of how one character could be altered to represent another character. Also, the use of diacritical marks is important, and Avni demonstrated how printers would use nails (hammered high enough to print) into the type. These could be removed when the mark was no longer needed.

We also learned that there are only six letters that have descenders. In the wood type, the descenders were undercut, so leading would go faster. Many of these descenders would then break off. This influenced future designs. In metal type—Linotype was used as an example—many of these descenders would be taken off of the type design.

The type was cleaned and arranged according to its line-height by the “Adopt-a-font” volunteers. Avni then examines the design and rearranges the type into complete sets. These are then proofed, given a temporary name, and scanned.

Once the collection has been proofed and cataloged, her next steps will be to print a specimen, upload a digital specimen, publish a monograph, and eventually hold educational workshops.


  1. Raymond Czapkowski 14 November, 2020 at 4:46 pm

    Thank you, Brian, for this well written review on Shani’s presentation. It took me there and I could almost hear Shani speaking. My internet was down for nine days and as a result, I wasn’t able to partake, live. Amelia Fontanel’s arrangement of the Hebrew wood type is a beautiful, eye-catching graphic for your article. I wish you continued success.

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