Rochester type foundry has historical ties to Frederick Douglass’ North Star paper

Digital Exclusives

In this historic building, P22 makes digital fonts based on historic typefaces

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — There’s a type foundry located right here in Rochester.

P22 Type Foundry is a font-making company which digitizes historic fonts for download. They’ve been in business for 25 years now — and in that time they’ve seen the whole evolution of “digital type.” They even used to package their fonts in floppy discs.

It seems fitting — their current home is the former office of Frederick Douglass’ abolitionist paper, the North Star.

The Talman Building on Main Street also served as a stop on the underground railroad.

When we gave them a visit, co-founder Richard Kegler — who spent five years as the director of The Wells Book Art Center at Wells College — gave a demonstration of their working letterpress.

Kegler gave us a full tour. Here’s the first part:

In addition to making digital fonts, the company also makes “analogue” products with those fonts.

We got a chance to chat with Kegler about the business.

What’s it like being in this building?

Kegler: We saw the space, and it was this former bank, and it was this really strange space, but between the history if what happened here, there were several publications out of the building, but the Frederick Douglass connection, printing history, Rochester history, it seemed like this would be a good place to be.

If the product is digital, why are there so many “analogue” things around here?

Kegler: The digital foundry makes historical recreations of typefaces that might have been used 100 or 200 years ago. So we go back to old print shops to look for specimens for reference. When we draw them digitally and make them as fonts, we have to look at them.

I have a background in book binding, so I’ve more into the history of this stuff, so we slowly assembled a print shop, and in 2008 started a book arts center in Buffalo. After that I was hired at Wells College.

Meanwhile, the business had been sort of running in the background, so I decided that I needed to put all of my energy into P22 as my main business. It’s gone from a virtual business to sharing a space with an historic print shop.

So if the business is 25 years old, why is the business called P22?

Kegler — It was a found name, it really has no specific meaning, but the number 22 and the letter “P”‘ sort of appear a lot, and when it shows up it’s meant to be.

Where does this passion come from?

Kegler: Not knowing what I wanted to do in college, and gravitating toward book arts and printing, and growing up in Western New York. The Roycroft community was in East Aurora, New York.

I was fascinated with this idea that you could potentially make a living making things with your hands, and printing and typography for me turned out to be the thing I was really interested in.

But now so much for your business is in digital — how do you bridge those worlds?

Kegler: They both go back and forth, one back to the other. I did primarily digital fonts of things that were never analogue fonts to begin with. Artists’ handwriting, for example.

And now we’ve started working with a museum out in Wisconsin, the Hamilton Wood Type and Printing Museum. So we created a whole line of fonts based on wood type. Those fonts haven’t seen the light of day… But now people can use them, and used quite a bit.

Why do you think people are drawn more “analogue” things now, instead of the digital?

Kegler: It’s sort of wishful thinking. I don’t know that we had a lot of customers that said “we want you make these physical items.” We make prints, and tools for printmaking studios now.

Rhey’re still something that people use in their studios that are basically outfitted for 19th-century technology, whether it’s laser-cut or 3D printed.

These are digits, this is digital! People need to use their hands, this is an evolutionary thing, we’re not going to outgrow.

“These are digits, this is digital!”

People are missing it. They need to express themselves with the hand-made. Editing in digital in great, but you have to find the balance between two, and engage with things in the real world.

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