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Edinburgh College of Art Typography Collection

Identifier: ECA/TYP
Menu for Thursday 5th June, with illustrations by Hilary McElderry - cover
Menu for Thursday 5th June, with illustrations by Hilary McElderry - cover

Browse 2 digital objects in collection

Scope and Contents

The collection consists mainly of works produced by Edinburgh College of Art students as part as their typography course during the 1930s-1970s. Many of these are illustrated booklets which contain extracts from well-known texts such Tam O’ Shanter and Homer’s Odyssey, as well as religious texts. The students also produced calendars, book covers and title pages, Christmas cards, and invitations and menus for Edinburgh College of Art events including Revels. Most of the time, although not always, the name of the student who produced the work is included, as well as their class year. The collection also contains material from various companies, such as advertisements, leaflets, programmes, magazines, letterheads, and invites.


  • Creation: 1928-2012
  • Creation: Majority of material found within 1928-1974

Language of Materials

Mainly English, but also French, German, Dutch, Italian, Czech, and Swedish

Conditions Governing Access

Open for consultation, but please contact repository for details in advance.

Conditions Governing Use

Reproduction subject to usual conditions: educational use and condition of documents. Copyright remains with the creators of the material.

Biographical / Historical

Typography was taught at the Edinburgh College of Art in the School of Design and Crafts, one of the oldest sections of the College. ‘Book illustration’ and ‘writing and illumination’ classes were available as early as 1909, when the College opened. Typography and printing were taught both during the full-time day classes and during the evening trades classes.

In the 1920s, several classes relating to printing and typography were offered: ‘writing and illumination’, which included the study of the early and classic style of formal writing, the acquirement of method and practice in the use of the pen and other tools of the craft, the study of spacing, arrangement, and combination of masses in practical formal writing, and practice in rubricating, gold-laying and burnishing; ‘printed decoration and book illustration’, which was linked to the design life class and included instruction in pictorial design and in the treatment of figures in back and white for book illustration, as well as effective planning of lettering and ornament for title pages, covers, borders, head and tailpieces and other page decoration, and instruction in design for covers, end papers, wrappers, trademark headings, box lids and other commercial requirements; and ‘poster design’, which included the study of pictorial design, with special reference to lithography, the design of posters, window cards, and small advertisements, using still life, landscapes, or figures in a combination with effective lettering.

The College also offered printing trades classes during the evening, which expanded rapidly after the First World War. Edinburgh was a well-established centre for the printing trades at this time and these classes were in high demand. The particular specialisations of these students were varied and included compositors, bookbinders, map engravers, rulers, machine men and blockers. Every student in these classes would undergo a thorough practical training in all the available printing processes; with the more technical subjects being taught jointly with the Heriot Watt College.

In the 1930s and 1940s, ‘writing and illumination’, ‘poster design’, ‘book decoration and book illustration’ were still taught, as well as a class entitled ‘typography and layout’. ‘Lettering’ was part of the general elementary course that every student of the School of Design and Crafts had to follow during the 1st and 2nd years. The Printing Trades classes continued to flourish into the 1930s.

In the 1950s, ‘commercial art’, ‘lettering’, ‘typography’, ‘writing and illuminating’, ‘book illustration’, ‘bookbinding’, and ‘typography and book design’ classes are offered in the 3rd and 4th year in design, for student having completed the preliminary course. By 1958, it was decided that the Printing Trades classes should be organised wholly by the Heriot-Watt College, however members of the College teaching staff still conducted afternoon classes in art at the Heriot Watt College for printing trade apprentices. Apprentices who had finished their course at the Heriot-Watt College could attend additional classes in Typography at the College of Art as late as 1969.

In the late 1960s the students could take the Diploma in Design within the department of ‘Graphic Design’, which covered the following subjects: illustration, lettering, typography, publicity, posters and packaging. The study and use of graphics in television was introduced. Facilities were provided for graphic reproduction by letterpress, lithography and silk-screen processes. Photography was an ancillary subject studied by all graphic design students. Facilities were also provided, in collaboration with the school of Drawing and Painting, for the study of printmaking.

Shortly afterwards, in the early 1970s, the Visual Communication department was created. Graphic design was part of this department and was composed of two areas: design for print, and illustration. The ‘design for print’ course would prepare students for designing all kind of material which would be eventually be reproduced by a printing process. It covered the design of books, posters and packaging, and all publicity material including symbols, corporate identity schemes, direct main leaflets, and newspaper and magazine advertisements. The ‘illustration’ course catered for those whose natural means of expressing themselves was by drawing. It was taught in relation to animated films, TV, graphics, advertising, book illustration, magazines etc. In the late 1970s, audio-visual aids, and calligraphy and lettering were also part of the Visual Communication department.


1 linear metre (6 archival boxes)


Mainly chronological within series.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

This material was found in a cupboard in the Sculpture Court of Edinburgh College of Art, next to the room where typography was taught.


Some duplicates have been removed.

Related Materials

The Centre for Research Collections also holds the records of Edinburgh College of Art.

Processing Information

Catalogued by Aline Brodin in July-August 2017, drawing upon a box-list made by Holly Watson in 2014.

ECA Typography Collection ECA.TYP
Language of description
Script of description
Code for undetermined script

Repository Details

Part of the University of Edinburgh Library Heritage Collections Repository

Centre for Research Collections
University of Edinburgh Main Library
George Square
Edinburgh EH8 9LJ Scotland
+44(0)131 650 8379