Celebrating the people behind British small businesses

The Font Archive – Spelling out success

Lots of start-ups are run from home – but what about using a storage unit as your HQ? Andy Stuart, owner and manager of The Font Archive, did this. He salvaged a collection of over 90,000 historical typeface font designs, and sells them via his website (www.thefontarchive.co.uk). He’s been sorting through them for 19 months now, but Andy soon found he needed somewhere secure to store his stock: and that’s when he turned to Access Self Storage Manchester.

The Font Archive has a fascinating back-story. Based in Altrincham, just outside Manchester, it grew out of Andy’s salvage company which specialised in vintage industrial furniture, lighting and architectural pieces.

That firm, which included Selfridges, Levis, River Island, Gola and Fred Perry amongst its clients, once operated out of a 3000 square foot warehouse which used to be a factory owned by Linotype & Machinery Ltd.

Linotype 2

Linotype revolutionised the newspaper printing industry by making it quicker and easier for operators to set type for multiple pages – in fact, before it came along no daily newspaper in the world was bigger than eight pages. An estimated 30,000 linotype machines were in operation by the outbreak of the First World War and it remained the industry standard all the way up to the 1970s. Four presses were even installed at the Vatican!

When we caught up with Andy he explained how The Font Archive came about:

“The whole factory was cleared in the 1970s apart from one room. When we looked inside it, we found it stacked to the ceiling with design drawings for the old Linotype letter keys. When we heard the factory was going to be converted into flats, rather than see all this history end up on the rubbish tip, I spoke to the landlord and offered to take them off his hands.”

 Running a business out of a self storage unit


After salvaging the font designs, Andy then set about the mammoth task of sifting through over 90,000 designs, and selecting the best ones for sale, either online via the company’s website or through partnerships with retailers, antique fairs and trade shows.

This wasn’t going to be a speedy process, (in fact, Andy’s still diligently sorting through them now, eighteen months on) and with the old factory building needing to be vacated, Andy needed to quickly find somewhere else to store the archive whilst the sorting was taking place.

That’s when he got in touch with Access Self Storage, as Lee Porteus, store manager at Access Self Storage Manchester, explains: “Andy’s storage requirements were interesting to say the least! He’s dealing with a massive amount of paper, much of which has become quite delicate over time, especially the older pieces. Andy’s storage solution needed to be secure, safe and free from risk of damp or fire, not only to tick all the boxes of his insurer, but also so that he’d feel comfortable leaving the entirety of his business’ stock there.”

Andy praises Access Self Storage for their flexibility, which is essential for small businesses like his: “When it’s time to sort through the next batch, the easiest option is to rent the unit next door and move some of the documents there to free up space. As I only need this extra capacity for roughly a week at a time, it’s great not having to sign a long term commitment.

“A warehouse I’d used previously demanded a two-year minimum lease – that just wasn’t going to work for me. I also still get other salvage opportunities from all over the Manchester area from time to time so it’s reassuring to know that I’ve got a space where I can store everything.”

What does the future have in store for The Font Archive?

Andy has had a busy few months lately, with the business being featured both at the Grand Designs exhibition in London and on the Antiques Roadshow.

He also has a lot of developments coming up in the next few months: “We’ve recently launched our online store on ETSY, and we’ve got retailers in both London and New York stocking our drawings. As well as building on these we’re now talking with a prominent graphic designer and looking at making a coffee table book of the most notable pieces from the collection.

Historical value is important to The Font Archive. One thing Andy unearthed during a recent sort were deeds for land Linotype & Machinery Ltd. had bought from right back to 1800s, including where the Altrincham factory was built and other plots in the UK and around the world. Andy donated these to the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester.

He also scans a copy of each drawing prior to sale for the University of Reading which is creating a digital archive.

“And, of course,” says Andy “there’s always more sorting to do!”