Preserving ancient alphabet art
I'd like to preserve the teletype artwork of the 60s and 70s. This early computer graphics output used the visual density of printed characters to approximate grey-scale imagery, sometimes with raw letterforms, sometimes with overstrike techniques. I've collected a few in electronic form, but I'd like some originals, too.

Unfortunately, traditional fan-fold computer paper, and old roll-style teletype paper are not exactly acid-free or archival, and after these posters faded into yellowness, they were discarded.

Converting old text files back into bitmap images
I've written a C program that converts overstrike art, such as the dozens of images I've collected from old DECUS tapes, into Adobe Illustrator drawing files. This makes it easy to load the images on contemporary computers, resize the image, reset the font, and print on laser printers.

Here's an example, the result of converting the ASCII to Illustrator format, then loading it into PhotoShop for rasterization at high resolution, then resized and contrast-corrected. I know this seems somewhat absurd to round-trip an image in this way. The second image is a close-up of Albert's eye, as rasterized by PhotoShop at 300 dpi.

Albert, and his eye

Yes, it's upside down. Yes, pardon the clipped images below until I get the bugs worked out of my conversion program. Yes, some of these images are quite quaint, dated or even politically incorrect.

Don't blame me, I'm just archiving this stuff. I remember the Summer of Love like it was yesterday - the girls, the parties, the chocolate milk after recess. For more info, see the About exhibit.

There are hints that even in the early 70s, someone regarded these images as a bit off-color, as one "readme" states "These are some computer printout pictures that almost everyone has seen, but may not have a copy of. Now you do. ... Some may be found offensive. I didn't make any of them, I only collected them (I like to see how other people waste their time)."

Making a PostScript Teletype font
I'd like to make a PostScript font and utility to recreate the images on today's printers in something resembling their original form. If anyone can send me the full character set from an ASR-33 teletype, I'd appreciate it. I'd like to scan it and convert it to a bitmap PostScript font.

In 1995, Mark Zanzig, of Munich, Germany, created the "Teleprinter" TrueType font by hand with Fontographer, by tracing letters from a 70s BASIC tutorial book. Download it from here. He's given me permission to "dirty it up" to add the newsprint feel to the letters.

How were these made?
I'd like to collect personal anecdotes about the creation of this kind of artwork. Some of it is certainly hand-made, others must have been scanned in some way, then converted to overstrike form.

I'd love to know how these images were scanned back in the 1970s. Was it some kind of optical drum or facsimile scanner, connected via an A/D converter? I suspect this is the case due to the characteristics of the banding in some images. Others were clearly hand-made.

In the mid-70s popular computer book "Computer Lib / Dream Machines," Ted Nelson wrote about the creation of the Mona Lisa image: "The painting was divided into 100,000 brightness-measured spots by H. Philip Peterson of Control Data Corp.; then each dot was make into a square of overprinted letters on the printing device. The program allowed 100 levels of grey."

This is picture of an original Control Data Corporation (CDC) printout of the Mona Lisa image, as loaned by the The Computer Museum's History Center to an exhibit at the Vintage Computer Festival 2.0. Photo courtesy of Jim Willing.

This image was produced by CDC's graphics division in Burlington, MA, formerly Digigraphics.  The image is produced on a vector plotter, not a printer.  CDC gave them away as promotional items.

In the early 70s, these sorts of images appeared in the ham radio community, sent from ham to ham via radio using five-level Baudot code, not ASCII. Calling it "ASCII art" isn't quite accurate because this art pre-dates ASCII, as ASCII was first formalized by committee as early as 1961 and did not become a US government standard until 1968.

These sorts of images were created in BCD code on the IBM 1401 (introduced in 1959) and in EBCDIC on IBM 360. On the IBM 1401, in the early 60s, there was a woman generated by a program named EDIE or EDITH. Her clothes could be removed in stages depending on the state of front-panel "sense" switches. Sense switch B changed her to dress to a halter-top and short skirt. Switch C turned it to a tiny bikini.   Switch D was the bikini with a "modesty panel" that said something like "Sorry, there are some things you can't do even with an IBM 1401" or "Contrary to popular opinion, even IBM can't do everything!".   Switch E changed it to a fully nude Edith, with a caption "See, you really can do anything with an IBM 1401."  This image was also available on the Univac 1004 in the early 60s.

Even earlier, this sort of art was created on Teletype networks, such as sending Christmas cards to the entire network. According to the "RTTY Handbook," which contains a chapter on RTTY art, it appeared as early as 1923.

In March 1998, I was given a box of radio teletype ASCII art by Ken Simpson. It demonstrates some interesting cross-fertilization between the computer and RTTY worlds. Some images seem unique to the RTTY world, others were clearly converted by hand or automatically from images that became more common on computers. Few of the iamges have dates, but they seem to date from the early 70s. One image is President Eisenhower, though. Ken sent many five-bit and seven-bit paper tapes that I'll try to convert to electronic form.

Paper tape art?
Was art ever made on paper tape, making patterns with the punched holes? Certainly at least block letters can be done this way. What about images in the pattern of holes on punched cards? I have vague memories of both types.

Click here for a text list of the image files I've collected so far.


I'm slowly converting all the images I have: first from ASCII to Illustrator, then through PhotoShop, then reduction in size. Some of these images show errors in the original data and/or in my program. I hope to correct these problems in the future.



Dean (partial image)









Giant (partial)

Girl (partial)