Anatomy of a Typeface: The Ascent of Scotch Roman (continued)

The English typefounders, while accepting the novelty of the Didot-Bodoni types, exercised their own modifications of the pattern. On the whole, the English variations tended to retain the bracketed serifs and return to the roundness of the old style, which had been compressed in the Continental faces. Nevertheless, excesses due partially to competition among typefounders resulted in the production of very bad types.

While a number of individual printers remain aloof from these events, the quality of individual printing decline during these years. William Bulmer, whose Shakespeare Press was established about 1790, was fortunate in obtaining an excellent book type, cut by William Martin, who carefully blended the Continental styles into a face that remains popular today under the name of Bulmer.

Scotch Roman

Samuel Dickinson is credited with the first use of the Scotch face here in the US.

The publisher John Bell collaborated in 1787 with the punchcutter Richard Austin in the creation of a first-rate design now known as Bell, an extremely popular book type since its recutting in the 1930s.

The records are not at all clear concerning the date of the appearance of the types which received the name of Scotch. Neither is there precise information about the punchcutter responsible for their design. We have it on authority of Thomas C. Hansard, in his manual Typographia published in 1825, that Richard Austin cut types for the two Scottish foundries, that of Alexander Wilson in Glasgow which had been established in 1742, and the Edinburgh firm of William Miller which opened its doors in 1807.

Both foundries were noted for the production of reputable types. The Wilsons had made types for the scholarly press of the Foulis brothers in Glasgow for many years, and Miller had spent a number of years with the Wilson firm prior to starting his own business in Edinburgh.

When Simeon and Charles Stephenson took over Bell’s British Letter Foundry in 1789, Austin went along as foreman. He later cut types independently, and in 1819 establish his own Imperial Letter Foundry, which in 1833 was continued by his son as Austin & Son.

No records remain of the types that he presumably cut for the two Scottish foundries. but we do know that the types appeared in the two specimen books issued by his foundry prior to 1830. The Pica No. 1 shown in the 1827 catalog is quite close to the style later given the name of Scotch.

That Austin was more than a simple craftsman of his period may be observed from the introduction to his 1819 specimen book. He was evidently well aware of typographical trends in England and the Continent. In this introduction he writes:

“The modern or new fashioned faced printing type at present in use was introduced by the French, about twenty years ago, the old-shaped letters being capable of some improvement . . . But unfortunately for the typographic art, the transition was made from one extreme to its opposite: thus, instead of having letters somewhat too clumsy, we now have them with hair lines so extremely thin as to render it impossible for them to preserve their delicacy beyond a few applications of the lye-brush (the type-cleaning method of the time), or the most careful distribution; thus may types be said to be in a worn state ere they are well got to work. The hair lines being now below the surface of the main strokes of the letters, the Printer, in order to get an impression of all parts of the face, is obliged to use a softer backing (press packing) with additional pressure . . . In forcing the paper down to meet the depressed part of the face, it at the same time takes off the impression of part of the sides, as is evident from the ragged appearance of printing from such types.”

Austin was the most reputable of the English punchcutters until the end of the century when William Morris and his followers employed the services of Edward Prince. That he was not restricted to the cutting of punches alone may be noted from Austin’s press card which stated that in addition to the engraving of dies, stamps, and copper plates he cut “all sorts of Musick Engravers Tools, Steel Letters & The gears for Letter Founders, Mathematical Instrument Makers, Seal Engraver & all Artificers curious in Letters, Characters, Name-Marks, E/c NB Copper Plates Printed on the Shortest Notice.”

Until the 1840s the English modernized romans continued in popularity for book work. During this period the Scottish versions, not quite as extreme as their English counterparts, issued in great volume from the Glasgow and Edinburgh foundries, partly as a result of economic factors which were instrumental in promoting a specific style of type. The London printers found it to be most profitable to purchase the Scottish types, which were cast from harder metal and were sold with no shipping charges attached. In addition the Scots gave larger allowances on old type.

By 1850, however, the revival of modern types had nearly run its course, and typographic styles again began to favor the old style typefaces which it can so readily abandoned at the turn-of-the-century. The Chiswick Press of Charles Whittingham figures in most accounts of the return of favor of the Caslon types during the 1840s, but the trend among other printers was a gradual swing away from the moderns. After 1850 this tempo increased but the Caslon design itself is modified in the direction offered by the strong stroke contrast of the English modern types.

Thus while the old style structure returned to popularity, the revived types were considerably lighter than the solid letters of a century earlier. It was the book printer who favored the return to old style, while the newspapers preferred the moderns.

And so it went until the start of the present century when the Morris revival turned all eyes back 400 years to the Renaissance period. Fortunately this return was modified by many typographers who—although they receive their initial inspiration from Morris and his work—chose to examine also the whole range of historic printing. The result has been that by the 1920s printers had at hand reasonable adaptations of all the important types that had been produced over a span of almost five centuries. In addition they had a number of fine contemporary types. It was in such company that Scotch Roman again return the favor. Fortunately the ground had been prepared.

Here in the United States, the Boston printer Samuel N. Dickinson (1801–1848) is credited with the first use of the Scotch face. Dickinson, who had learned his trade in Geneva, New York, had gone to Boston after a two-year period in New York City. Going into business for himself in book printing and publishing, he wrote an estimator’s guide and acquired a reputation as a careful printer. In 1837 he used types which had been cut by Alexander Wilson & Son in Glasgow. These were so widely received they entered the typefounding business himself in 1839.

Following Dickinson’s death in 1848, the firm continued as Dickinson Type Foundery, Phelps, Dalton & Company. By 1890 it was controlled by Joseph W. Phinney who became an empire force in the American Type Founders Company when that organization was formed in 1842 by the amalgamation of some 23 foundries.

Other American foundries also adapted the Scotch face. Theodore L. De Vinne has written that James Connor, the New York typefounder, was the first to issue the Scotch face in series, and he also mentions that condensed version was issued by the James Lindsay firm in 1854.

This article first appeared in the “Typographically Speaking” column of the February 1984 issue of Printing Impressions. In August 1984, Alexander S. Lawson is listed for the last time under Printing Impressions’ “Contributing Editors and Writers.”