April 15

Adam Mappa, one of the earliest typefounders to set up and practice his craft in the United States, died on this day in 1828. He was thoroughly convinced that his life had been of no consequence. As a young man he had served in the Dutch army as a lieutenant. When his father purchased a typefoundry in Amsterdam, he resigned his commission in order to learn the typefounding business. A few years later he became involved in the abortive Patriot Party movement against King William V and had to leave Holland to live in France, where he again found himself face to face with a revolution.

It was in France, however, that Mappa met the American Ambassador, Thomas Jefferson, who persuaded him to emigrate to the United States and to start a typefoundry there. Jefferson’s enthusiasm for this venture led him to recommend a selection of types which the printers of the new nation were not sufficiently sophisticated to appreciate. Thus, when Mappa with his wife and three children landed in New York after a lengthy seventy-six day voyage, he was prepared to set up a foundry to produce the standard roman types plus a number of the exotic styles represented by the Oriental languages.

Setting up his business at 107 Queen-Street, New York, Mappa advertised in the New York Journal of July 16, 1790 that he was prepared to fulfill the orders of the city’s printers for ‘Types of every kind—viz. Roman, Italic, Black Letter, Script, German, Hebrew, Greek, Samaritan, Arabic, English Saxon, Siriac, &c., &c.”

He mentioned that “the respective Printers can also be provided with proper Types, in all the learned languages, so that they may satisfy the wishes of the seminaries of learning throughout the continent.”

This was indeed a tall order. While presses had been established by that date in all of the original colonies, there were but three printers west of the Appalachians, the great western movement not having really begun. The needs of American printers were simple. There was almost no scholarly printing being produced. The product of the press was restricted to the publishing of newspapers and local laws, plus a few primers which represented the closest thing to scholarly publishing.

For a year or so Mappa enjoyed excellent business, but the shortage of skilled help soon caught up with him. In order to provide the type for the printing of the 1792 Laws of the State of New-York he had to cast the letters himself. Since he did not possess journeyman skill as a typecaster, the project suffered delays and the types were of poor quality. The editor of the book had to print an apology to his subscribers, in which he attempted to soften the criticism by stating that it was his honest desire “to give Encouragement to the Manufactures of our State,” and that “no Cash went to London” for the types.

In 1794 Mappa put his foundry up for sale. It is believed that most of the equipment was acquired by the new Philadelphia firm of Binny & Ronaldson the following year. Theodore Low De Vinne made a comparison of the earliest Mappa types with those later produced by the New York typefounders and could find no trace of them. Thomas MacKellar, when tracing the history of his own foundry, MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, discovered an 1822 memorandum book which referred to sixteen sets of foreign matrices from Mappa’s foundry.

Mappa finished out his life as an energetic agent for the Holland Land Company, performing outstanding service in the re-settlement of many of his former countrymen into New York State.

Leave a Reply