April 7

“The printers beg leave to acquaint their Subscribers and the Public, that the Types with which this Paper is printed are of AMERICAN manufacture, and should it by this means fail of giving such entire satisfaction to the judicious and accurate eye, they hope every patriotic allowance will be made in its favour, and that an attempt to introduce so valuable an art into these colonies, will meet with an indulgent countenance from every lover of his country.”

Thus read a statement in the first issue of The Pennsylvania Mercury, published on April 7, 1775, by Enoch Story and Daniel Humphreys, who set up their printing office in Morris’s Alley in Philadelphia. The paper was to last only until the end of the year, when the shop which produced it was burned down. It represents the initial work with American types, that is, types which were cut and cast in the American colonies and were actually used for practical purposes.

It has been well established that Abel Buell, a Connecticut silversmith, had cut and cast a font of type in May, 1769, of which only a proof was made. Buell cut a second font, with which he set up a petition to the Connecticut Legislature, but again this type was never put to other use.

At the time of the Buell announcement, Davis Mitchelson of Boston advertised that he, too, had produced types, “equal to any imported from Great Britain,” but none of these are actually known to have been used, and in the absence of a specimen little credence may be given to this statement.

About 1770 in Germantown, Pennsylvania, Christopher Sower Jr. imported German matrices and molds and set up a foundry to cast letters to be used for the third edition of the German Bible which his father had originally printed in 1743. The fraktur type which Sower cast allowed him to be somewhat independent of the German typefounders and of imported fonts of type. Sower gave to one of his journeymen, Justus Fox, the responsibility of running the foundry. In 1772 he added Jacob Bay as an assistant. Both of these men learned all of the artifacts of typefounding in addition to simple casting.

Two years later Bay set up his own foundry and started to cast roman types, it was reported by William McCulloch, a Philadelphia printer, who wrote a treatise on the subject. He submitted his findings to Isaiah Thomas, author of History of Printing in America, published in 1810. Lawrence C. Wroth, the authority on printing during the colonial period, is inclined to agree with McCulloch’s account, as a resolution made by the Pennsylvania Convention in January, 1775 stated: “That as printing types are now made to a considerable degree of perfection by an ingenious artist in Germantown; it is recommended to the printers to use such types in preference to any which may be hereafter imported.”

It may be considered that the types of The Pennsylvania Gazette represent the first roman letters founded in America which received practical use. The notice published in the first issue made no claim to their perfection, saying, “We are sensible, that in the point of elegance, they are somewhat inferior to those imported from England, but we flatter ourselves that the rustic manufactures of America will prove more grateful to the patriot eye, than the more finished productions of Europe, especially when we consider that whilst you tolerate the unpolished figure of the first attempt, the work will be growing up to perfection by the experience of the ingenious artist, who has furnished us with this specimen of his skill, and we hope the paper will not prove less acceptable to our readers, for giving him this encouragement.”

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