December 2

Dedicated to His Britannic Majesty, George III, on this day in 1783 was a curious pamphlet written by John Walter, former coal merchant and bankrupt insurance underwriter, who requested the royal patronage for a revolutionary scheme of typesetting. The title page of this pamphlet read: “An Introduction to the Art of Logography, or the Art of Arranging and Imposing for Printing with Words intire, their Radices, and Terminations, instead of Single Letters. By His Majesty’s Royal Letters Patent. By Henry Johnson, London, Printed Logographically, and Sold by J. Walter, Bookseller, Charing Cross, and J. Sewell, Cornhill, MDCCLXXXIII.”

Walter was apparently attempting to recoup the fortune which he had lost when a fleet of ships underwritten by his firm fell victim to American privateers in 1776. He sincerely believed that setting type with logotypes rather than with single letters would revolutionize the printing industry. Meeting a printer named Henry Johnson, who had devised a logographic procedure to facilitate the setting of the numbers in the printing of the National Lottery, Walter secured the help of Caslon III of the typefounding family, and a printer and a bookseller. None of these partners proved to be satisfactory to him. Johnson turned out to be a swindler and Caslon refused to cast his type, acting under pressure from printers and booksellers who were opposed to the method. Nevertheless, Walter was enthusiastic and proceeded on his own. In his pamphlet he described the process:

“When I first undertook the arduous task, of Improving the Art of Printing by the use of cemented syllables, the whole English language lay before me in its copious and multitudinous mass, consisting of Ninety Thousand words, which I reduced immediately to about Five Thousand by separating the particles and terminations, also removing the technical terms and obsolete expressions.” Following months of labor Walter had reduced his alphabet so that it could be accommodated in four cases, each 4½ feet by 6½ feet.

In order to impress the King, Walter secured the help of a number of the important men of his time, whose letters of support he included in his request for royal patronage. Among these was Benjamin Franklin, then serving as American Ambassador to France. The selection of Franklin as a supporter was a major error, as King George was outspoken in his dislike for the American statesman. The result was that Walter did not receive the patronage he needed.

He nevertheless determined to continue independently. By so doing he made a notable contribution to the history of world journalism. On January 1, 1785 he published the first issue of a newspaper, The Daily Universal Register, printed from his logotypes in an effort to prove to the public that they were practicable and economical. Exactly three years later he changed the name of his journal to The Times or Daily Universal Register, Printed Logographically. On the following March 18th, the name was shortened to The Times and so it has appeared each day ever since. About 1789 the logograph process was abandoned, but to it we owe the existence of one of the world’s great newspapers.

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