February 1

Connecticut copper cent, 1785.

Abel Buell of Killingworth in Connecticut, Jeweller and Lapidary, begs leave to acquaint the Public, and the Printers of the Several Colonies, that he hath already entered upon the Business of founding Types, which as Soon as he can furnish himself with Stock, will sell for the same price at which they are purchased in LONDON, in which Business he hopes for the Encouragement of the Printters, and all American Patriots.”

So reads the first proof ever struck from American types, representing the work of Abel Buell, born this day in 1742. A typical American entrepreneur, Buell was active in a dozen fields of endeavor-typefounder, engraver, cartographer, auctioneer, privateersman, mint master, packet boat proprietor, etc. In none of these activities did he ever acquire either wealth or affluence.

Born in Killingworth, Connecticut, Buell had completed his apprenticeship as a gold-smith in that town by the time he was twenty years of age. In addition he possessed himself of the first of his four wives. Very quickly once he was on his own, he proceeded to cast off any ideas about settling down to small town family life. According to his biographer, Lawrence C. Wroth, “Applying his skill in the use of delicate tools to the paper currency of the colony, he succeeded only too well in altering a number of two shillings six pence bills to the more comfortable denomination of thirty shillings!”

After two years in prison for this attempt to improve the currency, Buell was released in 1764. Within another two years he was in Boston specializing in the cutting and polishing of precious stones. At this time he also began to experiment with the manufacture of printer’s types. We next hear of him back home in Connecticut where the Assembly voted him a loan, in 1769, to continue his work in this field. There was at the time no typefounding in the colonies, which had to depend upon European sources for type.

For the next fifteen years he was most active as an auctioneer, combining this work with his numerous other business enterprises. In 1885 he was master of a mint established by the Connecticut Assembly for the purpose of coining and manufacturing coppers. Eight years following this appointment Buell was in New York as the owner of a cotton mill. The last years of his life were uneventful. He established himself in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, where he died in an alms house, destitute, at 81 years of age.

While Buell’s types were the first to be cast in America (1769), they were not successful. After the failure of his first foundry, he again made type in 1781. The Connecticut Journal gradually replaced its worn-out English type with those of Buell’s casting. As pure letterforms, the Buell designs were lacking style and crispness and from all indications were not very well cast. Perhaps Buell’s constant searching for excitement, coupled with rather poor business judgment, insured against the first American type being a success. Of course the period of the Revolutionary War was not conducive to the establishment of a typefoundry, particularly when the product was inferior to the types available from overseas.

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