January 1

Upon a Monday morning on this date in 1787, was published the first issue of The World, or Fashionable Advertiser, a periodical which published the best current writers, including Richard Brinsley Sheridan. The proprietor of this immediately successful journal was John Bell—bookseller, printer, publisher, typefounder, journalist, &c, to use the title supplied by his 20th century biographer, Stanley Morison. A hundred years earlier Timperley had stated, “Few men have contributed more, by their industry and good taste, to the improvement of the graphic and typographic arts than Mr. Bell.”

Bell’s name lives for the present generation of printers through the medium of roman type. The concept for this letter came about through Bell’s desire to produce an edition of The Way to Keep Him, by Arthur Murphy. The first notice of this project was printed in The World on June 9, 1787:

“J. Bell flatters himself that he will be able to render this THE MOST PERFECT and in every respect the MOST BEAUTIFUL BOOK, that was ever printed in any country.” The advertisement went on to describe a new type to be cast which was designed upon “improved principles.” Bell thereupon established a firm which he called Bell’s British Letter Foundry. He was most fortunate in obtaining for it the services as punchcutter of Richard Austin, a skilled copperplate engraver.

Austin’s designs carried forward the improvements already made by John Baskerville but leaned more heavily on the precise letters introduced by Philip Grandjean for Louis XIV and called romain du roi. Morison has written that the Bell type is the first English example of “modern face.”

Some of the Bell fonts were purchased by American printers, being used during the last decade of the 18th century. The more recent use of the type in America came about when Mr. Henry O. Houghton of the Riverside Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts purchased a quantity during a visit to England in 1864. The face was first shown in the Riverside specimen book in 1887, under the name of English Copperface. In 1895 Bruce Rogers, a young typographer employed by the Riverside Press, discovered the Bell type in the composing room and became interested in it. He learned that it had been used to print a series of books written by Martin Brimmer. At Rogers’ suggestion the face was cast by American Type Founders from electrotyped matrices, and renamed Brimmer. It was used for many books printed at the Riverside Press until 1912.

In the meantime, the Boston printer, Daniel Berkeley Updike, “discovered” the type in England about 1903, and he also brought it to the United States, to become one of the sable fonts of the famed Merrymount Press, where it was known as Mountjoye.

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