June 18

On or about this date in 1788 a retired printer, statesman, and flyer of kites wrote to William Caslon III:

“I yesterday received your favour of April 2, informing me that the Types I ordered by mine of Feby 17, would be shipt in about a Fortnight which I am glad to hear. I promised to make you good Pay, and accordingly on the 31st of March I wrote & sent a Bill for 150 £ to Messrs. Smith,Wright & Gray my former Bankers in London, with Directions to pay your Bill. So that I doubt not your having received the Money within a few Weeks after you had shipt the Goods. I have set up my Grandson B. Franklin Bache in a Printing-House here, and what further Founts he may want from you, he willsend Bills to pay for. I approve much of your Resolution not to send your Types abroad upon Credit. Their Excellence will secure a sufficient Demand without it. Some other British Founders have been so extravagantly liberal in that Way, and thereby created such a Number of Master-Printers more than the Business of the Country can maintain, as may probably in the End be hurtful to both the Debtors and Creditors.

“Your Friend W. T. Franklin is well at his Plantation 16 Miles from this City. I am glad to hear of the Welfare of you & yours, being with sincere Esteem, Dear Sir, Your Friend & Servant, B. Franklin.”

It was to be another dozen years or so before American typefounders would be able to even begin to meet the demands of the burgeoning printing industry of the new American republic. The renowned Caslon firm was thus happy to continue sending type across the Atlantic as it had for many years. Most of the colonial printers had been weaned on the sturdy Caslon letters. It was therefore natural that many of the historic documents by which the colonists protested their continuing subservience to the Mother Country were composed in Caslon types.

The broadsides issued by the Maryland Sons of Liberty, in 1766, were set in Caslon, as was the notice to the members of the Association of the Sons of Liberty of New York to assemble about the Liberty Pole on the Common. The famous New York broadside of May 20, 1766, announcing the repeal of the Stamp Act, was composed in the type, along with the Proclamation of General Washington concerning the impending attack by the British, the first printing of the Declaration of Independence, and the proclamation informing the public of Washington’s arrival in New York for his inauguration.

By the time of the first American type specimen book, that of Binny & Ronaldson printed in 1812, Caslon type had lost its ninety-year popularity. It succumbed to the newer fashions in type which had been inaugurated by John Baskerville in England, along with the Didots and Giambattista Bodoni on the Continent. There was no need for American founders to produce copies of Caslon until after the middle of the century. Possibly because of their knowledge of the revival of Caslon in England with the 1843 publication of The Diary of Lady Willoughby by Charles Whittingham of the Chiswick Press, the Johnson Type Foundry of Philadelphia purchased fonts of the type. From these originals, electrotype matrices were manufactured and the first announcement of this undertaking appeared in the pages of the company’s house organ, The Typographic Advertiser, in January, 1859. By July of the same year, thirteen sizes had been produced. The revival proved to be popular, as the 1865 specimen book of the firm listed the entire series, Pearl (4½-point) to four-line Pica (48-point), under the name of Old Style No. 1. By the last decade of the century, the type had become exceedingly popular. It was selected for the new fashion magazine Vogue, and the Inland Type Foundry went so far as to purchase matrices from the English firm so that they could offer the “Genuine Face, reproduced by permission.” When the typesetting machines were introduced, it didn’t take long to make Caslon available for them also, and today the fine old type has also been adapted to the phototypesettting machines which are becoming increasingly important in typographic production.

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