June 30

On this day in 1948 occurred the death of the most prolific of all American type designers, Morris Fuller Benton. We have grown accustomed to considering Frederic W. Goudy as the type designer who contributed the widest variety of types to America’s composing rooms. But when comparing the output of the almost forgotten Morris Benton to that of his contemporaries, there is little question that he is in first place among American designers for sheer volume.

Benton began his career in the shadow of another Benton—his father. Linn Boyd Benton was the inventor who revolutionized typefounding with the punch cutter, which he invented in 1886. The elder Benton also worked with Theodore L. De Vinne in the design the type called Century Expanded.

When the younger Benton received his engineering degree from Cornell in 1896, he became his father’s assistant at American Type Founders Company. In the beginning he helped to design equipment for the foundry. In 1906 he became fully engaged in type design, later becoming the head of that department of ATF a post which he held until his retirement in 1937.

Benton’s first type was Roycroft, produced about 1898. This effort was followed by planning variants of Century, an activity which was not completed for two decades. Within the next three or four years several other types still in wide use were produced—Wedding Text in 1901, Alternate Gothic and Franklin Gothic in 1903, along with Typo Script and Cloister Black.

Following this activity Benton became engaged in work which might have engulfed a lesser man. He began with the original 11-point size of a private type which had been designed by the architect Bertram Goodhue, and which was called Cheltenham. By 1908 Benton had produced eighteen variations of “Chelt” and in the process made it the most widely used type of the period.

Benton evinced a positive clairvoyance in producing types which a half century later are among the top current styles. Alternate Gothic and Franklin Gothic have stood the test of time, along with News Gothic, first offered in 1908 and still extremely popular.

The first of the Benton historic adaptations was Bodoni, cut in 1909, followed by Cloister Oldstyle in 1913. Garamond followed in 1914, with the collaboration of Thomas M. Cleland. In 1928 he produced a fine copy of the type originally cut for the famed Shakspeare Press of William Bulmer, by the punch-cutter Robert Martin. This type was named Bulmer.

Of Benton’s entire output of some 178 designs and variations, there was but one type which bore his name. In 1934 he cut a classic roman letter and named it Benton, but when the type was marketed it was called Whitehall. This decision was made by the foundry for a practical reason. The type in inventory is stacked alphabetically on the shelves, making it necessary to move a great many fonts when a new type is brought out with a name beginning with “B.” Whitehall therefore saved some time but lost its designer an opportunity to perpetuate his name.

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