March 21

On this date in the year 1794 John Hayes, a printer of Baltimore, Maryland, advertised that he had recently acquired “an elegant and complete apparatus” from Caslon in England. During this period it was quite common for the printers of the young republic to so advise their customers. It is evident that there was need for the establishment of an American typefoundry and that it would be a reasonably successful venture, provided that the product was competitive with the types and equipment being obtained from England.

The English foundries were anxious, of course, to obtain the American business, as the craft of printing was enjoying a time of expansion, making the sale of type quite profitable even with 3,000 miles of turbulent ocean between the typecaster and the printing press. While the English and Scottish foundries received the bulk of the American orders for type, French and Dutch founders were also exporting type to this country. It was not infrequent for the American printers to boast about their sources of types. When, in 1785, the Congressional Secretary advertised for bids to print the Journals of the Continental Congress, four of the nine printers submitting estimates sent along typefounders’ specimens of the types to be used.

While a few printers ordered type direct from overseas, importing houses and agents were active in the trade. As this business became more competitive, the agent sometimes relinquished his brokerage fee, or so he advertised, as did Robert Browne of New York in 1794, who offered: “The subscriber wishes to inform the Printers in the different States, that he can supply them with Printing Types of every description from Fry’s celebrated Foundery, London. The Types shall be delivered in New York at cost and charges free of any commission; the money to be paid at the Current Exchange at the time of delivery .”

There were, however, numberless delays in shipment, and as the correspondence concerning postponements of orders was equally uncertain, American printers were understandably frustrated in their efforts to secure their types. George Barclay & Company, a London agent, wrote to Mathew Arey of Philadelphia on August 8, 1792: “Thro’ the Channels of our Mutual & very good friend Mr. George Meade of Philadelphia we are favored with Your’s of the 25 June, Inclosing a Letter with an order for Types which we have forwarded to Dr. Alexander Wilson & Sons of Glasgow & agreeable to your Request have urged them to get it ready as soon as possible & in preference if an opportunity should offer from Greenock, to Ship it from thence—if not to send it up here to be Ship’t by one of the New York Traders for we shall have no opportunity Direct for Philadelphia at the same time you mention We hope however it will be nearly the same thing to Send the Types to New York & we shall of Course Pay for them ready Money with a Discount of 7½ pCt. as you seem to wish.”

Almost three weeks later, Agent Barclay wrote again saying that the Wilson foundry was so busy that they could not accept the order, but that they could have “an excellent Fount ready for you by the first spring Ships sailing provided that such an Order was handed them soon.” Finally on February 4, 1793, Carey received notification that the Scottish foundry had received the order so late that it “would be utterly impossible to execute it in Time to send by the Spring Ships. . . .”

It is obvious that when the American foundries became operative in the closing years of the 18th century, their product was received with little criticism by most printers anxious to replenish cases of well-worn type.

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