May 12

An advertisement appearing in the Philadelphia Aurora on this spring day in 1797 read: “TYPEFOUNDERS papier-maché Wanted, five or six journeymen typefounders, to whom the highest wages and constant employment will be given papier-maché Also an apprentice wanted. Apply at Binny & Ronaldson’s FOUNDRY, in CEDAR at the end of ELEVENTH Street, PHILADELPHIA, where any quantity of old type will be received for money or exchange.

“The printers of newspapers thro’out the Union will encourage this establishment by publishing the above.”

Considering the lack of typefounding facilities in the United States at that period, it would seem that Messrs. Binny &Ronaldson were optimistic in the extreme of finding any journeymen founders, but at the same time, the advertisement did inform the public of the existence of the firm, and the hint that other newspapers might publish the notice was a canny bit of promotion on the part of the two Scotsmen.

The year previously, what became the first permanent typefoundry in the United States had been established by Arrhibald Binny and James Ronaldson, both from Edinburgh, Scotland. Binny, who arrived in Philadelphia in 1793, had been a printer in Edinburgh and had also learned the craft of typefounding. Ronaldson, a baker by trade, emigrated to Philadelphia in 1794, setting up a biscuit bakery which he ran for about two years until it was destroyed by fire.

Meeting Binny by chance in an alehouse, Ronaldson renewed an acquaintance which had begun in Edinburgh. The two men quickly became good friends, agreeing to go into business together as typefounders, in November, 1796. Ronaldson put up the capital, while Binny supplied the practical skills necessary for the successful operation of the foundry, in addition to contributing his stock of typefounder’s tools and equipment, without which the enterprise could scarcely have had any chance of success.

In 1806 Binny and Ronaldson purchased the typefounding equipment which Benjamin Franklin had acquired from P. S. Fournier, son of the great French typefounder, Pierre Fournier le jeune. Franklin had hoped to establish his grandson, Benjamin Franklin Bache in that business in Philadelphia. Bache did set up a small foundry and printing office and issued a specimen sheet some time after 1890, but he had little interest in typefounding, preferring to remain a printer. After his early death the French tools became the property of William Duane who had married Bache’s widow. Duane offered to lend them to Binny and Ronaldson. Upon examination of the equipment, Ronaldson was so delighted with it that he made an immediate purchase and fearing Duane would change his mind forthwith borrowed a wheelbarrow and transported his tools to the foundry, “during one of the hottest days in the summer of the year mentioned.”

The Binny & Ronaldson firm was immediately successful, producing excellent types which soon won over the printers in the new nation, previously so dependent upon European sources, particularly the English and Scottish, foundries. Binny retired in 1815. Ronaldson continued the business until his own retirement in 1823,when his son Richard carried it on for another ten years. At that time it became known as Johnson & Smith. The line of succession then went on to L. Johnson in 1843, becoming Johnson & Company in 1845. In 1867 the firm was called MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, becoming incorporated in 1885.Finally in 1892the founders became one of the most important elements in the merger which produced the firm known as the American Type Founders Company, which still retains in its vaults some of the original Binny & Ronaldson matrices, the best known of which is Roman No. 1. now called Oxford.

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