May 30

James Conner, one of the important typefounders of the 19th century, died this day in 1861. Born near Hyde Park in New York’s Dutchess County, Conner became apprenticed to a printer at the age of thirteen. His indentures were interrupted the following year when he ran off to fight in the War of 1812. He continued in New York City at the conclusion of hostilities, working in a number of different printing offices, in one of which, operated by John Watts, the first stereotyper in the United States, he learned that craft in addition to setting type and operating the press.

Gaining a reputation as a stereotyper, Conner was offered a large salary to become foreman of the newly established Boston Stereotype Foundry, where in a relatively short period he saved $3,000, a sufficiently large sum of money to enable him to return to New York to establish his own stereotype foundry in 1827. The practice in all of the earlier stereotype plants was to set the type which was to be molded. To this Conner included the publishing of such standard items as the Bible, Shakespeare, and encyclopedias.

As business prospered, Conner decided to add typefounding to his services, although such a move was received coldly by the other New York typefounders. As he knew little about this new craft, other than actual casting, he secured the help of EdwinStarr, who had some twenty-five years earlier gained employment in the foundry operated by Binny & Ronaldson in Philadelphia, for the express purpose of “stealing” the firm’s information concerning the construction of a type mold. This knowledge Stair had imparted to Elihu White, a Yankee inventor anxious to start his own typefoundry in Hartford, Connecticut.

Conner’s first important contribution to American typefounding was the successful introduction of a type known as Light Face Scotch. Some sources credit Conner with the actual cutting of the punches for this type, while others claim Starr was responsible. It has also been stated that Conner purchased the matrices for the type from William Hagar, another founder who had not been successful with the design. In any case, Conner popularized the use of light-face roman type in America, the Scotch letter becoming the standard type of the period.

Working again with Starr, Conner next introduced the construction of matrices by the electrotype method, an invention which revolutionized type manufacturing, allowing any foundry to pirate its competitor’s designs at random. A side effect of this development was the consequent reduction of opportunity for the designing of more original and imaginative type styles, particularly in the field of roman types for book composition. This procedure is still occasionally utilized by typefoundries, particularly when original matrices or punches have been lost or destroyed, and a customer wishes to replenish a case of old and rare type.

Following Conner’s death, his sons continued the business under the name of James Conner’s Sons. William C. Comer, the eldest son, became widely known in the political life of New York City, holding a number of offices. It was while he was Sheriff of New York that the notorious Boss Tweed was imprisoned and placed in Conner’s custody, from which he escaped. In order to regain his own good name, Conner had to spend a great deal of his own money to apprehend Tweed, finally locating him in Spain and returning him to New York.

Two other sons, James M. and Charles S. Conner, devoted themselves to the running of the typefoundry, but upon the death of their elder brother in 188 1, the business declined. James Conner gained full control. Following his death in 1887, his sons succeeded him, selling out to the American Type Founders Company in 1892, thereby bringing to a close a fifty year period of significant contributions to the typefounder’s craft in America.

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