October 11

Benjamin Franklin Baches Newspaper Office

Benjamin Franklin Bache's Newspaper Office

The journal kept by Benjamin Franklin Bache records for this day in 1784: “Began to cast a fount of St. Augustine.” The senior Benjamin Franklin had brought his two grandsons, Temple and Benjamin, to Europe when he was appointed Ambassador to France. Towards the end of his stay there, he was determined to teach Benjamin the trade of printing, since he had without much success attempted to train Temple for public office. Young Bache, then fourteen years old, seemed an apt pupil, so his grandfather brought in a master typefounder to the private press he maintained at Passy to teach the boy typecasting.

The following year France’s finest printer, François Didot, took Benjamin as an apprentice. This event was duly recorded in the journal:

“April 5. Went to Mons. Didot to learn punchcutting. To board in his house, but sleep elsewhere. Didot includes in his house engraving, the forge, the foundry, and printing.

“April 7. Engrave first punch, an O.

“April 8. Today and E.

“May 6. I have taken my grandpapa’s press to pieces.”

The training ended abruptly however when on May 2 Franklin was notified by Congress to return to the United States. The printer-statesman brought home with him, however, typefounding equipment from Pierre Simon Fournier, with which he set up his grandson in Philadelphia. That Franklin was aware of the need for the establishment of a typefoundry in the United States is apparent from a letter which he wrote from France in 1779: “I thank you for the Boston newspapers, tho’ I see nothing so clearly in them as that your Printers do indeed want new Letters. They perfectly blind me in endeavoring to read them. If you should ever have any Secrets that you wish to be well kept, get them printed in those Papers. You enquire, if Printers Types may be had here? Of all sorts, very good, cheaper than in England, and of harder Metal. I will see any Orders executed in that way that any of your Friends may think fit to send. Very good Printing Ink is likewise to be had here. . . .”

In 1785 Bache established the foundry, but then left to continue schooling, while his grandfather apparently kept the business until the young man should be ready. However, Bache decided in 1787 to go it on his own, and began a career as both printer and a typefounder, issuing a specimen sheet showing types of French origin and also English Caslon. The young man soon became more interested in the printing side of his business.

In 1789 Bache was Franklin’s secretary. He was present when the great old man died in his eighty-fourth year on April 17, 1790. Later that year Bache started a newspaper, the General Advertiser, which became known later as the Aurora. He died in 1798, just twenty-nine years old. His widow later married William Duane, who in 1806 sold Bache’s typefoundry to Binny & Ronaldson, the Philadelphia typefounders.

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