October 14

Just three years prior to his death, Benjamin Franklin took the trouble to write to Signor Giambattista Bodoni of Parma, Italy. Under the date, October 14, 1787, Franklin wrote:

“I have had the very great pleasure of receiving and perusing your excellent Essai des Caractères de l’Imprimerie. It is one of the most beautiful that Art has hitherto produc’d. I should be glad to see a specimen of your other Founts besides this italic & Roman of the Letter to the Marq’ de Cubières; and to be inform’d of the price of each kind. I do not presume to criticize your Italic Capitals; they are generally perfect: would only beg leave to say, that to me the form of the T in the word LETTRE of the Title Page seems preferable to that of the T in the word Typographie in the next Page, as the downward stroke of T, P, R, F, B, D, H, K, L, I, and some others, which in writing we begin at the top, naturally swells as the pen descends; and it is only in the A and the M and N that these strokes are fine, because the pen begins them at the bottom.”

Far from being offended by criticism from the infant nation across the Atlantic, it is recorded that Bodoni was so delighted that he confused Franklin’s status. Updike says that “Bodoni was overcome with joy to have from the President of the United States this flattering letter, which he considered a title to glory and preserved with religious care.”

The Duke of Parma, Bodoni’s patron, was even more pleased than Bodoni, deeming the letter a tribute, no doubt, to his own acumen in selecting Bodoni as his printer. The Duke had it translated into Spanish to be sent to King Carlos III, the reigning monarch who was also a patron of Bodoni.

No matter how enthusiastic Benjamin Franklin was about Bodoni’s types, Daniel B. Updike, another printing craftsman with roots in the city of Boston, considered them to be publicity types and disdained their use for the printing of books. Of course he was discussing the 20th century re-cutting of Bodoni, rather than the original. Updike believed Bodoni type to be “somewhat foreign” and suggested that it could be “utilized for short addresses, circulars, and advertising, with great success—as in the charming use of it by Mr. T. M. Cleland. To printer-designers as skillful as Cleland it may be recommended.”

In spite of this criticism Bodoni ranks today as one of the universal types, popular for book and commercial printing.

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