You are here

Monticello Typeface

Originally published as "Monticello: The History of a Typeface" by Charles Creesy, Director of Publishing Technologies, Princeton University Press, in Printing History: The Journal of the American Printing History Association, vol. XXV, no. 1 (2006).

The origins of the typeface we know today as Monticello can be traced back to America's first successful type foundry, established in Philadelphia by Archibald Binny and James Ronaldson in 1796. Among the most enduring American types ever designed, it has now nearly realized a proverbial nine lives. Its first three iterations took the form of hand-set type and spanned more than a century. Its fourth incarnation, an arduous conversion to Linotype, was undertaken in the 1940s by C.H. Griffith at the Mergenthaler Company with the aid of Princeton University Press's P.J. Conkwright. It was this revival, intended to provide a historically appropriate face for the publication of The Papers of Thomas Jefferson, that gave the font its modern name. The advent of computerized typesetting systems in the 1980s led to the creation of two intermediate, and unsatisfactory, digital renditions of Monticello. The accumulated defects were finally rectified by Matthew Carter's masterful reinterpretation in 2003. At about the same time, a digital version tailored to produce photopolymer plates for letter-press printing was created for Andrew Hoyem's Arion Press in San Francisco. Though it carries a different name, this was Monticello's eighth life and a kind of return to the past. With the Jefferson Papers project expected to continue until 2026 (the 200th anniversary of the third President's death), and with the pace of technological change showing no sign of abating, a ninth life seems inevitable.1

Thus, for an American font, Monticello can claim an exceptionally long heritage. Its creators, two young immigrants from Scotland, were not the first to manufacture type on these shores – six or seven others had preceded them – but they were the first to make an ongoing business of it. Archibald Binny (1762/3-1838) contributed his skills as a punchcutter plus his collection of engraving tools, casting molds, and other paraphernalia, which customs officials had valued at $888.80. James Ronaldson (1769-1841) put up a like amount in cash and turned his energies to the partnership's business affairs. Upon opening shop under the name Binny & Ronaldson, they had at least four sizes of type to sell: English, Pica, Long Primer, and Brevier. A broadside that Conkwright produced in 1949 to announce the Linotype revival of one of these faces assumed that the four were among those appearing in the earliest surviving specimen book of their fonts, printed in 1812: "They were the first types cut by Archibald Binny, and were probably in use by 1797. For thirty years they were popular in the United States, and were widely used in book and newspaper printing."2

By 1953, however, after researching the question more deeply – with assistance from John Alden, an authority on Scotch faces – Conkwright had changed his mind. "The character of their first type is quite different from the commonly known Binny & Ronaldson of 1812," he wrote in the journal Printing & Graphic Arts. Three of the early faces were "distinctly old style in character, very similar to those of John Baine." Only the English showed a more transitional design, reflecting "the new movement then being pioneered by Richard Austin, John Bell, and others."3 In the Conkwright Collection at the Princeton University Library is a copy of the 1949 broadside that he marked up at some later date. He crossed out the passage quoted above and, referring to the 1812 specimen, wrote in the margin: "They were not the old style type the partners had begun with in 1796. They were cut sometime between 1796 and 1800. By 1802 they were appearing in publications such as the Philadelphia Aurora, Mathew Carey's Quarto Bible, and Marshall's Life of George Washington. They have some of the transitional character of Richard Austin's Bell type. But there is also an elusive Binny quality to the design. The types were widely used in America and virtually supplanted English and foreign types among American printers."4

In 1959, in a brief contribution to a booklet honoring Nils Larson, head of the Letter Drawing Department at Mergenthaler during the Monticello revival, Conkwright described the type used for John Marshall's Life of Washington, printed by Caleb P. Wayne in Philadelphia (1804-1808), as follows: "This was the beginning of the second series of type Archibald Binny had cut. The punches and matrices for most of the sizes in his earlier series had been cut in, and brought with him from, Scotland. This was not a distinguished face, but he and James Ronaldson had managed to stay on their feet with it until the No. 1 series, the transitional roman well known as the first type he cut in America, got under way. This was from 1800 onwards. The No. 1 is a distinguished type in many ways, and is the one that Griffith, Nils Larson and I were concerned with. It was undoubtedly greatly influenced by the Martin-Bulmer design, which was showing its influence everywhere. But Binny & Ronaldson's No. 1 was more than a Bulmer copy."5

In 1806, Binny & Ronaldson acquired equipment that Benjamin Franklin had purchased in France twenty years earlier for his grandson, B.F. Bache, in the hope that he would establish a type foundry in the United States. Franklin was keenly aware of the value that a domestic source of type would have for America's printers, but his grandson had neither the skill nor the diligence to make the business succeed. These tools proved extremely helpful to Binny, who acknowledged that he derived many valuable ideas from them. They may have played a role in an improvement to the typefounder's mold he patented in 1811, which greatly increased the speed of casting, from 4,000 sorts a day to 6,000, according to a later estimate. The mechanism of Binny's invention is not known – the patent filing was lost in a fire – but it was probably a lever that lifted the matrix after each cast and allowed type to be ejected more easily from the mold.6

Ronaldson first met Thomas Jefferson in 1805 or early 1806. According to his later reminiscences, the two men talked about "the practical state of our manufactures" – Ronaldson's favorite topic.7 Whatever Jefferson said, it got Ronaldson fired up enough that he went back to Philadelphia and hired someone to "collect specimens of all kinds of cloth then made in this neighborhood," which he sent to Jefferson in February 1806.8 It should be noted that Binny and Ronaldson had bought a farm in 1804, where they raised sheep, and later Ronaldson owned a cotton mill, which may explain the interest in wool and textiles evident in many of his letters to Jefferson. Ronaldson lobbied incessantly for the imposition of tariffs on imports to encourage the development of domestic industries. It became a leitmotif in the nearly two dozen letters the two men exchanged over the next eighteen years.

In October 1808, Jefferson wrote to Ronaldson from Monticello about a new breed of sheep he had acquired and said his grandson would bring a sample of its fleece to Philadelphia for his evaluation.9 Twelve days later, Ronaldson responded with a thorough and rather negative report, at the end of which he made his first mention of the antimony crisis: "The business of Letter founding that has engaged my friend Binny & self goes on as well as circumstances will permit the impossibility of procuring Regulus of Antimony from Europe has oblige us to reduce our work people from seventy to thirty and if we are not so fortunate as discover Antimony here we shall not be able to continue at this extent—There is every probability of its being in the Country herto for there not being any demand it was not an object worthy of attention—We have lately set up a pottery which is conducted by Mr. Trotter Mr. Binnys nephew, there is a reasonable probability of its succeeding, but it is a very arduous undertaking and can-not make rapid progress."10

Antimony is an important ingredient in metal type, responsible for its hardness and durability. From 1796 to 1801, Binny & Ronaldson bought nearly 60,000 pounds of worn-out type from printers, or gave them credit for it against purchases of new type. They melted down the metal and made new type from it, usually adding about 1 percent antimony in the process.11 American typemakers had obtained their antimony mostly from Britain, but by 1808, because of a trade dispute with the United States, the British were no longer supplying this mineral to their former colonies.

On March 5, 1809, four months after the first note of concern, Ronaldson added a worried postscript to another long discussion of wool samples: "[W]e have not yet been able to find antimony in the United States and consequently our business is almost at a stand, Could no plan be devised in the present state of our foreign relations whereby a supply might be obtained from France or Spain?"12 Surviving scraps of correspondence between Binny & Ronaldson and its customers reveal the pinch felt on both sides at this time. In response to a printer in Augusta, Georgia, inquiring why his order had not been filled, Ronaldson explained: "On acc[oun]t of the scarcity of antimony, we are not able to make more than half of the type we used to and are so much behind our engagements we fear it will be 3 months before we can make the 125 lb. L[ong] P[rimer] you want. . . ." In closing, he added, "[I]f antimony has ever been found in your quarter, we would take about 5 or 10000 worth of it in a year."13 On June 16, Binny and Ronaldson wrote Jefferson jointly (the only time they did so):

Our efforts to procure antimony from some source within the United States have failed, and the want of it having obliged us to part with upwards of thirty Journeymen & boys, we are under the necessity of making an extraordinary effort to procure this material so necessary in making printing types, indeed without a supply we will be obliged soon to reduce the number of our workmen still more—We have concluded our James Ronaldson must go to the continent of Europe to procure a supply and make arrangements for being regularly furnished with it in future for this purpose he is to go to Hamburgh and thence to France where it is abundent . . . . We solicit your assistance, and request an introduction to some persons in Hamburg, Paris &ca to whose representations the French would attach credit in order that we might be permitted to export enough for our own consumption in the United States.14

Jefferson was sympathetic to their appeal, for he wanted to encourage the growth of American manufacturing and to lessen the country's dependence on imported products. He was particularly concerned about the nation's printers because, in his view, a flourishing publishing industry was vital to the political and cultural life of the country. The best hope for a solution, he felt, was France – ever eager to counter the aims of its antagonist across the Channel. Jefferson gave Ronaldson a letter of introduction to Pierre S. DuPont, a prominent statesman and publisher in Paris (two of whose sons would found a company in America bearing the family name): "I place mr Ronaldson therefore in your hands, and pray you to advise him, & patronize the object which carries him to Europe, & is so interesting to him & to our country. his knoledge of what is passing among us, will be a rich source of information for you, and especially as to the state & progress of our manufactures. your kindness to him will confer an obligation on me, & will be an additional title to the high & affectionate esteem & respect of an antient & sincere friend."15

Ronaldson crossed the Atlantic and, with DuPont's aid, succeeded in obtaining a sufficient quantity of antimony from France, though he sometimes had problems shipping it back to America. As he later reported to Jefferson, his "supply has not always escaped the British Cruisers."16 In 1811 Ronaldson received letters from Samuel Beach in Whiting, Vermont, reporting the discovery of antimony in nearby Rutland County and asking whether he might be interested in buying the site.17 There is no record of Ronaldson following up. Yet despite the War of 1812, with its disruption of trans-Atlantic shipping, nothing more about an antimony problem is to be found in Binny & Ronaldson's papers thereafter, so it appears that a domestic supply must have been secured somewhere. A decade later, on July 3, 1822, Ronaldson sent Jefferson a catalog of the company's fonts and recalled the precarious early years of the enterprise.18 In response, Jefferson wrote, "[W]hen I look back to Bell’s edition of Blackstone (about 1773.) and compare his with your types, and by the progress of the last half century estimate that of the centuries to come I am cheared with the prospects of improvement in the human condition, which altho not infinite are certainly indefinite."19

Archibald Binny sold his half of the business to Ronaldson in 1815 for $62,000. He was already quite wealthy, mostly from the proceeds of the type foundry and perhaps partly from the patent on his typefounder's mold. He loaned $50,000 to the U.S. government during the War of 1812 (a kind of war bond, as it were), bought a 5,000-acre plantation in Maryland (with 50 slaves), and lived the life of the gentleman farmer. James Ronaldson sold the type foundry to his brother Richard in 1823, and then pursued a variety of business interests. Besides running his cotton mill, he dabbled in real estate development. He was active in civic affairs, served as the first president of the Franklin Institute, and made an unsuccessful run for a seat in the U.S. Congress. He organized the first soup kitchen for the poor in Philadelphia and gave the city a cemetery for indigent people that he had established and that bore his name.

By the 1820s, popular taste had come to prefer fatter and more stylized typefaces. Binny's early fonts lost favor and gradually fell out of use. But the matrices that he and his punchcutters had crafted were preserved by the series of foundries that descended from the original firm.20 The last of these was the largest of the 23 remaining U.S. foundries that joined together to form the American Type Founders Company (ATF) in 1892. In that same year, at the initiative of Joseph Warren Phinney, one of its vice presidents, ATF released a revival of Binny's Pica No. 1 under the name of Oxford, which was still available on special order as late as the 1960s. A crucial figure in this resurrection was John Cumming, a punchcutter who had worked for Phinney at the Dickinson Type Foundry in Boston and who proved fully capable of duplicating Binny's work when original matrices turned out to be damaged or missing. He also must have created a "long s" (and ligatures for it), which did not exist in the original – Binny & Ronaldson had followed Bell's lead in abandoning it – but which was supplied in the revival. In Anatomy of a Typeface, Alexander S. Lawson speculates that Phinney intended Oxford as a "period" type and felt that printers would want the "long s" for colonial reproductions.21

Among the admirers of Oxford was Bruce Rogers, who first used the type in 1907 for Some Unpublished Correspondence of David Garrick and later for eleven other books at the Riverside Press. Daniel B. Updike chose Oxford for his monumental history of typography, Printing Types (1922), in which he praised it as "a type of real distinction," and for more than forty other titles at his Merrymount Press.22 Edwin and Robert Grabhorn used it for their Early Printing in America (1921) and fifty-two other titles. By this time, however, hand-set type was affordable only for special projects. Commercial printing relied on type set by machine, in America most commonly the Linotype machine.

The possibility of re-creating Binny's fonts for Linotype had been considered as early as the 1920s by Chauncey H. Griffith (1879-1956), who was to become Vice President for Typeface Development at the Mergenthaler Company. But it was the announcement in 1943 of Princeton's plans to publish an authoritative edition of Thomas Jefferson's papers that spurred him to action. Griffith wrote a letter to Conkwright, then Art Director at Princeton University Press, suggesting that the project should be printed in "a type that was distinctly American in origin." Griffith invited Conkwright to visit him in Brooklyn, "where I can show you advance specimens of at least two new faces" that might be candidates.23 We have no record of what the other font was, but the one they agreed on was Binny & Ronaldson's Pica No. 1.

Pleasant Jefferson Conkwright (1905-1986), still new to the Press at the time, was destined to become its most acclaimed book designer. For the next six years he worked with Griffith to preserve the spirit and style of the original design while moving it to a radically different technology. Their working relationship is documented in the letters and proofs they exchanged from 1944 to 1950, about half of which are preserved in the Conkwright Collection at Princeton. Griffith, overseeing operations at Mergenthaler's plant, was clearly in charge. Conkwright, based fifty miles away in Princeton, served essentially as a consultant, commenting on the stream of proofs mailed to him, offering suggestions and critiques, and unfailingly cheering the effort on. Griffith's letters leave no doubt that he greatly valued Conkwright's judgment and generally heeded his advice. Indeed, their exchanges reveal a steadily growing mutual admiration and affection.

The first Linotype proof – showing various combinations of the upper-case H, M, and O with the lower-case c, g, n, o, and y – is dated June 14, 1944. It is labeled "10 point Monticello Experimental No. 285" and is set on an 11-point slug. It was common at Mergenthaler for fonts to be tracked by experimental numbers during their development and assigned names only at the end. In this case, the name had obviously been decided upon at the beginning. Three months later seventeen lower-case letters, though still only three capitals, were used to compose a full-page proof. Griffith thought this mock-up provided "sufficient working material to obtain a pretty sharp focus on the page texture."24

Griffith was particularly concerned about the relative weight of the capitals and lower-case letters. He had been comparing his favorite historical example of Pica No. 1, Marshall's Life of Washington, with samples of Oxford set for him by Fred Anthoensen, whose Anthoensen Press in Portland, Maine, was considered one of the best commercial shops in the country. His theory was that Binny had to thicken the capitals because otherwise, under the conditions of early 19th-century printing – using damp rag paper, ink balls, and heavy impression under soft packing – they would look too light relative to the denser lower-case letters. But when the very same type, represented by Oxford, was printed with a modern letterpress – using smoother papers, precision form rollers, hard packing, etc. – the capitals looked too dark. Consequently, he thought he would have to restrain the capitals "just a shade" to get the desired balance. He added: "In our revival of this fine old letter I am making a special effort to retain the strength and vigor of its period performance under modern letterpress conditions. I am trying to recover the spirit and warmth and mellowness that indubitably guided the hand of Binny or his punchcutter. So don't be disappointed if the impression is not as suave or slick as some of the recent impressions by Updike or Anthoensen."25

Conkwright's response is interesting. He accepted Griffith's analysis "of the reason the letter was cut as it was." But he then observed: "I think there is another simple reason, too. I think Binny was also influenced by the style of the time, which tended toward heavier weights, with more contrast between thin and thick elements, and between caps and lower case." Finally, he agreed: "I am wholly of the opinion that you are leaning toward, that the caps should still be restrained more."26 Matthew Carter, on the other hand, is skeptical of Griffith's theory, pointing out that in Binny's italic faces the relative weights of capitals and lower case are well balanced. Carter suggests the reason for making the capitals heavier in the roman faces may have been to give them more strength when used alone for display purposes, such as in headlines or title pages.

Writing in Linotype News shortly after completing Monticello, Griffith cited the font's "lively variety in serif shapes and their bracketing to the stems. Quite unlike the technique of contemporary designers who follow a uniform pattern of serif and filet, Binny goes almost to the other extreme in disregard of such uniformity. . . . [T]he overall effect is recognized by many as an artistic achievement that has not been excelled by any typecutter before or since Binny's time. . . . [T]he variant serif motif was achieved through a premeditated and well-executed plan of design."27

Carter feels that here, as elsewhere, Griffith was making a virtue of necessity: "The fact of the matter is that if you are cutting punches and you have made the serif too short, you have just cost yourself about half a day's work. . . . So if you are working in a hurry, as Binny of course was, it's very easy to forgive yourself a minor departure from perfection. I think this thesis is being awfully kind to Binny." Nor, in Carter's view, was this inconsistency entirely the result of technical limitations; long before Binny's day, other typecutters achieved greater uniformity. Nonetheless, in common with Griffith, Carter finds Monticello "extremely likable," possessing a "homespun quality" – perhaps reflecting Binny's avocation of sheep farming – that makes it "very congenial."28

In November 1944, Griffith and Conkwright agreed that the basic body type should be 10 on 12-point rather than 10 on 11-point. It had no doubt been hoped that the tighter setting would help compress the enormous quantity of the Jefferson Papers, expected to require more than fifty volumes. Conkwright thought they could get away with it because most of the text "will be broken with headings, salutations, signatures, etc., which will further lighten the page."29 But the proofs persuaded them that Monticello needed more breathing room. By this time, too, their correspondence had fallen into a pattern. In his responses to Griffith's comments on the proofs being exchanged, Conkwright almost always found something to agree with at the outset, before introducing whatever differences of opinion he may have had, and then concluded by applauding the progress being made. It seems to have been an effective technique. As the months and years of type development rolled on – through seven sizes (7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, and 14 points), each of which required a separate cutting – the pattern is repeated over and over again.

In early 1949, the Eastern Paper Corporation of Bangor, Maine, published the aforementioned broadside specimen poster of Monticello, written and designed by Conkwright, in which he summarized his research to date on the history of the Binny & Ronaldson types. That same year, and only a few months before typesetting of the first Jefferson volume was to begin, Conkwright received a somewhat cryptic and circumlocutory letter from Griffith: "While your decision regarding the proposition recently under discussion is somewhat of a disappointment, nevertheless I understand the considerations which influenced it, and probably should have done likewise had our positions been reversed. A continuation and expansion of your particular technique in the art of book building holds the promise of a successful career in your chosen profession, and I do hope you will hold fast to those ideals which thus far have established so firm a foundation. Wishing you continued success, and with kind personal regards, I am yours very truly. . . ."30 Griffith was approaching retirement and Mergenthaler was having a hard time finding someone to replace him. It is perhaps less surprising that Conkwright would turn down the offer to succeed Griffith than that it had been extended to him in the first place. Clearly Griffith's high regard for Conkwright's abilities and sensibilities was a major factor. Despite its stiltedness, his prose reveals the bond that had grown between them.

In July 1949, as the project was nearing completion, Conkwright confided to Griffith that he was turning "into something of an amateur scholar. In the Philadelphia Library Co., I discovered over 125 original documents, letters, etc., relating to Binny & Ronaldson. These throw considerable new light on the obscure history of the company. The first use of B.&R. I've discovered at this time is in The Aurora newspaper in January 1799. There are earlier uses and I hope to find them. By 1803 there were dozens of printers using the type, and by 1806 they dominated the American market."31 Conkwright received a $500 grant from the American Philosophical Society in 1949 to help defray the cost of travel to various archives and to pay for microfilm and photostats of documents he needed. Using a supply of Oxford type he had come across in the Press's attic shortly after his arrival in Princeton and printing on a hand press in his basement, he produced an "Inquiry about Binny & Ronaldson" which he sent to the larger libraries around the country. It explained his project and asked "whether any letters, papers, or type specimens of this firm are among the manuscripts in your possession." The responses, though largely negative, turned up a few useful leads. Meanwhile, the first volume of the Jefferson Papers, set in Linotype Monticello, was published in 1950 – to much acclaim from historians and book designers alike.

Conkwright had a tremendous burst of energy for his research during the early 1950s. He seemed to be spending every spare moment on it. A decade later, Rollo Silver noted in Typefounding in America (which was set in Monticello): "An eagerly awaited study of Binny & Ronaldson is now being prepared by P.J. Conkwright, who has devoted much time to this project."32 Silver may have been trying to prod him into completing the work, but it never materialized. In fact, little in the way of manuscript can be found in the Conkwright Collection. Besides the 1949 broadside and two articles in Printing & Graphic Arts, there is a nineteen-page talk he prepared and no doubt delivered (though it is not clear exactly where), much correspondence with type historians, many 3×5 index cards of notes, and an annotated copy of the Binny & Ronaldson ledger book. Conkwright suffered the first of a series of heart attacks in the spring of 1954, and there is not much more B&R research after that. He continued to be very productive and to win a record number of design awards, but clearly other interests took precedence.

Capitalizing on Conkwright's growing fame, Mergenthaler mounted a publicity campaign to sell Monticello that had the effect of giving him preeminence over Griffith in the design effort. A 1957 ad that appeared in Modern Lithography, Inland Printer, and other trade magazines was headlined: "His Work Triumphs Through Linotype." The text proclaimed: "In the last ten years, P.J. Conkwright, Jr., medal winning Princeton University Press typographer, has had more books in the AIGA's '50 best' than any other designer. This, in itself, is testament to Mr. Conkwright's unerring good taste in design. Monticello was developed by Linotype with his collaboration. . . ." Below a large photo of Conkwright there appears a small one of Anthoensen, who is quoted as saying: "P.J. Conkwright, Jr., one of the outstanding present-day designers, deserves the thanks of all printers who take pride in their work. In Monticello, he has guarded against the over-refinement of individual letter characteristics so deplorable in many adaptations of classical letter forms. . . ." The reversal of roles was understandable as a marketing ploy; most potential customers knew of Conkwright's accomplishments and were more likely to be swayed by the font's association with him than with Griffith. But it contributed to the mistaken impression in some quarters that Conkwright had initiated the revival – an error propagated by Lawson's Anatomy of a Typeface.33

Despite a few compromises necessitated by the constrictions of the Linotype technology, most evident in the italic faces, Monticello served the Jefferson Papers project well through the "hot metal" years. Then, in the 1980s, the printing industry underwent technological changes no less momentous than the transition from hand-set to machine-set type a century earlier. Linotype machines began to give way to "cold type" devices that used photochemical processes to render letterforms on film and then on metal plates for printing.

Charles T. Cullen, who succeeded Julian Boyd as editor of the Jefferson Papers in 1980, was an early advocate of the new technology. This was only appropriate, he liked to point out at the time, in view of Jefferson's own proclivity for trying out the most interesting inventions of his day. After Princeton University Press's printing plant acquired a Linotron 202 – a digital typesetter marketed by Mergenthaler, for which the company also supplied digital renditions of the Monticello fonts – Cullen started using the university's mainframe computer to code and process text files for printing galleys. This "camera copy" was then "pasted up" (the adhesive applied was actually wax) into pages by hand. When personal computers became powerful enough to do typesetting, Cullen acquired a system named TyX, based on Donald Knuth's TeX.

By the mid-1990s, however, the Linotron 202 was obsolete. Type production had come to be dominated by raster image processors employing the PostScript language pioneered by Adobe. The Jefferson Papers made do for a few years with a digitization of Monticello created by early scanning software that could not trace curves: the letterforms were defined by a dense pattern of dots connected by straight lines. Though intended only for proofing and not for final output, this type worked surprisingly well in small sizes. But with each upgrade to a newer generation of text-processing and typesetting programs, these fonts became increasingly troublesome.

In the spring of 2002, Princeton University Press decided the time had come to commission a modern version of Monticello for the digital age. The Press was fortunate to attract the interest of Matthew Carter, one of the foremost type designers in practice today and one uniquely qualified to undertake a revival of this kind. The son of a distinguished British historian of typography, he went to Holland in his teens to learn the art of cutting punches for the manufacture of hand-set type and later spent several years designing fonts at Mergenthaler Linotype. In 1981 he co-founded Bitstream, an early developer of digital type. He is now a principal of Carter & Cone Type Inc., in Cambridge, Massachusetts. In recent years, he has advanced the art of optimizing type for reading on computer screen with the creation of fonts like Verdana and Georgia. From his work on such designs as ITC Galliard, Miller, and Big Caslon, he gained the experience in interpreting historical typefaces that he would bring to creating his new digital rendition of Monticello.

Carter began by studying the available exemplars of Oxford and Monticello, especially those housed among the Mergenthaler materials archived at the Museum of Printing in North Andover, Massachusetts. There he found original projectorscope sketches that had been drawn by Griffith's staff on 14 × 17 rag paper, using a room-sized enlarger, from the Oxford proofs provided by Anthoensen. Griffith had had the option of working from the metal type, Carter observed, but chose instead to work from printed proofs. The letter drawings that guided the craftsmen were all signed by John Olson. "I do believe Griffith and Larson, the supervisor of the department at the time, considered Olson to be the best of the designers," Carter said. "It's significant to me that he was put on this job and that he did all of the drawings. This whole Monticello exercise was something very close to Griffith's heart. It was almost his swan song, for he retired the same year it was completed."34

Carter came to the conclusion, as had Conkwright late in his researches, that Binny had been greatly influenced by a face produced in England for John Bell – not to be confused with Robert Bell, the Philadelphia printer who produced the edition of Blackstone cited by Jefferson. By 1789, Carter pointed out, "John Bell was using English Roman, cut for him by a Londoner named Richard Austin. Binny may have known this face in Scotland before he emigrated to this country, but if not, he easily could have seen it on this side of the Atlantic, where it was used in the 1790s. If I had been around then, it would have influenced me, too. It's a very beautiful piece of typefounding." English Roman was also unusual in that many of the letters had two alternative forms. Comparing Binny's work with Austin's, Carter noted, "You can see that in one size he chose to copy one version and in another size he chose a different one. My explanation for these inconsistencies of Binny's is that he tried out the alternatives, and maybe by the end of the series he had made up his mind which ones he preferred, but he didn't want to go back and recut letters that had already been done."35

In translating Oxford's letterforms to Linotype Monticello, Griffith and his team had to contend with the constraints of the Linotype technology. Its matrices usually held two letterforms, with the italic on top and the roman on the bottom. When the operator needed to shift from roman to italic or back again, he did not have to change the magazine on the machine – a laborious process – since there was a mechanism for simply raising or lowering the matrix with respect to the mouth of the mold. "But the price to be paid for this convenience," Carter explained, "was that the italic and roman versions of the letter had to be the same width. And for many faces that is very unnatural. Particularly in serif faces, italics generally like to be narrower than the roman. With duplex mats, they tend to suffer a number of distortions. The 'f' for example appears too upright, and the pothooks on the top and bottom look too small and cramped."36

For Monticello, as for certain other favored faces, Linotype cut a second italic using single-letter mats, so the letters could have any width the designers wanted. To shift from roman to italic with these fonts, the operator would indeed have to change the magazine on the machine. Carter saw evidence of both single-letter and duplex mats having been used in the early Jefferson volumes. Mergenthaler also made versions with long descenders, which Carter found "much more elegant and more faithful to the original," as well as a number of two-letter logotypes. He incorporated these refinements in his digital versions.

It is widely felt by typographers that many classic faces lost weight in the translation from Linotype to the Linotron composition system. In the case of Monticello, the injury was compounded by the subsequent rendering into a straight-line-segment version of PostScript. In restoring at least some of the former strength of metal, Carter said, "I didn't just dip the letters in chocolate so that the weight was added all around. I had to figure out quite carefully where to add it."37 One of the places was in the serifs, which had suffered somewhat in the Linotype incarnation. And even though he did not agree with Griffith's theory, Carter added less weight to the capitals, which had the effect of toning down the contrast between them and the lower-case letters. He also created true Monticello small capitals to replace the Baskerville that Griffith had substituted. The result has brought us much closer to the typeface that Jefferson knew and admired two centuries ago.

While Carter was beefing up Monticello to restore its former vigor for modern digital applications, another effort was under way on the opposite coast to slim down Oxford so as to realize the desired result in "old-fashioned" letterpress printing. The San Francisco-based Arion Press's interest in the project derived in part from its having inherited 1,200 pounds of Oxford from its predecessor, the Grabhorn Press, which used it extensively. Andrew Hoyem commissioned a new digital version designed for photopolymer plate printing and named this revival Aitken in honor of Jane Aitken – who printed a four-volume Bible in Binny & Ronaldson's Pica No. 1 in 1808 – and her father, Robert Aitken, a prominent printer during the American Revolution. The initial digital rendering was done by Andrew Crewdson and later refinements were added by Linnea Lundquist, in consultation throughout with Hoyem, a longtime user of Oxford.38 Its first use was for Arion's new edition of The Memoirs of Benjamin Franklin, published in June 2006 to celebrate the 300th anniversary of Franklin's birth.

And so Monticello carries on, adapting to and enduring through one technological change after another. If the Arion Press version represents its eighth life, then it has at least one more to spare. According to no less an authority than John D. Berry, the typographer who edited the standard-setting U&lc magazine in its last years, "It's a comfortably readable face in a style that now looks old but familiar to us. . . . I can easily imagine Monticello, in its new form, becoming a very popular book face once again."39 Despite – or perhaps because of – its Scotch heritage and multifarious influences from the Old World, it can also lay claim to being our quintessentially American font.

- Charles Creesy, 2006

  • 1. This article is based largely on a series of presentations that Matthew Carter and Charles Creesy gave in 2003 to celebrate "The New Digital Monticello: Reinterpreting a Historical Typeface" at the Grolier Club in New York City (February 25), at Princeton University (March 31), and at the Annual Meeting of the Association of American University Presses in St. Louis (June 23). Some of the material included here also appeared in a broadside, produced by Princeton University Press and distributed on those occasions, mimicking a similar broadside created by Conkwright in 1949 to announce the arrival of Linotype Monticello. The correspondence between James Ronaldson, Thomas Jefferson, and Pierre Samuel DuPont de Nemours is available at Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Barbara Oberg and J. Jefferson Looney of the Jefferson Papers project provided expert transcriptions of these documents. The letters, proofs, and other items figuring in the collaboration of Conkwright and Griffith are archived in the P.J. Conkwright Collection in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections at Princeton University's Firestone Library. For those wishing to pursue the early history further, the author recommends Jennifer B. Lee's "'Our Infant Manufactures': Early Typefounding in Philadelphia," Printing History 22, vol. 11, no. 2 (1989). For those interested in more about P.J. Conkwright, the author recommends the special issue of the Princeton University Library Chronicle honoring his life and work, vol. 56, no. 2 (Winter 1995), particularly Mark Argetsinger's article, "Harmony Discovered: P.J. Conkwright in the Tradition of Classical Typography."
  • 2. The 1949 broadside, titled "A Specimen of Types Originally Cast in Philadelphia by Binny & Ronaldson," was one of a series sponsored by the Eastern Paper Corporation of Bangor, Maine, as a way of advertising its wares. The text Conkwright wrote to display the type reveals that already he had taken a keen interest in B&R's history; he would become much more knowledgeable about it over the next few years.
  • 3. P.J. Conkwright, "Binny & Ronaldson's First Type," Printing & Graphic Arts 1 (May 1953): 27.
  • 4. Conkwright Collection, Box 17, folder 1.
  • 5. "Reviving a Great Historic Face," in Letters and Nils Larson: Reflections on His Contributions to Typographic Development, 1922-1959 (Brooklyn, N.Y.: Mergenthaler Linotype Company, 1959), 11-13.
  • 6. Rollo G. Silver, Typefounding in America, 1787-1825 (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1965), 105-07.
  • 7. Ronaldson to Jefferson, July 3, 1822, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 8. Ronaldson to Jefferson, February 22, 1806, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 9. Jefferson to Ronaldson, October 13, 1808, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 10. Ronaldson to Jefferson, October 25, 1808, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 11. Conkwright to Clarence Brigham, Director of American Antiquarian Society, May 22, 1951, in Conkwright Collection, Box 4, folder 4.
  • 12. Ronaldson to Jefferson, March 5, 1809, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 13. Ronaldson to Dennis Driscol, May 31, 1809, Binny & Ronaldson Papers, McAllister Collection, Library Company of Philadelphia. Sandra Markham helped the author in researching the B&R correspondence in this collection.
  • 14. Binny & Ronaldson to Jefferson, June 16, 1809, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 15. Jefferson to Pierre S. DuPont, Pierre Samuel Du Pont de Nemours Papers, Winterthur Manuscripts, Hagley Museum and Library, June 28, 1809. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 16. Ronaldson to Jefferson, December 26, 1811, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 17. Samuel Beach to Ronaldson, July 11 and September 14, 1811, Binny & Ronaldson Papers, McAllister Collection, Library Company of Philadelphia.
  • 18. Ronaldson to Jefferson, July 3, 1822, Thomas Jefferson Papers, Library of Congress. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 19. Jefferson to Ronaldson, July 18, 1822, Gilder Lehrman Collection, New-York Historical Society. Transcription available at Founders Online.
  • 20. In 1833, Richard Ronaldson sold the business to Lawrence Johnson and George F. Smith, who changed the firm's name to Johnson & Smith. Johnson purchased Smith's interest in 1843 and changed the name to L. Johnson & Co., dropping the "L" two years later. In 1867, the name was changed to MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, reflecting new ownership. The company retained that name until 1896, even after it merged into the American Type Founders Company in 1892.
  • 21. Alexander S. Lawson, Anatomy of a Typeface (Boston: David Godine, 1990), 235-37. The ATF Oxford matrices are now housed at the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History.
  • 22. Daniel B. Updike, Printing Types: Their History, Forms, and Use; A Study in Survivals (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1922), 231.
  • 23. Griffith to Conkwright, December 27, 1943.
  • 24. Griffith to Conkwright, September 26, 1944.
  • 25. Ibid.
  • 26. Conkwright to Griffith, October 2, 1944.
  • 27. C.H. Griffith, "Monticello – A New Linotype Face," Linotype News 29 (Spring 1951): 4.
  • 28. Transcribed from videotape of Matthew Carter's presentation at Princeton, March 31, 2003, in author's possession.
  • 29. Conkwright to Griffith, November 9, 1944.
  • 30. Griffith to Conkwright, May 11, 1949.
  • 31. Conkwright to Griffith, July 13, 1949.
  • 32. Silver, 20.
  • 33. Lawson, 240. Lawson also reversed Griffith's treatment of the relative weight of the capitals and lower-case letters.
  • 34. Carter at Princeton, March 31, 2003.
  • 35. Ibid.
  • 36. Ibid.
  • 37. Ibid.
  • 38. Andrew Hoyem to Matthew Carter and Charles Creesy, February 21, 2003.
  • 39. John D. Berry, "Mr. Jefferson's Typeface," posted August 25, 2003, on (copyright 2003 by Creative Publishing Network and


Login or register to participate in our online community.