Benjamin Franklin Papers

Hémery’s Account of the Fonts Cast at Passy, [22 July 1780]

Hémery’s Account of the Fonts Cast at Passy

MS: American Philosophical Society

Franklin had engaged J.-Fr. Hémery in the spring of 1779 to set up a typefoundry at Passy; the regular payments for workers’ salaries and supplies have been noted in previous volumes.6 Here is the master founder’s first inventory, drawn up, perhaps, because the shop was preparing to close for four weeks.7 The manuscript is in a scrawled hand that often rendered terms phonetically and did not maintain a strict order of items. What emerges from the jumble of information is that the foundry had produced more than 5,000 pounds of type in an assortment of eleven sizes and, in some cases, multiple faces.8

Providing English translations or even modern equivalents for Hémery’s terminology is problematic. Before type sizes were standardized the names by which fonts were identified denoted dimensions that were only approximate, and varied from founder to founder. Moreover, eighteenth-century English terms were not exact translations of the French; English type corresponded only roughly to the sizes made across the Channel, and the two were not interchangeable. In 1737 Pierre-Simon Fournier le jeune had proposed a system of standardization, measuring by units called points, which was similar in concept to the scheme created by Sébastien Truchet in the 1690’s for the Imprimerie royale. Didot l’aîné would recalibrate the point around 1781; his system of measurement and numeric designation eventually became standard.9

We list here Hémery’s body sizes from largest to smallest, translating them into the English terms that Franklin himself used,1 and supplying modern point-size equivalents: double canon (French canon, 56 point), gros canon (two-line great primer, 44 point), trimégiste or deux gros romain (double great primer, 36 point), petit canon (two-line English, 28 point), gros parangon (great paragon, 22 point), petit parangon (double pica, 20 point), gros romain (great primer, 18 point), St. Augustin (English, 14 point), cicéro (pica, 12 point), petit romain (long primer, 10 point), petit texte (brevier, 8 point).

[July 22, 1780]

Etat des fonte fait à passie premierment

Le double Canon romain & italique cadras espas2 pes 146 lb. à 1 livre la livre fait 146 l.t.
Le gros canon ordinaire romain & italique laitre de deux point3 133 lb. à 1 l.t. la livre fait 133 l.t.
plus des vignete et crochait4 pour La fonte 3 lb. à quarante sol la livre fait 6 l.t.
une fonte de deux Gros rom ou trismegisse 68 lb. à vien [vingt] sol fait 68 l.t.
une fonte de petit Canon romain et italique Cadras Espas Laitre de deux point à 1 l.t. fait 88 lb cy 88 l.t.
un gros parangon romain & italique Cadras Espas Laitre de deux point 103 lb. à 22 sol fait 113 l.t. 6 s.
plus des philet5 Corp de petit romain triple double fient [fine?] et gras à quarante sol fait 90 l.t.
plus des interligne 32 lb. à trente sol fait 48 l.t.
un petit parangon romain & italique Cadras et spasse Laitre de deux point 173 lb. à 22 sols fait 190 l.t. 6 s.
plus des vignete de parangon 8 lb. à quarante sol 16 l.t.
des Cadras dadition6 de 2 point de Gros Canon et Creux 37 lb. à vient sien [vingt cinq] sol fait 46 l.t. 5 s.
plus une fonte de Cicero marqué 264 lb. à 2 l.t. 10 s. fait 660 l.t.
Le petit romain aublique7 pes 160 lb. à 3 l.t. La livre 480 l.t.
Le petit romain Gros oeille8 pes 909 lb. Conpré Les Cadras Les Especes, Laitre de deux point à 1 l.t. 16 s. fait La somme de 1636 l.t. 4 s.
un cicero romain et font italique Cadras, Espas, Laitre de deux point pes 767 lb. à 1 l.t. 10 s. fait 1150 l.t. 10 s.
plus Le Cicero italique de fantaisie9 qui paise 123 lb. a 1 l.t. 15 fait 215 l.t. 5 s.
une fonte de Cicero Gros oeille porta sont blanc Cadrais Espas à vec sont italique pes 452 lb. à 1 l.t. 9 s. fait 645 l.t. 8 s.
une fonte de Gros romain et sont italique Cadras Espas Laitre de deux point pes 650 lb. à 1 l.t. 4 s. fait 780 l.t.
plus des vignette à quarante sol 65 lb. fait 130 l.t.
Cadras, Espas de petit romain 2 lb. à 1 l.t. 16 s. fait 3 l.t. 12 s.
une fonte de st augustin romain et Litalique Cadras Espas Laitre de deux point à 1 l.t. 5 s. et pes 392 lb. fait 490 l.t.
une fonte de petitxte romain & italique Cadras Espas, Laitre de deux point pes 655 lb. à quarante sien sol fait 1473 l.t. 15 s.
fait à passi Le 22 julliet 1780
[The following additions in Franklin’s hand:]
Omitted Signes d’Almanach
5 ¼ lb. à 45 s. la livre
26 l.t. 5 s.
8634:  6 

Half the Petit Text sold & sent to Connecticut —— to be deducted viz 327 lb. ½ weight.1

Notations by Franklin: Hemery’s Acct of the Founts cast, their weight and Value, to July 22. 1780 / Acct of the Founts

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6See XXVIII, 586n; XXIX, 463n; XXX, 3; XXXI, 3.

7Salary payments ceased between July 22 and Aug. 19; see our Editorial Headnote on Accounts, under Account XVI.

8Hémery was casting letters from matrices he had acquired from Claude Mozet when he took over the Mozet foundry in 1760; see Marius Audin, Les Livrets typographiques des fonderies françaises créées avant 1800 (Paris, 1933), pp. 99–102.

9James Mosley, ed., The Manuel Typographique of Pierre-Simon Fournier le jeune, together with Fournier on Typefounding, an English Translation of the Text by Harry Carter (3 vols., Darmstadt, 1995), III, xvi and xxxv–xxxvii of Carter’s translation, 351–2, 354, 400–8.

1These are based on three documents: BF’s translation of a second inventory made on Jan. 27, 1781, which he called “Account of the Contents of the 34 Boxes of Printing Letters, &c., cast at Passy,” and two undated lists which we conjecture he made around the time the printing office was being packed for shipment back to America, c. February, 1785. APS.

2A font of double canon, including both roman and italic, with quadrats and spaces. Both quadrats and spaces were used to add blank space to a line of type; the latter, being smaller, were customarily used between words to justify a line.

3“Lettres de deux point.” Two-point or two-line letters were capitals twice as large as the font, and were used in conjunction with it, often as initial letters. BF began the text of each of his bagatelles with a two-point letter.

4“Vignettes et crochets”: flowers and square brackets.

5“Filet”: brass rule, cast on the same body as the font. They came as single, double, or triple, thin (generally called maigre, in French) or thick (gras).

6“Quadrats d’addition”: quotations.

7Both this and the cicero marqué refer, we believe, to a rare sloped roman typeface probably commissioned by BF. The cicero was used in the French Loan Certificate: XXX, facing p. 346. Our thanks to James Mosley, St. Bride Printing Library, London.


9We believe that these letters, which BF called “fancy italic,” were the ornamental capitals that Luther S. Livingston cited as being so distinctive: Franklin and His Press at Passy (New York, 1914), pp. 105–6. BF used them in a number of official forms and in the bagatelles.

1This type was finished in early March; see XXXII, 69n. According to the Cash Book entry of March 6, the font of brevier weighed 327 ½ lbs., but BF also sent 15 lbs. of rules, 10 lbs. of interlines, and 2 ½ lbs. of signs and planets.

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