Benjamin Franklin Papers

Account of the Contents of the 34 Boxes of Printing Letters, &c Cast at Passy, 27 January 1781[–21 June 1785]

Account of the Contents of the 34 Boxes of Printing Letters, &c Cast at Passy2

AD:3 American Philosophical Society

Passy, Jan. 27, 1781[–June 21, 1785]4

Account of the Printing Letters cast at Passy and contain’d in the 34 Boxes, which are marked in small Figures with a Pen on the Side of each Cover or Lid. viz

  • Nº 1. Pica, old Fashion’d Italic, & some Roman
  • 2. Pica Roman
  • 3. Pica Roman
  • 4. Quadrats & Spaces of Pica, and of Great Primer
  • 5. Italic of common Great Primer
  • 6. Common Great Primer
  • 7. Common Great Primer, 1 page Italic, Flowers to make a square, two line Letters, and a small Parcel of deep-bodied Pica.
  • 8. The Italic of deep-bodied Pica, & some Roman
  • 9. Pica Roman, deep-bodied, & 5 Pages of small Pica roman.
  • 10. Quadrats and Spaces of Great Primer; also Quadrats & Spaces of deep-bodied Pica, with Quadts & Spaces of Small Pica.
  • 11. Small Pica Italic & Roman:
  • 12. Small Pica Roman, two-line Letters, and 4 Pages of Great Primer Roman, large-fac’d.
  • 13. Large-fac’d Great Primer, Roman and Italic.
  • 14. Large-fac’d Great Primer Roman, & 4 Pages of Italic, and three Pages of small Pica Quadrats.
  • 15. Common-fac’d English, with 4 Pages of Spaces & Quadrats of large-fac’d Great Primer.
  • 16. Common-fac’d English, Roman & Italic, 2 line Letters, & Capitals of Pica, Roman & Italic for my new Alphabet.
  • 17. Large-fac’d English Roman, with 4 Pages of Quadrats and Spaces of common-fac’d English.
  • 18. Large-fac’d English, Roman & Italic, with Quads. & Spaces.
  • 19.5 Bourgeois Roman, with Quads. & Spaces.
  • 20. Bourgeois Roman & Italic, Quads. & Spaces, with 4 Pages of Nonpareil.
  • 21. Nonpareil Roman.
  • 22. Nonpareil Roman and Italic, 2 Line Letters, a Parcel of Bourgeois Quadrats, and some Fancy Capitals for the large fac’d Long-Primer Italic.
  • 23. Brevier Roman.
  • 24. Brevier Roman & Italic, with 2 line Letters, Quadrats, Spaces, and Flowers of different Bodies, & nonpareil Rules.
  • 25. Large-fac’d Long-primer Roman.
  • 26. Large-fac’d Long-primer Roman.
  • 27. Large-fac’d Long-primer Roman, & 2 pages of Italic.
  • 28. One page of Italic of Long primer, & a piece of Roman, with 2 line Letters, Quadrats & Spaces.
  • 29. Oblique-bodied Longprimer, & 7 pages of oblique-fac’d Pica.6
  • 30. Oblique-fac’d Pica, X.T. Capitals of large-fac’d long primer, and 4 Pages of fancy-Italic Pica.7
  • 31. The Rest of the fancy Italic Pica, the Double Canon Roman & Italic, Quadrats & Spaces, & 2 Pages of Quotations.
  • 32. Great Paragon Roman & Italic, Quadrats, Spaces, 2 line Letters, & some Double Pica, with Common Great Canon.
  • 33. Trismegists or double Great Primer, Small Canon, Quds., Flowers, & several Sorts of Quadrats. 2 Line Letters
  • 34. Quadrats of large-fac’d English with m & n quadts. Interlines and Rules both Cast & of Brass.
  • Also some Pieces of English Words, as ing, ation, &c.8
  • 35. Script or Writing Character cast since the above9
  • 36. The same
  • 37.1 Du petit romain romain à vec litalique et des laittre de deux point &c. petit romain romain.
  • 38. Le petit parangon romain et italique et des Laitre de deux poin de petit parangon à vec Les laitre de deux point de gros romain romain et ditalique.
  • 39. Des laitre de deux poin de petit romain et ditalique, Les laitre de deux point de Cicero romaine et ditalique. Capitalle de fantaisi de Cicero et des cadras de Gros parangon. 1 page de Gros parangon italique, des cadras de Cicero et des Espasse, et La Laitre dinvitation.2 Frontispice du petit Cotte3 et des Cadras de petit romain, Les laitre englaise de Cicero, W de Cicero italique.
  • 40. Laitre de deux poin de Cicero, une laitre de change de Cicero couché,4 des Laitre de gros romain de lautre fonte. Un passepor de gros romain, et un paquet de gros romain, des cadras de gros parangon le petit romain aublique 1 vignaite de bois de laitre pour les Clouest sur bois.5
[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

2BF wrote this title on the cover sheet he established for the inventory. Below it, in ink now badly faded, he wrote: “Note: there are [illegible] Boxes [illegible] / 2 of Great Primer cast by Fournier / 2 of Great Text cast by Joannis / There are also Letters in the Cases enough to fill one or two Boxes more.”

He later added: “Note also: That there are 8 or 9 Boxes more of large letters cast by Caslon & a Fount of Great Primer, these have Cords at the Ends.

Also 2 Boxes planed containing large Letters cast by me.”

When BFB was packing up the printing office to ship to America, he appended the following note: “N.B. That by some mistake or other I only find 6 instead of the above 8 or nine Boxes B. F. B. 21 June 1785. They are numbered 47. 48. 49. 50. 51. 52.”

3This well-worn MS became the working inventory of the Passy Press. It is actually two lists: Hémery’s account in phonetic French, without a title, and BF’s English translation, written on the verso of Hémery’s sheets. We publish BF’s version through box 34, where the initial account ended.

As more type was cast, Hémery and BF added to the list. The French and English versions were not maintained in tandem, and BFB later made several changes; the MS becomes extremely confusing at this point. Hémery’s account is the primary source, however, and we therefore publish the accounting of boxes 35 through 40 from his list, noting in annotation the emendations.

4The date when BFB took stock of the printing office, and wrote his observations on the title page; see our first note, above.

5When he was back in Philadelphia, BF bracketed boxes 19 and 20, noting that they were “Sold to Killen.” This was the Wilmington printer Jacob A. Killen, to whom BF sold 338 pounds of bourgeois on April 20, 1786: Waste Book.

6Hémery called this longprimer “petit romain aublique,” and the pica “cicero marqué,” just as he had in his list of fonts cast up through July 22, 1780: XXXIII, 104. These refer, we believe, to a sloped roman alphabet that must have been commissioned by BF, based on designs for the romain du roi made by Jaugeon for the Académie des sciences in the 1690’s. The letterform, called courante moyenne, was mid-way between a roman (droite) and italic (penchée), but being too difficult to distinguish from either one, it was never manufactured. It is still unclear who introduced BF to these designs, which Pierre-Simon Fournier had seen on display in the 1760’s: Harry Carter, ed., Fournier on Typefounding (London, 1930), pp. 6–12; information kindly communicated by James Mosley. We do know, however, that BF made five payments for punches and matrices to Jean-Charles Fagnion, chief engraver of the imprimerie royale, between July, 1779, and June, 1780 (Cash Book).

Although we have in the French Loan Certificate (XXX, facing p. 346) an example of the sloped roman pica, we have never seen one of the smaller size. It may have been melted down. On Hémery’s list BFB lined out the contents of box 29, and in the margin noted, “vuide.” He seems to have put the oblique-bodied longprimer in box 39, whose contents changed several times but ended up as “Le Pet. Rom. Oblique a refondre.”

7Hémery’s term for this font was “italique de fantaisie.” Box 22 lists a similar set of capitals for use with the longprimer italic. As with the longprimer sloped roman type, discussed in the note above, we have seen no example of this smaller size of fancy capitals.

8This is most likely an allusion to BF’s experiments with logography, or casting groups of letters as a unit, which he described in a letter to John Walter of April 17, 1784 (Library of Congress). He had “invented a Mould and Method by which I could in a few Minutes form a Matrice and adjust it, of any Word in any Fount at pleasure, and proceed to cast from it.” By this method he had cast a number of common suffixes or “terminations,” as he called them. He enclosed a specimen of these “terminations,” which has not survived. One of them might well be the pica “ing” that appears on the upper left-hand corner of the manuscript sheet of this list.

BF gave Walter a bibliographic citation for the anonymous pamphlet that had inspired him to try this method. The pamphlet, written by Don Francisco Barletti de Saint-Paul, was entitled Nouveau système typographique, ou, Moyen de diminuer de moitié, dans toutes les Imprimeries de l’Europe, le travail & les frais de Composition, de Correction, & de Distribution, découvert en 1774, par Mme de ***(Paris, 1776).

9This and the following entry, both in BF’s hand, probably refer to the large script type that Fournier had cut: XXX, 346–7.

1Items 37 through 40 are in Hémery’s hand.

2This is the first of several instances in boxes 39 and 40 of Hémery referring to forms of standing type. The “lettre d’invitation” was most likely the dinner invitation that BF printed with blank spaces for the name, day, and time. Only one example survives, asking Mr. Fox to dine on March 30, 1783: University of Pa. Library. Because BFB drew X’s through Hémery’s contents of boxes 39 and 40, we assume that the type was distributed before being packed.

3The title page of Petit code de la raison humaine by Barbeu-Dubourg, printed at Passy in 1782. It is reproduced in Luther S. Livingston, Franklin and His Press at Passy (New York, 1914), facing p. 68.

4This may well be the French Loan Certificate, if Hémery is using “couché” to indicate sloped roman type.

5As we noted in our annotation above, BFB crossed out Hémery’s entry for box 40 and rewrote the contents at the end of BF’s list. It reads: “11½ Pages de Cicero marque; lettres a clouer sur le Bois; plusieurs demipages de Gros parangon un bout de St Augustin éé 2. d’Interlignes une Vignette en bois.”

Index Entries