Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Alexander Wilson, 14 April 1771

From Alexander Wilson6

ALS: American Philosophical Society

College Glasgow, April 14th. 1771

Dear Sir

By last post we had a Letter from Mr. Kettleby in Dublin, informing us that he had had a Letter from you inquiring if he could furnish some Fonts of Printing Types for a Printing Office in America, and that in return he had mentioned us and recommended our Types.7

I now use the freedom in letting you know that we have just now ready finished Several Fonts of the Smaller Letter, Such as English No. 3d the Same on which Our Friend Mr. Strahan printed Dr. Robertsons history of Charles the 5th. 1200 weight—Pica No. 1 800. hd. [?] on which Guthries history of Scotland was printed by Mr. Hamilton in Falcon Court. Of Pica No. 3d. 400 hd. every way Similar to the Pica so much used in London—Small Pica No. 3d. 800. hd. on which a Book entituled a Tour through Gr. Britain was lately done in London. Burgeois and Brevier the Same as Mr. Strahan uses in his Chronicle.8 Of the first 400. hd. of the last 800. hd. Also a 400. hd. of Burgeois on a Brevier body fit for News papers &c: If any larger or Smaller than these were to be needed we have them in our Collection.

I have made free in giving you this detail which on account of former Acquaintance I hope youl readily indulge me in. From the long encouragement which we have met with from some worthy friends we have in the Trade in London, we have been induced for some Years past to make considerable improvements in our Letter, and in point of Elegance as well as in the quality of the Metal, and good execution of the Types we doubt not but they would give satisfaction. There are opportunities almost every week to the different Ports in America from Clyde, and we are in the use of Sending out Fonts often; But if they were to be shiped for Liverpool as Mr. Kettleby mentions, they could easily be conveyed there by some of our Coasters.

Our Prices are as follow which on Account of the cheapness of Labour here are considerably below those in London.

Titling Letter above Double Pica - 1s.
Double Pica. Great Primer. English 11d.
Pica - - - - - - - - - - 11 1/2d.
Small Pica - - - - - - - - 1s. 1d.
Long Primer - - - - - - - 1s. 5d.
Small Burgeois - - - - - - - 1s. 9d.
Brevie - - - - - - - - - 2s. 2d.
Brevier Burgeois - - - - - - 2s.
Nonpareil - - - - - - - - 4s.9

In case the terms of this Letter be agreeable Your Orders will very much oblige us. Compliments to Our friend Mr. Small when you see him.1 I ever am with Esteem Sir Your most Obedient Servant

Alex Wilson

Addressed: To / Benjamin Franklin Esqr. / Craven Street / London

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

6A man of many talents, Alexander Wilson (1714–86) was both the first famous Scottish type-founder and the first professor of astronomy at Glasgow University. He originally studied medicine, but abandoned that career and established a foundry in 1742 at St. Andrews. Soon he moved to the environs of Glasgow and, when appointed to the chair of practical astronomy in 1760, to the vicinity of the college. He provided type for the Foulis brothers, printers to the University, and his most important achievement was the double pica cut in 1768 for the quarto edition of Gray’s Poems; his Greek type, for the Foulis edition of Homer in 1756–58, was almost equally famous. DNB; Talbot B. Reed, A History of the Old English Letter Foundries... (A. F. Johnson, ed.; London, [1952]), pp. 258–62. BF and WF visited Wilson’s foundry during their visit to Scotland in 1759: J. A. Cochrane, Dr. Johnson’s Printer: the Life of William Strahan (Cambridge, Mass., 1964), p. 105.

7J. G. Kettilby was a maker of presses and other printer’s materials; see his reply to BF’s inquiry below, April 27. We cannot establish the purpose of that inquiry, and the connection between Wilson and Kettilby.

8The squiggles that we transcribe as “hd.” are interlined and virtually illegible; we assume that they are all abbreviations for “weight.” The books referred to were William Robertson, History of the Reign of the Emperor Charles V... (3 vols., London, 1769); William Guthrie, A General History of Scotland, from the Earliest Accounts to the Present Time (10 vols., London, 1767–68); and Daniel Defoe, A Tour through the Whole Island of Great Britain... (7th ed.; 4 vols., London, 1769), printed by J. and F. Rivington. For Archibald Hamilton and John Rivington see Henry R. Plomer et al., A Dictionary of the Printers and Booksellers Who Were at Work in England... from 1726 to 1775 (Oxford, 1932), pp. 114, 214. Strahan had been printing the London Chron. since 1757.

9Almost all these sizes of type are translated into their modern equivalents above, XIII, 60 n. Nonpareil is 6 point, the smallest of them all.

1Presumably William Small, for whom see above, XI, 480 n.

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