Benjamin Franklin Papers

To Benjamin Franklin from Simon-Pierre Fournier le Jeune, 16 September 1779

From Simon-Pierre Fournier le Jeune

ALS: American Philosophical Society

This letter is the earliest known reference to the script type that was cut especially for Franklin by the premier typefounder of Paris. It is proof that Franklin and Fournier had designed the type—which was not used at Passy until 1782—far earlier than has been generally suspected.5

Simon-Pierre Fournier le jeune, eldest son of the famous Pierre-Simon Fournier le jeune, had inherited his father’s foundry in 1775, at the age of twenty-five.6 His introduction to Franklin came three years later, when the American ordered a font of type to be shipped to the United States.7 When the font was delivered and purchased, at the end of February, 1779, the newly appointed Minister Plenipotentiary had printing very much on his mind: he was at that moment negotiating with the man who would soon set up his Passy foundry.8

At what point Franklin hit upon the idea to have a unique type cut for his own official use is not clear. The suggestion may have come from Fournier, whose interest in cutting script led him to develop two other script character sets in 1780 and 1781.9 If Fournier had already made the preliminary engravings and was beginning to cut punches by September, as he says here, then discussions between the two men must have substantially predated this letter.

Franklin and Fournier continued to confer about the type throughout 1780. Around June of that year, preliminary proofs of “le Franklin” were printed. By early 1781, the font was completed and a full specimen sheet printed. The matrices, along with the type, were delivered to the Passy press, and were eventually inherited by Benny Bache for use in his Philadelphia print shop.1

Paris Le 16 7bre. 1779.


J’ai L’honneur de vous envoyer Lucien Serrurier Pour vous prier de vouloir Bien lui expliquer Les 2. moules qu’il vous faut Pour Le Caractere que Je vous Grave.2 Je Compte vous faire voir incessament plusieur Poinçon que j’ai Gravé dont vous serai Surement Satisfait. Si Je n’eu point été malade J’aurais eu L’honneur de vous en porter, mais Cela ne tardera Pas. J’y travaille a force, Je tache d’imiter La finesse des traits qui Sont Sur l’epreuve. Je Crains qu’a Limpression cela ne Grossit; J’en approcherai du Plus Pret qu’il me sera Possible. Si vous voulez lui expliquer Vos intentions il les fera supérieurement ayant Beaucoup de talent Pour Cette Partie C’est La son Genre.

J’ay l’honneur d’être très sincerement Monsieur Votre très humble et très obéissant serviteur

Fournier LE JEUNE

Addressed: a Monsieur / Monsieur francklin / a Passy

Notation: fournier Le Jeune Paris 16. 7bre. 1779.

[Note numbering follows the Franklin Papers source.]

5As far as we know, BF used this type exclusively for passports; the earliest surviving example is dated May 8, 1782 (Hist. Soc. of Pa.). For the most thorough discussion of this type to date, which places its manufacture in 1781, see Luther S. Livingston, Franklin and his Press at Passy (New York, 1914), pp. 108–9, 116–17, 196.

6The elder Fournier had died in 1768, leaving the typefoundry to his widow, who managed it with the assistance of Simon-Pierre. At her death in 1775, the son added “le jeune” to his name. See Jeanne Veyrin-Forrer, La lettre et le texte (Paris, 1987), pp. 110–11; A.M. Lottin, Catalog chronologique des Libraires et des Libraires-Imprimeurs de Paris … (Paris, 1789), second pagination, pp. 238, 241–2.

7XXVII, 92, 392–3; XXVIII, 505; XXIX, 347n. BF had previously purchased type from Fournier’s cousin, Jean-François Fournier fils (XXVII, 618), and from Jacques-Louis Joannis (XXVII, 3).

8See XXVIII, 586n; XXIX, lxiii-lxiv.

9Veyrin-Forrer, La lettre et le texte, pp. 112–15.

1The 1780 proof is at the Columbia University Library. One of the 1781 specimen sheets, reproduced on the facing page, is at the Bibliothèque Nationale, Paris. Another, reproduced in Livingston, Franklin and his Press at Passy, facing p. 196, is at the APS.

2Among BF’s papers at the APS is the calling card of “Lucien Serrurier a la Place Cambray dans St Jean de Lateran.” The smith had already received 24 l.t. from BF on Aug. 23: Cash Book (XXVI, 3). Letter-moulds, immensely complicated to construct, varied from font to font. BF had to specify the precise dimensions of the type he wanted. The process of typefounding was first detailed by Pierre-Simon Fournier le jeune in his Manuel Typographique. For an English translation, with reproductions of the original engravings, see Harry Carter, Fournier on Typefounding … (London, 1930); the letter-mould is explained on pp. 192–8. See also John Dreyfus, Aspects of French Eighteenth Century Typography (Cambridge, England, 1982), pp. 2–5.

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