Morris Fuller Benton was born on november 20th, 1872, from Linn Boyd Benton and Jessie Elizabeth Donaldson. He had been by far the most prolific American type designer, with more than 200 different typefaces designed or re-designed during his work at the ATF.
Thanks to his work many of the antique fonts were redesigned from printed books, adjusted for the modern printing techniques and adapted to successfully fit–and make way for the modern typographical industry.
The Benton family arrived to America in 1638 when Andrew Benton, an English immigrant, settled in Connecticut.
LINN BOYD BENTON
His father, Linn Boyd, had learned about letters while working in a tombstone workshop, and developed his mechanical skills fixing watches in a jeweler’s shop, during his youth. At 22 he started to work for the Milwaukee type foundry, owned by a friend of his father. When an economic crisis hit the country in 1873 and the foundry went bankrupt he saw the opportunity to buy it: the foundry then became the “North-Western Type Foundry” which, 19 years later, was to be merged, together with 22 other big and small East Coast foundries, into the American Type Founders Company. The North-Western Type Foundry was probably one of the first foundries in which specimen examples of ironical, meaningless and incoherent text could be found.
Linn Boyd contributed to the development of the printing industry with a series of fundamental inventions that opened many ways to further advancements, such as the self spacing type and the Punch-Cutting Machine which had a relevant role in the development of the Linotype composition, cutting down the time necessary to the composition of a page and therefore increasingly dramatically the capacity of production of printed matter.
The Punch Cutting Machine operated on the same principle of the Pantographic machine (link), which is able to reproduce and, at the same time, scale a drawing; while before the introduction of this machine only very few were in possess of the skills necessary to cut types of the size of a few millimetres, with Benton’s machine the faces could be precisely drawn on a convenient scale and then automatically cut with extreme precision. It’s important to say that Benton was probably not the first on to apply this principle to the cutting of types, as many sources state, but as in many cases in history, also in this case it happens that one invention is credited to who had the merit to bring together into one successful project the efforts of many others.
THE AMERICAN TYPE FOUNDERS COMPANY
The American Type Founders Company was established in 1892 from the merging of 23 different foundries, with the purpose of give order in the production of fonts, and ensure better profits. Affected by never ending difficulties, struggling for their survival in a constant and lawless competition, some local foundries of the East Coast claimed the necessity to join forces into a more organized company that could stand the national and international competition.
For many decades has been the leading typographical company in the world. Its influence on modern type design and its shaping of the printing industry are well recognised, as the fact that big part of this achievements is due to the genius of Linn Boyd and Morris Fuller Benton.
Its business and approach was to always develop new typefaces to diversify the offer for the printers, thus increasing the range of design possibilities and dramatically expanding the boundaries of the advertising and typographical industries, both following and forging the general taste of the age. Good type sells, bad type goes off the way was the leading principle.
The first result of Morris Benton's work of standardisation of the archive was the 1895 type catalogue. In 1896 the company issues a famous specimen book in spanish language, intended for the Latin American market, which is distributed in 5000 copies across the continent, ensuring its success in that market and consolidating it role as a worldwide company, and issued yearly specimens between 1895 and 1913, culminating in the famous 1923 catalogue printed and distributed in 60.000 copies, entirely typeset without the use of any electrotype matrices. Another famous example of the richness of ATF’s production were the 1912 American Specimen book of Type Styles (1323 pp.), which claims to report “only up-to-date fashionable fonts”.
THE WORK OF MORRIS FULLER BENTON
Morris Fuller Benton achieved a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the Cornell University and on September 1st, 1896, began to work at the ATF under his father. He was soon assigned the task of standardising the previous production of the merged foundries into one single archive. His job presented many difficulties, since many duplicate typefaces were issued with different names. This was a common thing in that years: because of the lack of any recognised standard and thanks to the stereotyping technology, which allowed fast copies of already set plates, many fonts were copied and stolen, and re-issued by small foundries.
Thanks to this task Morris acquired a great experience on the letters and their design, and earned the knowledge necessary to become one of the most incisive type designer of all times.
REDESIGN & FAMILIES
It was then a fortunate circumstance that, in 1908, a few years after the factory was relocated in New Jersey, H. L. Bullen, an early member of the company, had set up the Typographic Library and Museum, a collection which featured a great number of old volumes, among which some unique copies from the renaissance on.
Both for reasons related to his job and for personal pleasure, Morris Benton started to study the books and redesign some famous typefaces which were designed for old printing technologies, actualising their proportions and weights, making available to the printers cleaner and appealing versions of the typefaces of Bodoni, Caslon, Baskerville, Garamond, which have been intensively used ever since. The result is not only copies of old typefaces, but reinterpretations of classical design.
To him is also commonly attributed the merit of the invention of type families. Where it is true that such classifications had been used previously by others, for example by Fournier in 1764–6, and by Bodoni in 1818, it is also true that Benton’s Chentelnham Family (1904–1913) is by far the most extensive and complete family ever designed by the time of its publication. He managed to develop and exploit to a high level the possibilities opened by approaching a typeface, and its design, as a whole family counting many different weights and styles. This approach led the ATF to the production of some of the most successful typefaces of the first half of the XX century, many of which have to be credited to, or can be considered to have been a product of Morris Fuller Benton’s designing skills and approach.
THE ARTIST AND THE ENGINEER
An interesting point of view on Benton's work can be provided by the the comparison with another famous type designer of his time, Frederic Goudy. The two had very different approaches to type design: while Goudy had a very esthetic sensibility, pursuing beauty and grace in his fonts, and regarding himself as an artist of type, Benton always prediliged a more scientific approach. Benton always totally dedicated himself to the work for the ATF, and considered humself more as a loyal employee af the company, bound to his work, while Goudy operated as a freelance designer, following his personal taste: this fact lead to some interesting consequences, as the fact that the Goudy typeface, designed by the latter and sold to the ATF, were adjusted and completed with more weights by Benton, resulting in a bigger appreciation, and a higher commercial exploitment.
A quote from The Crystal Goblet, or, Printing Should Be Invisible, by Beatrice Warde, explains better than anything else the difference between the two designers:
"I once was talking with a man who designed a very pleasing advertising type which undoubtly all of you have used. I said somethig about what artists think about a certain problem, and he replied with a beutiful gesture: 'Ah, madam, we artists do not think –we feel!' That same day I quoted that remark to another designer of my acquiatance, and he, being less poetically inclined, murmured: 'I'm not feeling very well today, i think!' He was right, he did not feel; he was the thinking sort; and that is why he's not so good a painter, and to my mind ten times better as a typographer and type designer than the man who instinctively avoided anything as coherent as a reason."
THE BENTON LEGACY
Together, Linn Boyd and Morris Fuller Benton can be regarded as two of the most prominent figures of the modern type design, not only for the inventions of the first and the designs of the second, but also for the attitude that they had spread into their field in such a crucial moment, marking the time for its passage from a still almost craft-based production, into a modern industrial model. After the Bentons, the world of type design has never been the same.
Franklin Gothic is a bold, sans serif typeface designed in 1902 by Morris Fuller Benton for the American Typefounders Company. This modern typeface is hugely employed in press and advertisement; more than a hundred years, and a few restyling after his design, Franklin Gothic can be regarded ad one of the most successful fonts of all time. It is named after the one of the most prolific american printers, Benjamin Franklin.
Franklin Gothic is one of the first actualisation of a XIX century gothic typeface by Morris Fuller Benton, designed soon after he became chief designer of the ATF; its realization can be considered part of the task of standardising and actualising all the fonts of the companies that merged into ATF in a new, single, usable archive.
It was originally intended to be a bold variant for other gothic fonts issued by the company, but soon after its release, in 1904, the designers and typesetters started to use it more extensively, enjoying its weight for the reliablity that it communicates, and some more light features in the shape of its letters, for the positive and dynamic appearence.
Among others, some notable characteristics are the double-storey g and a, the tail of the the capital q shifting to the right in the bold weights, and the ending of some letters which present a stroke width variations typical of the roman fonts, deriving from a calligraphic approach.
The early XX century, in fact, was a time of fast development in the advertising market and high proliferation of publications. Franklin Gothic enjoyed a period of extreme vogue from its creation until the '30s, when it stardet to suffer the competition with european modern typefaces such as Futura and Kabel, to gain popularity again after the '40s when, after the war, it was rediscovered by american designers.
After the release of Franklin Gothic, Benton added condensed and extra condensed versions in 1906, italic on 1910 and condensed shaded in 1912. As for the first one, these versions enjoyed an immediate and enduring success: Franklin Gothic was #15 best selling ATF's typeface in 1951, extra condensed was #8 and the condensed was #25.
Franklin Gothic had developed into a sans serif family with a large number of weights. Its strong and powerful typeface has a warm feeling due to the roman shape of the letters, as for instance the double-storey g and a, the tapering of strokes near junctions, the tail of the capital Q shifting to the right in heavier weights, and an extra bold weight and a combination of subtle irregularities.
In 1964 the Museum of Modern Art of New York adopted Franklin Gothic as its official typeface, although in the '90, during an archive research on the visual identity of the institution, were found some prints that proved the usage of this typeface already in the '30s.
In 2004 a big renovation of the museum was completed, and after a discussion wether the museum needed or not a new logotype, it was decided that there was no reason to substitute the old one: why change something that managed to embody the museum's identity so far?
Nevertheless, it was clear that, after an early switch to a digital version as soon as it was available, an update of the font was needed.
The digital version in possess of the MoMA was obtained from a small font and, once printed on the large size required by the museum, it showed evident limits.
Having lost all the little variations from font to font that compemsate the differences in proportions and ink properties, resulting in a more graceful appearence, Franklin Gothic had become "a hybrid digital soulless version", as Bruce Mau, designer of the museum's new identity put it.
At this point, the museum hired Matthew Carter, one of world's most famous designer and excelelnt typographer, to update its digital version. Working and studing on 8 trays of original Franklin Gothic no.2 found in the museum's basement, after a long and precise work the redesign was complete.
This new version present 2 slightly different versions compose the MoMA Gothic, one to fit billboard-size print and one for text.
The differences between the old and the new logotype are not very evident, and at a first glance one is brought to think that it stayed the same. But if the difference can't be seen by the eyes millions of visitors, it is well felt across the building.
More than 100 years after its design Franklin Gothic remains one of the most estensively used and appreciated font families ever designed. Its shape is the fruit of a careful and dedicated approach, which was able to give birth to a typeface that doesn't seem to suffer the challenges of the time. With the introduction of more weights and styles, both by Benton and other designers of the ATF, Franklin Gothic can successfully cover a high range of tasks, from advertisement billboards to newspaper headlines, from printed text to posters and screen composition. While some minor adjustment had been necessary due to the change in printing techniques, its soul stays that started collecting fame and success back in 1902.
Benjamin Franklin was born on the 17th of january 1705/6 (ambiguity on some dates of that period are due to the adoption of a new calendar system in America in 1750) in Milk Steet, Boston, Massachusetts. His father, Josiah Franklin, arrived form England with his wife and his three children. When she died, he married Abiah Folger, from whom he got 10 more children, among which Benjamin, James and Jane.
Since he was a child, Benjamin showed an interest towards the sea and a sailor’s life. Fearing that he would soon find a ship willing to employ him in the crew, his father tried to arrange for him an apprentice in a cutler workshop run by his nephew, but due to some disagreement on the working conditions the agreement was canceled.
In the meantime his brother James had a period of apprentice as a printer in England, and when he came back established a printing workshop and in 1716/7 employed Benjamin, which had shown more interest towards printing than to cutlery, as apprentice.
AT THE PRINTSHOP
In James’ workshop Benjamin started to read and learn about printing, and had the possibility of practicing typesetting with some little stanzas and poems he used to compose –and sell at the market– about recent facts. In 1719 James was assigned to print the second newspaper printed in America, the Boston’s Gazette. When, a few years later James started the publication of his own newspaper, his father and friends were against this decision, arguing that one newspaper for the whole continent was enough, but James went on with his plan, and in 1721 started publishing The New England’s Courant.
Working at the shop, the twelve year-old Benjamin was involved in the printing of the newspaper, and had the chance of reading and becoming interested in the discussion that the publication was rising. Soon, he started to want to contribute, but upon a refusal form his brother to publish one letter he wrote, Benjamin started to use the pseudonym of Mrs. Silence Dogood to write comments and reactions on local facts and articles, which received much appreciation and fame on the local public opinion. Knowing perfectly the working schedule of the printshop, he would slip the envelopes with the letters under the door at night, and doing so he managed to have eight of his letters published.
From the pages of The Courant, James started to enact a fierce and irreverent critique towards the clergy and the most notable men of Boston, which led him to be imprisoned facing a number of charges and being stopped from the publication for one year. Later on, he started again, until the government forbid him to publish the paper unless previous censorship authorisation. Unwilling to undergo such a limitation of their freedom, James and the group of authors of The Courant decided to keep publishing it under Benjamin’s name, at the time aged 17.
From n°80, february 4th to 11th 1723 the following text was being printed on the cover: “Boston, printed and sold by Benjamin Franklin, in Queen Street, where advertisement are taken in”. The New England Courant kept on being published on this condition until 1727, but it was only a few months after, when his brother came to know –much to his annoyance– the real identity of Mrs. Dogood, that Benjamin left Boston to reach New York in search of an employment as a printer.
NEW YORK & PHILADELPHIA
New York, at that time the third city of the East Cost, hadn’t had a printshop during the Dutch government, and the first prints produced date to 1693; before that date the little amount of printed matter needed by the town’s activities were produced in Boston and Cambridge. The first printshop in New York was then established in 1693 by William Bradford, who previously established his first one in Pennsylvania, and for 30 years had been the sole printer in New York; its printshop later became the official printer for the government of the colony.
Upon his arrival to New York, Benjamin went to Bradford to look for an employment, but he was told that there was no job for him, and advised him to go to Philadelphia and ask his son Andrew, also owner of a printshop.
The trip to Philadelphia was then long and adventurous, and it took some days Benjamin to reach the city, by foot and by boat. At his arrival, he was tired and in a miserable condition, but in very good spirit. After some rest, he went to Andrew Bradford the printer, where he found the old William Bradford, which, having travelled by horse, had reached Philadelphia in less time. He then offered to accompany him to another printer in the town, Samuel Keimer, which for sure had some work with him.
Keimer came from England and started his printshop in 1723, with an “old damaged press, and a small cast of worn out english types, contained in a pair of cases” according to Franklin's autobiography.
At their arrival, Bradford spent some nice words and managed to arrange a job for Franklin, that was given the task of putting order in the catalogue of fonts.
Profiting from the fact that Keimer didn’t know who he was, Bradford managed to obtain some sensible information about future business plans which would turn useful for his son Andrew, Keimer’s competitor.
This situation took Franklin, later on, to describe Bradford as “a cunning old fox” and Keimes as “a novice”. And in a later description of the two characters, they are both labeled as “destitute of every qualification necessary to their profession”, while Bradford as “very illiterate” and Keimer as “ignorant of the world”.
GOVERNOR KEITH'S PROPOSAL
While working in Keimer’s printshop, Franklin got introduced to governor William Keith, which decided to patronise him, and wrote a letter to his father asking to allow him to finance a printshop to be established in Philadelphia and put under the direction of Benjamin. Being him only 19 years old, Josiah thankfully refused his offer, but Keith decided, meeting Benjamin’s consent, to secretly proceed with the plan: he would provide a press and cover all the expenses, while Franklin would keep on working for Keimer, and at the first occasion would be sent to London to select types as soon as a good occasion would present.
Some time later, a ship to London with Franklin on board sails from the port of Philadelphia: governor Keith promised him to ship along with the post charge some letters of credit that would facilitate his job once in England, but upon his arrival he finds out that nothing as such was included in the mail shipped on the boat, and finds himself alone in a stranger land.
When in London, he immediately found an occupation as a journeyman in order to sustain himself and gather enough money to the journey back to America, profiting that time in learning more about printing. After having worked for 18 months, he had enough to afford a passage back, and together with a friend he made in England, Thomas Denham, in 1728 he sailed back to America. Together with Denham he developed a plan to open a printshop in Philadelphia, which didn’t succeed because of the death of the latter some time after their arrival in America.
HUGH MEREDITH AND THE GAZETTE
His option, then, was to go back to work for Keimer, which by then had increased his buisiness, employing five more workers and moving his shop into a bigger location. His job was then to go to Burlington in order to establish a print there and print money for New Jersey’s government on behalf od Keimer. Once accomplished the job, Frankling went back to Philadelphia, and was about to quit the job and head back to Boston when, being advised by Hugh Meredith, an apprentice in Keimer’s printshop who almost finished his contract period, changed his mind and decided to stay in Philadelphia: their plan was to open a printshop together, to be financed by Meredith’s father, and take advantage from Keimer’s weakness, which they were well aware of, in order to gain the leading role in the city’s printing industry.
The deal was made, and in 1728 they started their business under the name of Meredith&Franklin; Benjamin worked on the composition of the sheets, while Hugh operated the press.
Franklin and Keimer became then rival in business, and when the latter managed to get hold on the first to start publishing a new newspaper in the colony, he anticipated his move and started one of his own, entitling the paper The Universal Instructor in all Art and Sciences: the Pennsylvania Gazette. Franklin’s strategy, at this point, was one he already put successfully in use some years earlier: he started sending letters under a series of fake names to the paper, ridiculing the content and its author, until the reputation of Keimer, and his motivation, dropped to the point that he didn’t care anymore about this business and sold the newspaper to Meredith&Franklin for a little amount of money, before closing down all his business and moving to Barbados islands.
On october 2nd, 1729 Franklin and Meredith bought the newspaper and started the publication of the Pennsylvania Gazette, which soon became the leading newspaper of all the colonies, and one of the most influential periodical publications, being published until the year 1800, ten years after Franklin’s death. From the page of the Gazette Franklin publiched a number of political opinions and articles, including many political cartoons, such as the first american known, Join or Die, which he drew himself. On the wave of this success, they were then appointed as official printers for the General Assembly.
Within 2 years, Franklin managed to buy Meredith’s share of the business, and became the sole owner of the printing house: he thus managed to expand it, pay back all the debts and remain a successful printer on his own for the following 15 years, then entering in business with David Hall, founding the Franklin&Hall, while the Gazette kept on being very wide spread and lucrative.
Benjamin Franklin achieved many other goals and was in charge of many offices in his life; he initiated important scientific researches and gave impulse to a series of social and political changes which contributed to forge the character of the early United States. During all his life he never lost the fascination for, and understanding of the power of print, which he kept using intensively during his struggle for the unity of the colonies.
Emblematic of this is the fact that he always kept on signing his letters with the line: Benjamin Franklin, printer.
At the age of 22, Franklin wrote an epitaph that he wanted to have on his grave. It says:
"Body of B. Franklin,
Like the Cover of an Old Book,
It's Contents Torn Out
Stripped of its Lettering and Gilding,
Food for Worms.
But the Work Shall not be Lost
For it Will as He Believed
Appear Once More
In a New and Elegant Edition
Revised and Corrected
By the Author"