Morris Fuller Benton

After a recent post for type identification, a couple of questions comes to mind…

Typeface designers and the foundries that produced those designs.

Original lead typefaces manufactured from the ATF and SB & Co. (for example) are signified by a pin mark. While this is great for identification and to determine the origin of type and to a degree, assist a traditional printer or collector with their needs, the pin mark never gives acknowledgement, traceability or trademark of the designer. Only the point of manufacturing origin.

I’ve learnt, as a novice and enthusiast, that this is a stark comparison to today. Where, design is acknowledged before manufacturing capabilities or recognition.

My questions are these,

Were early type designers known and acknowledged publicly or where they exclusively known to the foundries that produced their designs?

Did foundries employ typeface designers? (before their familiarity?)

I learn more every day.

Morris Fuller Benton
(The post title is a result of an online search for ‘who’ designed Cloister Old Style? not a pin mark )

Log in to reply   6 replies so far

MFB was the head of design at ATF when that face was introduced. I imagine he got credit for the efforts of many working beneath him, but he was the one steering the ship and deciding what worked and what didn’t for the final designs that went to market. There is a book on the Bentons (Morris Fuller and his father Linn Boyd) that you can find if you look around a bit.


Your questions are interesting because their answers, insofar as they have answers, challenge our simplified assumptions today about “type designers” and even the notion of “typeface.”

The pin mark is a by-product of the operation of one particular style of type casting machine (the pivotal type caster, and even then in only one of its configurations). From the mid-to-late 19th century onward there were other kinds of type casting machines which did not produce pin marks (most significantly the Foucher, and its derivatives the Barth and some Kustermanns - and in the 20th century machines such as the Thompson and various American and English Monotype machines). No pin mark was produced either by hand casting or by any of the linecasting machines, and ATF appears to have reconfigured its pivotals so as not to produce pin marks in later years. So the matter of pin marks, while fascinating, is independent of the matter of type design (and only a small part of the matter of identifying type manufacture).

For a “potted history of typecasting machines” showing some of their great variety, see the PDF-format chart at the bottom of this web page:

The short (but therefore incomplete) answer to your questions on the acknowledged roles of type “designers” is no. The modern conception of the Type Designer as Rock Star is largely a 20th century invention, created by Carl Purington Rollins (in the role of publicist) and Frederic Goudy (in the role of himself).

As background to this, one needs to realize that as a practical matter the existence of a “type designer” implies the ability to create an abstract (not-yet-realized-in-metal) “typeface” and hand that design off to others to make it. This was a late 19th century development made possible by the introduction of pantographic methods by the the Central Type Foundry in 1882 and slightly later by L. B. Benton and others. Until that time, each size of each style of type was cut individually - as punch or soft metal patrix - and was not necessarily unified into a single “typeface” across sizes.

You can see this most clearly by looking at type specimen books before the (US) Civil War, where the ornamented faces, in particular, are grouped *and numbered* not by design but by size. It was not until the 1870s that type foundries began to reorganize their existing types into groupings by style (at first still retaining the old numberings and grouping some only marginally related types together). Though he despised ornamented types, this was what Updike meant when he said that before the pantograph each size of a type was “law unto itself.” The best study on this is Harry Carter’s article “The Optical Scale in Typefounding” (Typography, No. 4 (Autumn, 1937): 2-6. This article is frequently cited in the context of our current conception of “optical scaling,” but few who cite it have read it - Carter in fact argues that types do not necessarily scale. He also points out that there are greater differences between, say, the various sizes of Wm. Caslon I’s roman types (which today we would call a single typeface) than between many typefaces acknowledged as different. Regrettably, Carter’s article is in copyright and can’t be reprinted (and it’s getting harder to find), but for some illustrations of this, see:

Now, finally, on to your real question. The full history of the emergence (and now dominance) of the “type designer” has not yet been assembled, but we do have some data points.

James Mosley, in his article “Illustrations of Typefounding Engraved for the ‘Description des Arts et Metier’ of the Academie Royale des Science, Paris, 1694 to c. 1700” (Matrix 11, (Winter 1991): 60-80) argues that “The romain du roi [of the Academicians] is the first example of a type *design*, in which the form of the letter can be seen to have been conceived independently of the artisan who would fix it in metal by means of his skill in punchcutting and matrix making.” (p. 63) But this was a largely theoretical exercise - comments to the effect that in cutting it Grandjean “took some liberty with his type, to moderate the cold geometry of the designs” (Wikipedia) are common.

The first general presentation of “designers and engravers” of type is a series of articles in The Inland Printer by William E. Loy from 1898 to 1900. With regard to your question, the most interesting thing about this series of articles is that Loy felt that he was introducing a new subject to his audience, to “awaken an interest” in this subject. It is also interesting that he places “designers” and “engravers” on the same level. He writes:

“The active development of the type founding industry has produced a large number of ingenious designers and engravers of type, about whom the public knows very little. Formerly men of this class were regular employees of the type founders, but latterly they have separated themselves, and the best ones now carry on the business independently.” (Feb. 1898)

For (most of) Loy’s original articles, see:

But, really, you MUST buy the edition of these articles put together by Stephen Saxe and Alastair M. Johnston under the title “Nineteenth-Century American Designers and Engravers of Type.” (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2009). Saxe illustrates each type(face) mentioned with an example from his extensive collection of specimen books. This book is the closest thing we have now to a “19th Century McGrew.” It is still in print from You need it. Its price will go through the roof once Oak Knoll sells the last copy.

It would also be interesting to look at how the activities of William Morris (self-consciously a “designer”) were perceived at the time.

Jumping forward nearly three decades, there was an article on the subject of type designers (listing them and identifying them) in The Inland Printer, Vol. 79, No. 5 (August, 1927). To my discredit, I haven’t yet tracked this one down.

Then in 1944 and 1946 Goudy cataloged his own types, in some detail. This would have been unthinkable by earlier, more modest designers and engravers of types. For reprints of this, see:

(Typophile Monograph VIII and “A Half Century.”)

But so far as I can tell, all modern lists of “type designers” and their associations with particular typefaces goes back to a single source: material by Carl Purington Rollins written to accompany a 1947 exhibition, “American Type Designers and their Work,” put on by R. R. Donnelley (at The Lakeside Press). This material was later published by Rudge in “Print” [magazine] Vol. 5, No. 4 (1948): 1-20. For digital reprints, see:

(go down to Section 4, “Thirdhand Lists.”)

My apologies for such a longwinded answer to what seem to be simple and straightforward questions. They are neither. The development over the centuries of the “design” aspect of the making of type, insofar as it can be separated from the physical making of type (sometimes it can, sometimes it can’t) is extremely complicated. It’s an area where, the more I research, the more almost all currently published accounts seem misleading. Our current perspectives, and even the terms we use, are shaped by assumptions which weren’t always true and which were rejected by good authorities (Updike, Carter). It seems best to look at each type (and sometimes each body size) individually. Hope this helps - there is, as you say, no end to learning (and this is little more than a beginning).

David M.

In addition to David’s excellent response, I discovered that ATF’s 1948 film, Type Speaks, is available for viewing on line through This film shows much of the process of type design and casting as approached by ATF, and includes a thinly veiled sales promo for the typeface Lydian. I was surprised to see one of my printing instructors, Homer E. Sterling, in a very brief shot in a classroom scene taken in the Typographic Lab room at Carnegie Tech in Pittsburgh where I spent many hours studying under Sterling. I guess that sort of dates me. I also had never seen how “paging and dividing” was done at ATF in the process of making up fonts of type. I have spent time around working Barth casters at the Dale Guild, and this film added some good information to my type casting knowledge. It also includes a showing of how type faces were scaled for the various sizes.

This forum never ceases to amaze me, thanks for taking the time David for your response and learning references and thank you DGM and Fritz for your contribution.

Kind Regards


David MacMillan’s posts are amazing sources of knowledge. That’s why I have seen him called Dr. Documento… A few weeks ago I was at a book launch at the Book Club of California for their new title, Palatino, by Robert Bringhurst. He described how Hermann Zapf collaborated with Stempel’s veteran punchcutter August Rosenberger. Bringhurst said that Stempel refused Zapf’s request to publicize Rosenberger’s role in the creation of this typeface. Stempel wanted to push the role of the single designer who created this new type. In a follow up question I asked Bringhurst about Rosenberger’s role, and he said that Rosenberger advised him on some of the details of the design, and helped a good bit on creating the masters for the different sizes of the type, based on many years of experience. Zapf was about 35 or so at the time, and Rosenberger was probably about 30 years older with much more experience in creating type. But Stempel wanted to focus on the designer, and ignore the craftsman who was instrumental in the creation.

It has been my contention for some time now that Morris Fuller Benton should not be considered the “designer” of the vast number of typefaces that are credited to him. He was the head of the type design department at ATF and their policy was to list him as the “designer” on their patent applications. I wrote a paper on this a few years ago and received almost total agreement on my contentions. The only person to challenge me and say I was dead wrong was the person who wrote the book about the Bentons.

I intended to write a lengthly response to this last winter, but the time simply got away from me. I have done more reading and research and believe that I have a much stronger argument this time around.

I will also include a well documented case for the fact that his father, Lynn Boyd Benton, never even came close to “designing” the Century typeface, and that his insistence on claiming that he did may have been the very impetus that led to ATF attributing practically everything they issued listed Morris as the designer.

Rick von Holdt