William E. Loy


The career of William E. Loy [1841-1906] (obituary) of San Francisco was anchored in the printing industry and in writing about it. His favorite subject was type; and in the course of his “day job” as a printing equipment sales representative, he visited the executives and personnel of every US typefoundry.

The Berkeley Daily Gazette praised him as “one of the most noted experts of type in the United States. In matter of knowledge, he ranked next to Dr. De Vinne.”1

Loy was the only published eye-witness to 19th-century type history who identified the real heroes of US typefounding: the geniuses who imagined new letterforms, drew them and/or prepped them for mass production.

With few exceptions (BBS 1880s and 1890s), staff designers employed by 19th-century US TFs also cut type. Perhaps because this process involved manual labor, they were typically regarded as workmen rather than artists.

Since most of their employers or clients had merged with American Type Founders’ Company [ATF] starting in 1892, Loy recognized that knowledge of their contributions soon might be forgotten, minimized or lost in a jumble of stored records.

Loy was well acquainted with a neighboring Californian, Gustav F. Schroeder of Mill Valley, an independent type designer/engraver formerly employed by Central TF (St. Louis, MO). One day, Schroeder told Loy that John F. Cumming had cut the blockbuster DTF faces Quaint#=Desdemona# and Virile.2 This very conversation may have hatched Loy’s plan to honor these unsung heroes, especially their pre-ATF work.

In 1896, The Inland Printer enthusiastically accepted his proposal for a series of monthly articles about them. On August 15 and again a few days later, he initiated research correspondence with the first of these men he believed were still living:

His letters requested lists of…

“… some of the principal faces you have designed and cut.  As you are aware, the type founders usually get all the credit for new and novel designs while the man who furnishes the brains and has the art instinct sufficiently developed to originate these designs, is kept in the back­ground and is actually unknown to the printing world.”

At one point during negotiations with The Inland Printer, it was agreed that specimens would be published. As it turned out, this ambitious goal was later abandoned. With their monograph, Nineteenth-Century American Designers Engravers of Type published in 2009, Alistair M. Johnson and Stephen O. Saxe3 attempted to remedy this situation. Their monograph reprints Loy’s original articles supplemented with catalog showings.

After nearly two years of investigation and writing, an introduction to Designers and Engravers of Type was featured in February 1898; the last, in June 1900. Except for USPTO records (some pre-ATF TFs rarely or never applied for design patents), his precious anthology of first-hand accounts is the sole source of organized information about them.

Loy speculated no design nor cutting attributions. To the best of his ability, he reported as accurately as possible what his correspondents told him—to the best of their knowledge and recollection. The design and cutting credits he recorded solve many mysteries of faces patented by TF executives.

The second paragraph of Loy’s first designer/cutter biography clearly states Rule One of letterpress display-type research:

“Very few engravers of type faces work from their own designs; indeed, the qualifications are so dissimilar that one would hardly expect to find them in the same individual.” He then describes the usual collaboration of designer, TF executive and cutter: ideas, sketches, discussions, feedback and finally the pattern font for reproduction in additional sizes.4

In 1900-05, Loy published a second, equally indispensable, Inland Printer series on Typefounders and Typefounding in America. Nearly a century later, this information became the basis for Maurice Annenberg’s handbook, Type Foundries of America and Their Catalogs.5

Footnotes    (← returns to text)
  1. Berkeley Daily Gazette, 30 July 1906. Excerpted by Johnston, A.M.; Saxe, S.O. [Editors]: William E. Loy|Nineteenth-Century American Designers and Engravers of Type, page 1. Oak Knoll Books, New Castle, DE (2009).
  2. Letters of William E. Loy, California Historical Society (San Francisco). Reproduced in Johnston, A.M.; Saxe, S.O. [Editors]: William E. Loy|Nineteenth-Century American Designers and Engravers of Type, pages 11-19. Oak Knoll Books, New Castle, DE (2009).
  3. Johnston, A.M.; Saxe, S.O. [Editors] (2009): William E. Loy|Nineteenth-Century American Designers and Engravers of Type. Oak Knoll Books, New Castle, DE.
  4. Loy, W.E.: Designers and Engravers of Type. In The Inland Printer, March 1898.
  5. Annenberg, M.; Saxe, S.O. [Editor]; Lieberman, E.K. [Index] (1994): Type Foundries of America and Their Catalogs, page 276. Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, DE.