Type Tradenames


The Type Tradename Tangle

For good and not-so-good reasons, the letterforms of 19th-century display typeface designs have been repeatedly renamed for as long as 200+ years. Since there is No Such Thing as a comprehensive international database of type specimens, their histories and tradenames, it is sometimes extremely challenging to identify their origins.

In the US, type tradenames may be registered by the Trademark Division of the USPTO [United States Patent and Trademark Office] (for a fee).

  • They are not legally associated with a specific typeface.
  • Unlike design patents (maximum term 14 years), trademarks may be extended indefinitely by timely payment of a renewal fee.
  • If the original tradename was registered in the country of origin, the original or current owner may hold exclusive rights to it and may have re-assigned it to a completely different font.

Instead of risking infringement litigation, revival developers since the mid-20th century have routinely renamed their work—and added yet another layer of mystery to the source of the original letterforms.

Until the 19th century, all type was intended primarily for publishing. Most printers stocked only one roman, one italic and perhaps a script (for title pages). Unless a new face was accepted, the existing ones may have been used for centuries! When they did “upgrade” to a new face, they discarded the corresponding old one as obsolete. Since there was no need to distinguish one from another, they labelled them simply Roman, Italic and Script.

Before the US Point/Pica standard was adopted in October 1886 (UK 1898), fonts were cryptically described in terms of how many lines [arbitrarily defined "picas"] they filled in a page-layout tray [body size], cataloging systems that suited individual vendors and sometimes vague style terms (Ornamented, Black, Antique, etc.).

With rare exceptions, early 19th-century display types were untitled. At that stage of job-font evolution, only the size and producer’s name were necessary to “label” a face. Examples:

The earliest display types—before Antiques/Egyptians, Gothics/Grotesques/Sans Serifs, Tuscans and Clarendons—were fatfaces, caricature-like distortions of book-font letterforms developed by Bodoni and Didot. Example. Untitled (Caslon 1821) [Twelve-Line Pica per Gray 167].

Gothic Shade# [DTF c1850]1=Two-Line Long Primer Ornamented No. 8# [Bruce 1858]=Two-Line Small Pica Ornamented No. 12# [MSJ 1869]=Jim Crow# [ATF revival 1930s].

During the 1860s, skyrocketing proliferation of display faces popularized naming new designs and specimen books were gradually reorganized by style instead of body size. The design owner usually named the face according to a marketing strategy. If it was patented by or assigned to a producer, the tradename was usually referenced in the specimen and/or affidavit.

There was no US procedure for trademark/tradename registration until 1870, when an act of Congress established the Trademark Division of what is now the US Patent and Trademark Office [USPTO]. Effective in 1874, type tradenames were prohibited from the text of associated design patents.

At about the same time, some US producers (notably Bruce and Page) switched from naming new faces to numbering them. Perhaps since numerals needed no protection from infringement, this decision was a thrifty alternative to additional registration expense. Consequently, many numbered styles remained nameless unless revived by a later technology.

When production and/or distribution rights to a face were duly granted to others, the purchasers sometimes renamed it on the pretense of originating the design. To further complicate matters, original producers sometimes renamed their own faces after withdrawing them from sale for a time and re-introducing them as “new.”

Examples. ATF Della Robbia# c1902=Stephenson Blake Westminster# 1907; Dormer#=Pekin# Barnhart Bros. & Spindler 1888, 1925.

Of course, as today, if the copy was unauthorized, it was most certainly renamed!

  Morris Fuller Benton. By the late 1880s, many US foundries faced financial ruin because of competitive price wars. In 1892, they began to unite as American Type Founders’ Company. One of ATF’s first challenges was to tame the chaos of fonts pooled by some two dozen branches and to catalog similar faces by a single tradename.

ATF charged Mr. Benton with performing this miracle. Thanks to the US Point System adopted only about six years earlier, this task was realistically “do-able.”

After extensive research and analysis of letterform traits, he methodically organized the type family and series systems that seem so obvious today. For example, he distinguished fieldmarks common to faces with thin, flat serifs and highly contrasting heavy/hairline strokes and classified this group as “Bodonis” regardless of slant, width or weight.2

The first ATF catalog, a partial edition featuring the most popular faces of a few member TFs, was issued in 1895; the first combined one (still incomplete), the following year.3 Even so, existing faces not offered by ATF escaped Benton’s efforts and ATF’s imports were often known abroad by other tradenames.

The First Revolution

US communications technology advanced significantly during World War II. By the mid-20th century, use of wood type was rare and metal type became progressively obsolete except for specialty work.

Worldwide, even more letterpress type producers failed—selling their matrices, equipment and intellectual property to a diminishing number of survivors. Surely historical records were lost, mis-interpreted or “re-written” in the process.

Photo-lettering and transfer type emerged and then dominated, especially for commercial artwork that, as always, demanded eye-catching display faces. During this transition, the type industry’s top priority was to convert existing faces for use with new proprietary systems.

Besides drawing innovative new faces, type designers of the day naturally plundered the rich treasury of 19th-century fonts. Since the design patents of these faces had expired long ago, copying the letterforms was legal.

  Example. Georg F. Giesecke (Schelter & Giesecke, Leipzig) applied for a US patent of Cancellaresca# in January 1892.4 Since international agreements require that IP rights must first be registered in the country of origin, this face was probably designed in ≤1891.

Full alphanumeric specimens of Cancellaresca# as well as Victoria#=Victorian# (Flinsch TF, Frankfort) are shown in Petzendorfer’s Schriftenatlas of c1903 [plates 53, 39]. Petzendorfer’s sales portfolios, intended to provide commercial type sources (German if possible) for German print designers, were published by Julius Hoffmann of Stutgart, a “patron of the arts” beloved by his creative countrymen.

Petzendorfer’s series was extremely rare until Dover Publications reprinted the c1903 edition in 1984—eight years after Letraset introduced Victoria#=Victorian# (1976) and two years after Cancellaresca# (1982) as original work “inspired by” 19th-century geniuses.5·6

  Dan X. Solo. Beginning in 1942, Mr. Solo collected worldwide some 6,000 letterpress fonts and specimens. For the next five decades, he curated and converted about 5,000 of them to film for his photolettering service.

When their tradenames were unidentified, numbered, learned later or conflicted with others in his library, he named or renamed them accordingly. Because of his extremely influential Dover publications, countless revival typefaces are known today by the ones he assigned to them.

  Example. In 1891-1892, Herman Ihlenburg designed a collection of four MSJ [MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan] fonts7 for the Columbian Exposition, a World’s Fair held in Chicago to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Christoper Columbus’ voyage. The first was Columbian#; the others were named for the Italian explorer and his patrons, the King and Queen of Spain: Columbus#, Ferdinand# and Isabella#.

Above the specimen on page 11 of the Solotype Catalog, Solo explains that when he discovered “a cigar box full of worn type … at an old printshop in San Francisco,” he already owned two fonts known by the tradename Columbian#. To avoid further confusing his clients, he decided to rename it Glorietta#.

The Second Revolution

Beginning with introduction of scalable Type-1 [PostScript] and TrueType fonts in c1990, history repeated itself. This time, specimens were often drawn from photo-lettering and transfer-type catalogs. It is not unusual that even the most ethical, history-conscious digital revival developers mis-credit a face to a 20th-century source and cite the tradename assigned by the previous generation of their craft—never suspecting that the original letterforms may have been 100+ years old and first called by a different tradename when re-popularized during the 1960s and –70s.

Example. This oft-digitized script is routinely attributed to German (Manuscript#)8 or Italian (Lapis#)9 sources as late as the 1930s. In fact, it was patented by a US citizen and assigned to MSJ in 1883.10 Bullen writes:

“Mr. Phinney had an exact imitation of his own excellent handwriting cut and named it Manuscript#. At the same time MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan cut their Circular Script#. It was thought, erroneously, by some that a workman* had communicated Mr. Phinney’s idea to the Philadelphia firm, so similar are the two designs in many details.”11

Loy asked the master himself, William W. Jackson of Philadelphia, an MSJ “alum” trained by Scottish immigrant Edwin Ruthven12 and self-employed since 1873: “He cut for Phelps, Dalton & Co. the Manuscript# in two sizes, with two lower cases for each size (known in the trade as Phinney Script, from being an exact facsimile of the handwriting of the active partner in that foundry).”13

Apparently Jackson was a smart businessman as well as an international super-star type designer/cutter. A likely scenario: Knowing that DTF rarely applied for design patents, he confirmed Phinney’s intentions in this case. Then he approached MSJ, who purchased the design by assignment in August 1883 and showed it as Circular Script#. If he had first delivered it to DTF, it would not have been “new” and therefore not patent-worthy!


Footnotes    (← returns to text)
  1. McGrew, M. (1993): American Metal Types of the Twentieth Century (Second, Revised Edition), pages 188-189. Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, DE.
  2. Lieberman, J.B. Ph.D. (1967): Types of Typefaces, page 59. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., New York.
  3. Annenberg, M.; Saxe, S.O. [Editor]; Lieberman, E.K. [Index] (1994): Type Foundries of America and Their Catalogs, page 42. Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, DE. N.B.: Cited as Annenberg throughout THP text.
  4. USPTO D21330, 1892.
  5. http://www.letraset.com/products/306-Cancellaresca-Script/
  6. http://www.letraset.com/products/489-Victorian/
  7. USPTO D21101 Columbian# 1891, D2201 Ferdinand# 1892, D22020 Isabella# 1892, D22021 Columbus# 1892.
  8. Petzendorfer, L. [Editor] (c1903): Schriftenatlas Neue Folge|Eine Sammlung von Alphabeten Initialen und Monogrammen Zusammengestellt, plate 59. Julius Hoffmann, Stuttgart. Reprinted as Treasury of Art Nouveau Alphabets, Decorative Initials, Monograms, Frames and Ornaments. Dover Publications, Inc. (Minneola, NY 1984).
  9. Jaspert, W.P.; Berry, W.T; Johnson, A.F. (2001): The Encyclopedia of Type Faces (Second, Revised Edition), page 386. Cassel & Co., London.
  10. USPTO D14340 1883.
  11. Bullen, H.L. [pen-name Quadrat]: Discursions of a Retired Printer. In The Inland Printer 39:353-359, 1907.
  12. Loy, W.E.: Designers and Engravers of Type. In The Inland Printer 23:64, 1899.
  13. Loy, ibid. The Inland Printer 22:49, 1899.