John F. Cumming | A Humble, Honest Man


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IV. Boston Type Foundry Before J.F. Cumming’s Employment

…If Cumming did not design the fonts attributed to him by 20th– and 21st–century historians, then who did?

Boston, one of the first cities in North America, was a cultural hub with an active artist colony since the 1840s or earlier. Typefounders naturally cultivated contacts among the talented folks who lived or visited there; rail travel between Boston, New York and Philadelphia was commonplace by the 1860s.

•John K. Rogers [1821–1888]. Rogers was the BTF Agent almost continuously from 1851 until his death in 1888. His obituary, first published in the BTF Printers’ Bulletin,1 notes that he was “an art critic of unusually fine perceptions.” William E. Loy adds that this quality was “essential to the head of a great typefoundry.”2

Rogers was a member of the Boston Artists’ Association in 1841-1851, the years of this organization’s existence. Fellow member, artist Charles W. Hubbard, also knew Ludwig S. Ipsen [sidebar], a leading Boston illustrator who designed bookplates for him and his wife. In 1903, Ipsen assigned patents for Florentine Heavyface# and Florentine Heavyface Condensed to ATF.

For many years, Rogers was treasurer of the Boston Art Club3 founded in 1854.4 This office presented him with ideal opportunities to network with such famous fellow members as George R. Halm of New York, a distinguished illustrator and designer who studied wood engraving in Boston during the early 1870s.5

L. Prang and Company. Boston was the US “go-to” center of chromo-lithography since its introduction there in the 1830s. German immigrant Louis Prang, “father of the American Christmas card” (1874), inherited the spotlight in 1856 on arrival in Boston.6 First issued in 1866 or earlier, Prang’s Book of Standard Alphabets was “a collection of alphabets in the best ancient and modern styles, designs for titles, colored initials, borders, compass & topographical signs, the state arms of the Union &c. especially adapted for the use of sign painters, engravers, illuminators, architects and civil engineers.”

The masterful work of this world-famous lithographer/publisher/art educator drew top painters, poster and lettering artists to his establishment, which was conveniently located near both BTF and DTF.7 Bruce Rogers (apparently not closely related to Rogers of BTF) moved from Indianapolis IN to Boston in 1895 when Prang assumed publication of a fledgling art magazine issued by Rogers and a Purdue College friend.8 Seven years later, Rogers designed Montaigne for the Riverside Press in Cambridge,9 Cumming’s last verified type-cutting project.

 Massachusetts Drawing Act, 1870. This landmark legislation, first of its kind in the US, mandated art education in state schools and established free industrial drawing classes for persons over age 15 in all (then 23) MA communities with populations exceeding 10,000. It was intended to train talented men, women and youth with commercially viable skills that would free the US from dependence on UK-imported architectural and other technical drafting skills.10

Museum of Fine Arts. Boston’s impressive art treasures were exhibited in the first large-scale public art collection chartered in the US (February 1870). The original grand galleries opened in Copley Square on July 4, 1876 to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence. A related art school opened the same year.11

Sign Painters. The BTF catalog of 1880 describes Mercantile# [Table 1:27] as imitating “the unique and beautiful Roman letter used by the sign-painters of Boston.” De Vinne cites the same source for Copley# (cut by Cumming ±1881-1884) [Table 2:62].12 Commercial specimens of both faces displayed “patent pending” notices; no patents are recorded.

Joseph W. Phinney [1845–1934] (Manager, Dickinson Type Foundery and, after 1892, ATF’s Boston Branch). Bullen comments that before Phinney became a partner in 1885, the year after Cumming was hired, he was constantly “storing away … a fund of ideas … which his principals did not see fit to use.”13 Loy reports that Phinney was already a partner by 1883,14 the year before he hired JFC. With an accomplished staff type-cutter at last, Phinney had both the materials and the means to compete in the job font market.

JFC’s Personal Contacts. It is easy to imagine that Cumming himself was well acquainted with lettering artists whose drawings he may have cut during his BTF years (1881-1884), maintained these relationships and, since his BTF position was not filled until 1886,15 steered them to DTF. For example, Ludwig S. Ipsen [sidebar] may have designed unattributed designs he produced for BTF, DTF and ATF Boston.

TF Competition. In November 1872, one of the worst fires in US history destroyed downtown Boston including all TFs: BTF and DTF plus Curtis & Mitchell and New England. By the end of December, a fifth was established by H.C. Hansen, a Norwegian immigrant and former DTF employee.16

At that time, BTF was the only TF in Boston beginning to produce original display faces [“job fonts”] courting a voracious market driven by/driving an exponentially escalating pace of changing trends set in the US by the MSJ and Bruce TFs, who aggressively recruited German or Scottish immigrants as type cutters/designers.

Regardless of targeted clientele for book or job fonts, these five Boston TFs vied for qualified employees. Good type cutters, who possessed an extremely rare combination of manual super-skills plus specialized artistic judgment, must have been scarce in Boston!

Footnotes    (← returns to text)
  1. Republished in The Inland Printer 6:447, 1888.
  2. Loy, W.E.: Typefounders and Typefounding in America. In The Inland Printer 29:613, 1902.
  3. Pasko, W.W. (1894): American Dictionary of Printing and Bookmaking|A History of These Arts in Europe and America, with Definitions of Technical Terms and Biographical Sketches, page 490. Howard Lockwood & Co., New York.
  5. American Bookmaker 4:103-105, 1887; USPTO D16673.
  6. Meggs, P.B. (1992): A History of Graphic Design (Second Edition), pages 156-158, 188. Van Nostrand Reinhold, New York. Leonard, J.W. (1899-1900): Who’s Who in America|A Biographical Dictionary of Living Men and Women in the United States, page 579. A.N. Marquis & Company, Chicago.
  7. Address per Prang catalog of 1876.
  9. Consuegra, D. (2004): American Type Design and Designers, page 222. Allworth Press, New York.
  10. Bolin, Paul E. (1990): The Massachusetts Drawing Act of 1870: Industrial Mandate or Democratic Maneuver? In Soucy, D. and Stankiewicz, M.A. [Editors], Framing the Past: Essays on Art Education, pages 58-68. National Art Education Association, Reston, VA.
  12. Advertisement, The Inland Printer 3:342, 1886. DeVinne, T.L. (1899-1902): The Practice Of Typography|A Treatise on the Processes of Type-making, the Point System, the Names, Sizes, Styles and Prices of Plain Printing Types (Second Edition), page 250. The Century Co., New York.
  13. Bullen, H.L. (pen-name Quadrat): Discursions of a Retired Printer. In The Inland Printer 39:356–357, 1907.
  14. Loy, W.E.: Designers and Engravers of Type. In The Inland Printer 22:49, 1899.
  15. Loy, W.E.: Designers and Engravers of Type. In The Inland Printer 23:460, 1899.
  16. Annenberg, M.; Saxe, S.O. [Editor]; Lieberman, E.K. [Index] (1994): Type Foundries of America and Their Catalogs, pages 70, 128, 145, 152, 203. Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, DE. N.B.: Cited as Annenberg throughout THP text.