John F. Cumming | A Humble, Honest Man


Please scroll the sidebar menu for navigation links within the featured article.

V. The Boston-Central Connection contradict themselves and each other, and their accounts sometimes differ wildly from the one written about James A. St. John [sidebar]. Furthermore, they defy reconciliation with USPTO records of type designs patented by John K. Rogers in 1870.

During his type-cutting careerJ.F. Cumming was employed and/or commissioned by the three competing type foundries in Boston: Boston Type Foundry [BTF, 1881-1884], Dickinson Type Foundery [DTF, 1884-1892]/ATF Boston [1892-????] and H.C. Hansen Type Foundry [HTF, dates unknown].

Table 3 presents a chronological overview of interactions between these Boston TFs and the Central TF of St. Louis. It identifies the BTF-related acquaintances of James A. St. John and Carl Schraubstadter Sr. as the connection between work of JFC himself, Gustav F. Schroeder, Nicholas J. Werner, Julius Herriet Jr. andCarl/Charles E. Heyer.

Bullen writes that BTF was a coöperative of shareholders who elected an Agent to represent them.1 In 1869 [St. John;2 Bullen, September 19073], “a group of disgruntled stockholders deposed” John K. Rogers, the BTF Agent since 1851, and elected St. John, a congenial Boston-educated Newfoundlander who had advanced “from errand boy to supervisor.” By 1871,4 Rogers purchased a majority of BTF shares and regained his position.5

In 1870 [Annenberg 73; Bullen 19066], 1871 [St. John; Bullen, May 19077] or 1872 [Annenberg 98], Rogers opened a BTF branch in St. Louis MO and transferred St. John there to manage it. Or according to N.J. Werner, “on May 28, 1872 Mr. J.A. St. John establishes the St. Louis branch of the Boston Type Foundry.”18

Or according to St. John: In 1871, with the highest salary ever paid a typefounder in the US (Bullen 1906 corroborates that his salary was considered enormous for a TF employee), he opened the BTF St. Louis Branch.

In June 1871, St. John was issued an unassigned patent for Bank–Note Black Extended; his affidavit signature was witnessed by Rogers and his brother, Daniel Webster Rogers, long the BTF treasurer. Since patent application dates were not published until 1873, this information is inconclusive: He may have filed it years earlier and moved to St. Louis by the time it was approved.

The branch was not profitable at first [Bullen 1906, Annenberg 73] and Rogers ordered it closed in 1874 [Annenberg 73], during the time Cumming knew St. John. Or… Business boomed immediately [St. John, Annenberg 98].

In August8 1874 [Bullen 1906, Annenberg 98] or in 1875 [St. JohnBullen 1907], St. John partnered with BTF superintendent Carl Schraubstadter Sr., a German immigrant, to purchase the branch from BTF. They named their new enterprise Central Type Foundry, and their success was spectacular [all agree from this point forward!].

Note that, contrary to the reports cited above, the Central logo pictures a US penny dated 1876—did it take a year or two to “iron out the legalities”?

Mullen writes that when Schraubstadter moved to St. Louis, he “brought with him a large portion of the workforce at the Boston foundry, about twelve skilled workers and their families.”9

19th-Century Networking

While working in St. Louis (c1874–1879), JFC befriended James St. John, a fellow oarsman. Apparently, this contact led to his employment by BTF in 1881.

In 1877, German immigrant Carl/Charles E. Heyer, BTF’s type designer/punch-cutter since 1867, left Boston. By 1879, he had settled in Chicago, where he worked (exclusively? independently?) for BBS.10

  • St. John and Heyer, both US immigrants born in September 1841, had worked together at BTF for at least two years. Schraubstadter, employed by BTF since 1854, had known Heyer since his hire in 1867, about seven years.

Also in 1879, the same year as Heyer‘s first BBS-assigned design patent (cited above), JFC moved from St. Louis to Chicago. Mullen suggests11 that Heyer designed Central’s Rococo#=Rococco#, patented by St. John in c1883.

  • Had Heyer and his former BTF colleagues maintained correspondence after Schraubstadter left Boston?
  • Did St. John and/or Schraubstadter “introduce” JFC to Heyer in Chicago and to Rogers in Boston?
  • Did St. John and/or Heyer suggest to JFC that BTF was in (desperate?) need of a punch-cutter?

In 1881, JFC joined BTF. On a trip to Germany the same year, Schraubstadter recruited Schroeder to Central. The next year, Nicholas J. Werner, was hired as Central’s specimen compositor.12 The combined creativity of these two men sparked an explosion that soon skyrocketed Central to the worldwide forefront of type design innovation.

In 1884, JFC quit BTF and joined DTF. Two years later, Rogers hired Julius Herriet Jr. of New York to replace him.13 Rogers (born 1821) died in January 1888.

Soon after Rogers’ death, St. John and Schraubstadter purchased his controlling BTF stock.

  • Schraubstadter remained in St. Louis, and St. John returned to BTF as manager.14
  • Thereafter, Central and BTF specimen books were combined (and probably designed by Werner in St. Louis).
  • Surely St. John renewed his acquaintance with “rowing buddy” JFC, then a DTF employee for some four years (and local crew star!).

By the time of the BTF acquisition, Central challenged MacKellar Smiths & Jordan as the top US exporter and international leader in type design. According to St. John, they operated offices in England, Australia and every large city in Europe.

Herriet Jr., now employed by Central and supervised by St. John, collaborated with Schroeder and Werner in designing/cutting lower cases, additional sizes and/or width variations of BTF Mural#, Façade# and Rubens#, all originally cut by JFC in 1881-1884.

In 1889 Schroeder and Werner partnered as independent designers/cutters (Central was their best client!). About two years later, Schroeder moved to California and Herriet Jr. returned to New York.

In the merger of 1892, Central and BTF joined the American Type Founders’ Company—the only divisions purchased outright for cash; all others accepted ATF stock as part of the deal [Bullen 1907]. St. John and Schraubstadter retired extremely wealthy men. Schraubstadter, born in 1827, died in 1896 or 1897. St. John died at age 60 in 1901 (Bullen 1906 hints of medical malpractice).

The 1892 combined Central|BTF catalog illustrates nearly the all-time inventory of both TFs. With few exceptions, every BTF face displays a patent notice regardless of validity. Most often, Central TF’s unpatented designs are marked “Original Design of the Central Type Foundry.” The University of Michigan copy appends a bound-in seven-page ATF insert listing 17 branches.

The Printer’s Review article about St. John states that he designed many of Central’s typefaces and held several patents. USPTO records validate BTF Bank-Note Black Extended (the one issued in 1871 during his brief term as Agent) and six as a Missouri resident, starting with Geometric# (1880-1881), G. Italic#, G. Condensed# and G. Antique (1882–1883). Bullen [1907] identifies Geometric# as Central’s first successful original typeface.

Besides the Geometric# collection, St. John patented Old Style Extended in 1881 and Rococo#=Rococco# in 1882-1883. All affidavits claim that he “invented and produced” the typefaces; this language is interpreted to mean that he did not personally design them.

Indeed, Mullen reports that Geometric#, G. Italic# and G. Antique were designed and/or cut by Schroeder (then still a novice trainee) and world-class designer/cutter William W. Jackson of Philadelphia.15

Central clearly maintained a cordial working relationship with BTF from “child” to “sister” to “parent.” Indeed, BTF Dresden, the first of two BTF typefaces that Cumming designed (1881), was named for Schraubstadter’s birthplace, perhaps as a good-will gesture. The BTF catalog of 1880 introduced Geometric# between the first two recorded Central specimens, issued in 1878 (unknown to Annenberg)16 and 1881, which showed almost exclusively BTF faces.17

Considering that the BTF 1880 catalog was entitled Original Faces Cast by the Boston Type Foundry, it may seem strange without this background context that Geometric# (not identified as a Central face) was shown at all; it displays a “patent pending” notice, which implies that the face originated at BTF.

Far stranger, the same BTF specimen book also shows Pen Text=BBS Engravers Upright Script (1925), which McGrew [133] attributes to the Cincinnati TF in 1879. This design was not patented—Cincinnati TF, a “kissin’ cousin” of the Farmer Little TF (New York), held few design patents, primarily for ornament sorts.


The above observations support the proposition that after losing the skilled craftsmen loyal to Schraubstadter and without a staff type cutter since 1877, BTF was in serious trouble by 1880. With no new original faces in production, the 1880 catalog was “fluffed” with marginally profitable (or break-even) distribution fonts originating with “fraternity brothers.”

Footnotes    (← returns to text)
  1. Bullen, H.L. [pen-name Quadrat](1906-1908): Discursions of a Retired Printer. In The Inland Printer 38:38, October 1906.
  2. Anonymous (c1886): James A. St. John|A Successful Representative Typefounder. In The Printer’s Review (Golding & Co., Boston). Reprinted in The Inland Printer, January 1887.
  3. Bullen, H.L. [pen-name Quadrat]: Discursions of a Retired Printer. In The Inland Printer 39:836, 1907.
  4. 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. Annenberg, M.; Saxe, S.O. [Editors]; Lieberman, E.K. [Index](1994): Type Foundries of America and Their Catalogs, page 73. Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, DE.  N.B.: Cited as Annenberg throughout THP publications
  6. Bullen, H.L. [pen-name Quadrat]: Discursions of a Retired Printer. In The Inland Printer 38:353-358, 1906.
  7. Bullen, H.L. [pen-name Quadrat]: Discursions of a Retired Printer. In The Inland Printer 39:193-198, 1907.
  8. Werner N.J. (1908): A Calendarium Typographicum|A Record of More or Less Notable Events Affecting Typography and Affiliated Arts, Presented In the Order of the Months and Days on Which They Occurred. In The Inland Printer, May 1908.
  9. Mullen, R.A. (2005): Recasting A Craft|St. Louis Typefounders Respond To Industrialization, page 24. Southern Illinois University Press, Carbondale.
  10. Mullen, ibid. page 25.
  11. USPTO D11044, Armenian Extended (application filed January 25).
  12. Mullen, ibid. page 136.
  13. Loy, W.E.: Designers and Engravers of Type. In The Inland Printer, December 1898, August 1899.
  14. Loy, ibid. July 1899.
  15. Mullen, ibid. pages 34, 173.
  16. Mullen, ibid. pages 135, 136.
  17. Annenberg, M.; Saxe, S.O. [Editors]; Lieberman, E.K. [Index](1994): Type Foundries of America and Their Catalogs. Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, DE.  N.B.:  Annenberg’s histories were based primarily on William E. Loy’s series, Typefounders and Typefounding In America (The Inland Printer, 1900–1905).
  18. Mullen, ibid. pages 34, 128.