John F. Cumming | A Humble, Honest Man


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VII. Boston Type Foundry, 1881–1884

E. Kismet 

Kismet#. J.F. Cumming/Boston TF 1884, 1886

By 1884, ”curly” types had been extremely popular for several years, especially for targeting a growing demographic of affluent and middle-class women with discretionary cash and leisure time. BTF offered no face of this profitable genré.

As William E. Loy wrote in his article on Cumming, JFC designed Kismet# and cut the pattern size in 1884 while BTF Agent John K. Rogers was away. On his return, Rogers was not pleased by this surprise and rejected it. This confrontational incident led to JFC’s resignation from BTF and engagement with Dickinson TF effective August 1884.

Two years later, Rogers commissioned JFC to cut four additional sizes. JFC commented to Loy that when people don’t know what they want, it is “best to go along smoothly and charge up in the bill for annoyance and injured feelings.”

The pattern size was first advertised in May 1886 [left];1 a second size, in November.2

With the exceptions of Kismet# and faces cut for the Caslon TF, every BTF type design produced between 1870 and 1884 was either patented, a derivative of a patented one or marked “patent pending” in commercial specimens [Tables 1 and 2]. Since no such notice was displayed, apparently no application was submitted.

The post-ATF combined Central|Boston catalog of 1892 (issued in St. Louis) displays patent notices with specimens of nearly every BTF face, erroneous in many cases including the Kismet# series of five sizes. Only designs documented in the Tables were patented.

Likewise in the Misinformation Department, post-ATF foundry histories of Kismet# place its date at 1879. By his own account (per Loy), JFC was then working in Chicago and did not arrive in Boston until 1881.

As discussed in the Introduction, Kismet# raises Niggling Questions about Cumming’s design talent. The second of two faces that he professed designing, it is unique with no known precedent in US, GB or European specimens. The same cannot be said for Dresden (the first face he designed), a light-face derivative of Bremen.

With three years of type-cutting experience, he cut the pattern size of Kismet# in 1884. Perhaps he had started drawing the dual-alphabet model long before, building and polishing it in rare moments of respite from his staggering responsibility load, awaiting the right time to execute it when his skill was mature enough to render perfectly its complex, delicate curves and when the right opportunity arose. Perhaps he hoped that Rogers would reward his initiative with a salary increase.

JFC’s “annoyance and injured feelings” remark indicates that twelve years after leaving BTF and eight to ten years since Rogers’ death (1888), this bitter disappointment still bothered him.

Did Kismet# demonstrate significant design talent not recognized or not fostered? If so, was an untapped resource wasted by insistence that he cut designs drawn by “professionals” instead of developing his own gift?

Would his original faces have been as profitable as the ones he cut from “designs furnished by the foundry”? Would they have been competitive with those of cutting-edge lettering artists in Boston and New York so readily available to his super-sophisticated employers?

Rogers was highly respected as “an art critic of unusually fine perceptions.”3·4 Compared to similar faces shown before 1884 by competitors addressing the Artistic Printing Movement, Kismet# was “over the top.” Surely it offended his principles of good taste and tried his tolerance for risking an enormous investment in producing a face by a designer with no proven success record.

He may have declined to seek (always expensive) IP rights because he expected demand for this face to expire before the minimum patent term (3.5 years). If so, historical hindsight tends to support the wisdom of this decision: Kismet# was not shown by pre-ATF BTF distributors (Palmer & Rey, Cincinnati TF, Allison & Smith|Franklin TF, Hawks & Shattuck), it rarely appears in advertisements published by others in the US or abroad, and it was discontinued by ATF after 1896.5

After losing Cumming in August 1884, BTF was soon in trouble again: Without a staff type-cutter, no new designs could be produced. Two years passed before Julius Herriet Jr. replaced him.6 In the meantime, no BTF catalog was published in 1886, and only one more (1887) was issued during Rogers’ lifetime.7

Conclusion. With no solution in sight by March or April 1886, Rogers resorted to test-marketing Kismet#. He ordered an ad for the pattern size displayed with some newly stocked ornaments and sent it to The Inland Printer for publication in May.

When the result convinced him of its income potential (if not its aesthetics), propriety led him to choose JFC (perhaps after he hired Herriet) to expand the series as advertised in November.

Footnotes    (← returns to text)
  1. Boston TF advertising specimen: The Inland Printer 3:477, 1886.
  2. Annenberg, M. [Editor](1977):  A Typographic Journey Through The Inland Printer 1883–1900, page 139. Maran Press, Baltimore.
  3. John K. Rogers’ Obituary, republished in The Inland Printer 6:447, 1888.
  4. Loy, W.E.: Typefounders and Typefounding in America. In The Inland Printer 29:613, 1902.
  5. Tribby, D.M. (2003):  Catalogs of the American Type Founders’ Company and Barnhart Brothers & Spindler, 1897-1971.  American Amateur Press Association (
  6. Loy, W.E.:  Designers and Engravers of Type. In The Inland Printer 23:460, 1899.
  7. Annenberg, M.; Saxe, S.O. [Editor]; Lieberman, E.K. [Index] (1994):  Type Foundries of America and Their Catalogs, pages 74, 262, 266.  Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, DE.  N.B.:  Cited as Annenberg throughout.