75. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin

The Aitken Typeface

The Arion Press edition makes its own distinctive contribution to the history of printing in the United States. Hoyem has taken advantage of twenty-first century technologies in order to revive what is believed to be the first type family cut and cast in America. In 1796 two Scotsmen named Binney and Ronaldson started a type foundry in Philadelphia, the first in the country to endure. By 1800 they had produced a remarkably beautiful and utilitarian type, identified simply as Roman No. 1. It is a Transitional face, between Old Style (as in Caslon) and Modern (as in Bodoni).

Aitken Type SampleThe type was used by Jane Aitken, daughter of Robert Aitken, the famous printer of the American Revolution, and an accomplished printer herself, for the printing of the first American translation of the Bible, by Charles Thomson, in 1808. It was reintroduced by American Type Founders Company in 1892 under the name Oxford and was used by a succession of fine printers, such as Daniel Berkeley Updike, Bruce Rogers, and the Grabhorn Press. Arion Press has 1,200 pounds of the original type that once belonged to the Grabhorn Press. Oxford was cast for hand composition only and was not adapted for Linotype or Monotype composition.

The matrices are now in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution and unavailable for further casting. In 2002, Hoyem worked with type designer Linnea Lundquist, assisted by Andrew Crewdson, to create a digital version of this historic face, which he renamed Aitken. The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin is its first use for book printing. The Aitken design has been optimized for letterpress printing, allowing for the spread of ink biting into paper just like with the original metal type design cut by Binney & Ronaldson. For this book, the type has been printed from photopolymer plates.

View a complete type specimen of the Aitken typeface.


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