The other day I noticed that I needed to add a footnote to my book about the Bentons, in order to substantiate the fact that Theodore Low De Vinne commissioned the S. D. Warren Paper Company to make a coated paper for his printing press. This came up because I wanted to show several examples of De Vinne’s propensity to act as a catalyst in a new venture or invention. (In about 1893 or 1894 De Vinne asked the American Type Founders Company, and Linn Boyd Benton in particular, to help him design and cut a new typeface for his Century magazine, because he was not satisfied with the types he was using.) I found the reference in Eugene Ettenberg’s Type for Books and Advertising (1947) and added it to the text. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I dug a little deeper.
In 2005, David R. Godine published a book by Irene Tichenor entitled No Art Without Craft: The Life of Theodore Low De Vinne, Printer. Tichenor writes that “Charles M. Gage, the actual inventor, made it clear that he had invented paper coated on both sides in Massachusetts in late 1874 or early 1875 at the specific request of De Vinne … who needed it for a catalogue with colored wood-engraved illustrations.” (page 114; Tichenor’s book is on Google Books.)
De Vinne’s desire and subsequent request to Charles Gage profoundly affected the future of the printing industry. Who doesn’t handle several if not tens or even hundreds of coated printed pages every day? Apparently De Vinne later decided that he didn’t like the paper at all, and “although he had been a pioneer in the use of dry paper to meet the exigencies of speed, he admitted to a ‘returning kindliness for damp paper.'”
The advent of coated paper in the 1870s came out of one person’s idea, desire, and drive. No doubt it would have been invented later on if De Vinne hadn’t pursued it at that time. But that desire, at that time, unpredictably brought forth something that quickly changed the direction of the paper industry, the printing industry, and even the way we are presented with information today. It reminds me of chaos theory. And it reminds me of the Bentons, too.
I go on at some length in my book about the other pantographic engraving machines that were being used to engrave matrices (not very successfully) at the same time that it was dawning on Linn Boyd Benton that the best way to produce his new ‘self-spacing type’ would be with a pantographic machine that cut the models for electrotyping matrices. (This was around 1882.) Ultimately it was Benton who succeeded in building a machine that could do the job easily and well, which in turn (within a matter of just a few years) enabled another machine, the Linotype, to become viable, and to gradually replace most of the foundry type in the world with machine-set type– in effect, eroding the business that Linn Boyd Benton’s machine was invented for! Without Benton’s ambition, Ottmar Mergenthaler’s Linotype machine might have never been successful, and we might have taken a completely different route to where we are today, or to somewhere else we can’t imagine.
Mergenthaler too had a lot of desire, an almost manic drive to make something that would work. His story takes up many pages in my book about the Bentons.
When I started revising the Benton manuscript a few years ago, I thought that the process would take maybe three to five months. How wrong I was. At the moment I’ve put on the brakes, and now am trying strictly to clean up the loose ends and finish the illustrations. But it is fascinating to think about all the other stories that pop up.
More later …