Help me sort out the history of Century Old Style

So, I recently bought a large fount of Century Old Style with which I plan to set some prose. But I am having a hard time finding a clear history of the face for the colophon. Mac MacGrew is cited in the wikipedia entry as saying that the face was cut in 1909 by Morris Benton at ATF, and therefore the face is a revival of Caslon, but cut to match with his father’s original Century design (done for DeVinne). However, several retailers (e.g. say “Century Old Style is Linn Boyd Benton’s and Morris Fuller Benton’s renovation of Phemister’s Miller & Richard Old Style for ATF forty-five years later, using the Century name for marketing purposes.” Can anyone help me sort this out? Did Benton cut this face on his own, referring to old sources, or is this really Alexander Phemister’s 1858 design?

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Century Old Style is not very similar to Caslon and if Benton was imitating Caslon he, missed it! It is my understanding that the face was based on but not an exact copy of the M&R face. It was originally cut for Century magazine as their body type. Wikipedia says LB Benton designed it as Century Roman and MF Benton redesigned it to become Century Expanded and the rest of the family. The name Century Old Style may be a misnomer, not a name used by ATF or Century Magazine. Needs more research!


I basically agree with Bob. The “Caslon” connotation must have come from outer space! How strange is that? My basic bone of contention is that Linn Boyd Benton did NOT design the original Century face.

L.B. Benton was basically a creative engineer with a marvelous new machine for engraving matrices. Theodore DeVinne was a printing historian, printer, publisher and recognized authority on type faces. My view is that DeVinne simply instructed/directed Benton on exactly what he wanted his new typeface to look like. L.B. Benton had zero experience, before or after, designing type faces. Are we to honestly believe that a giant in the field such as DeVinne turned over the design of the typeface to an absolute “unknown designer” such as Benton? I don’t think that anyone who ever really thought about it could take this seriously.

The theory that the face is based on the old M&R face has some merits, but I don’t think we will ever really know if that is where DeVinne started as a model.

Don’t even get me going about Morris Benton’s “designs” for ATF. That might take a book!


Remember, the beginning of the last century was a period of rather poorly designed types. I’m sure that Benton(s) was making the best type possible on a mathematical rather than artistic basis. DeVinne, Updike and Rogers were the first to attempt to use old classical faces as models in the US, and recognized the poor readability of most of the types then in use. The condensed face, large ‘x’ height and short ascenders & descenders were the way that publishers crammed as much on a page as possible, keeping printing and paper costs down. Comparing the different Century faces it is interesting to note the similarities which make it a true type family, but the over exercised readability is the type’s weakness.

I have a good amount of Century Old Style, and would choose it over any of the other of the family for quality of line, but it fails to be an “attractive” face, and appears much more business-like. It would take another 10+ years before Stanley Morison and Francis Meynell instigated the Monotype classical typeface revival which spurred the American founders to do likewise.

If more founders had gone to pen-drawn models like Goudy used, we might have had some really nice foundry faces with which to work, rather than looking longingly at the European founders catalogues. If it were not for the efforts of The Dale Guild to preserve what they were able to from the best of ATF we would be in even worse shape.

I fail to see any similarities between Century and Caslon, except the intent to put word to paper. Later versions of Caslon suffered from the large ‘x’ height syndrome, and are much the poorer for it. There were a substantial number of ‘Old Style’ faces in use at the time of DeVinne’s experiments. Perhaps there was one that was a model, but perhaps it was more of the businessman than the artistic printer that caused it’s creation.


So, what I am hearing is that no one actually knows?

I think you are hearing that there could be several different factors in the development of the type, just as there were obviously many reasons to have so many variants on the type. I imagine that if DeVinne and the Bentons were available to ask today, they too would express multiple reasons for it being made the way it was. If you study types you will discover that few are completely original, as they are not conceived or manufactured in a vacuum. Some are well documented as to the influences, and most are not. It is truly a fascinating subject to me, but dry as toast for others.


This is fascinating. Thanks, gentlemen, for taking the time to shed this kind of light on type design. Do you learn these things just from books?

Trimalchio, your colophon will be longer than your prose.


Books and stories from other printers. A whole LOT can be learned going to Printer’s Fairs and Wayzgooses and simply talking about type and letterpress printing with others similarly enchanted.

This site and the web in general are great places to pick up valuable tidbits of information. The more that I know, the more I realize that I don’t know.

There will be a great gathering of letterpress printers in Mt. Pleasant , Iowa on September 16, 17 and 18 for the 17th Annual Midwest and Great Northern Printer’s Fair. Asi8de from great comradery, there is a letterpress swap meet on Saturday morning and a letterpress auction of Saturday afternoon. It just doesn’t get any better than this.


Thanks Rick! I won’t be able to get to Iowa, but there will be a Printers Fair in Los Angeles on September 25. I will plan to spend the day there and annoy old printers with pesky newbie questions.


Barb, Don’t forget to say hello then— I’m sharing a booth with Dave Robison (Ink in Tubes) and Matt Kelsey (Liber Apertus Press)— I’ll be selling mostly cuts, but also a couple of fonts that don’t fit “current editorial needs.” :) ==Marjorie

Hi. I found this article about Century on the Upper and Lowercase site.