Washington Era Typeface

I am planning on reproducing a letter from George Washington, circa 1790. Can someone suggest an historically accurate typeface. I think that Baskerville would work, but I seek guidance. Thanks. Neil

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Caslon was the most commonly-used type in the US in that period — ATF’s or Monotype’s Caslon OS with long descenders would be a safe choice for a type in use in the US in 1790.


Apparently Franklin imported some Baskerville types, but the most used and most recognizable colonial face would have been Caslon Old Face. The Declaration of Independence was set in it, and when Will Bradley studied early American printing he chose to revive Caslon because of the many examples he found. It was digitized as ITC Founders Caslon by Justin Howes in 1998.


Hi Neil,
Monotype might be easier to get, but if you are looking at secondhand ATF type, you want the 471, not the 540. The 540 has the truncated descenders that are not true to the era.


For some reason Caslon 471 was not as closely fitted as the Caslon/Stephenson Blake original. ATF came out with a closer fitted version in 18, 22, and 24 point sizes dubbed 472, but you would be hard-pressed to find any of it these days. Monotype Caslon variants have all been adapted to fit the machine for casting but Original Old Caslon (MacKellar) 337E, and its Italic 337G seem to be the closest to the original, and includes the ranging numerals. I believe that it is still cast by M&H Type.


What good and valuable Information. Thanks very much.

As a follow up, what do you think might be the most accurate paper to print on - parchment? Thanks again.

At that period of time paper was hand-made largely from re-processed linen rags. Because of the internal sizing needed to make the paper stiff it had to be dampened before printing, as does most hand-made paper produced today. The folks at Twin Rocker in Indiana make a marvelous quality paper, but it is pricey. I don’t think anyone would hold it against you if you used a nice mould-made paper with a laid pattern that has the look and feel of hand-made. Talas in New York is a good source for both kinds of paper. They provide swatch books at a reasonable price, so you can do some tactile comparison.


If you use mould made paper with a fake laid pattern (and they can be very convincing), it may be worth bearing in mind that less-than-premium papers of the period tended to be very slightly light grey in colour rather than very slightly buff in colour as seems sometimes to be the modern popular perception.

Of course, if you are attempting an grade impression of high quality printing of the period then a near-white (just slightly cream - never a stark white) would be appropriate.

Thanks once again. Neil

P22 has Gerald Giampa’s Lanston Type Co. Ltd. Caslon Oldstyle No. 337 (with all the bells and whistles) digitized from Lanston Monotype Company’s original masters. A rare dead on ringer at size.



And, thank you Gerald. Neil

The press at Colonial Williamsburg regularly prints 18th century era work direct from hand set type, mostly the Caslon from Quaker City. They do have some Caslon 471 cast by the Dale Guild, especially the swash characters, and I have supplied them with what I had of one point brass hairline rule. Though most of the type is set out of public view using Rouse composing sticks, I think they do a remarkable job. Not too long ago I made a special run of 7, 9, and 11 pt brass and copper thin spaces for them for some of their projects.

How timely that this thread was woven now! I actually just got on Briarpress to inquire as to where I could possibly find some fonts of Caslon!! I’m having a devil of a time locating any, and knew that some foundry must still be producing it. Thank you so much for the resources, and insight into historically correct paper and fonts!!

I am moving closer to starting this project and have one (naive) question. How does the parchment paper that is used in baking differ form the parchment paper that is used for printing (if at all)? And, other than the usual steps (packing, alignment, etc.), does printing on this machine made (baking) parchment require any additional steps? Thanks.

bigboypress, parchment = sheep skin, vellum=calf skin
kip=goat, and protective cooking sheet paper whole different
thang. best james

While James is broadly correct, the vast majority of what is today called parchment (setting aside that used in certain religious tracts and the like) is a paper with a texture and appearance similar to true sheep-skin parchment. Parchtone and Astroparche are two example brands. These are wood-pulp papers manufactured for the printing industry and will take ink fine. They can be purchased direct from the mill or bought from paper supply companies.

Modern cooking parchment paper is a specially treated paper designed to both keep things from sticking easily and to keep from catching fire as easily as regular paper. I doubt it would take ink well at all, though it might be interesting to try.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

I should also add (as others have said above) that Colonial American printing almost certainly wouldn’t have been on parchment or vellum as these would have been prohibitively expensive. True parchments and vellums are very labor intensive to manufacture and also would have to have been imported from Europe at that time. A slightly off-white laid-pattern paper would be a much more accurate choice. Even paper would have been imported, but it still would have been much less expensive than parchment or vellum.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

Thanks as always. Michael - how is the phrase “laid-pattern” being used. Does this mean laid in moulds in a particular pattern?

Bill Reiss, at Quaker City Type in Honeybrook, PA - (610) 942-3637 - casts the old style Caslon that is used by Colonial Williamsburg. I have used it to supply others who wanted to replicate Colonial Printing.

Nearly all of the type used in Colonial America came from England. Franklin, the world-traveler may indeed have imported some other fonts, and German-American printers did use German Blackletter, but most American Printers used Caslon exclusively, until 1800 or so.

This is the font you want if your goal is to reproduce something that would have been printed in the US during the 18th century.

Note the character count you will need, however. Bill sells rather small fonts at very reasonable prices, but you may need to purchase 3-4 lower case fonts to get enough letters to set a lot of text.

English language fonts of that period were richer in ligatures than standard modern fonts are. Fortunately, many modern matrice sets include a good range of ligatures so they can usually be cast - but they may not necessarily be in the standard synopses so you would be advised to discuss your intended use of the font with the casters as they may be able to add the necessary ligatures into your purchase.

The long ‘s’ was still in the process of going out of use at that time so you may have to have a proportion of your regular ‘s’ replaced with long ‘s’. Again, many matrice sets include a long ‘s’ but you will very likely need to specifically ask for the substitution to be made. If a long ‘s’ is not available then, as a tolerable alternative, you can order extra ‘f’ and use a jeweller’s file to remove the part of the cross-stroke that projects to the right of the vertical (when printed; vica versa on the sort of course) of the ‘f’ to convert them into tolerable facsimiles of long ‘s’.

Ligatures to seek would be (note that ‘x’ in the following represents a long ‘s’): ch ct ff fi xi xt ss st.

To determine the number of long ‘s’, the convention was to use a long’s’ wherever a single ‘s’ occurred at the start of a word (e.g. a long ‘s’ would be used for ‘since’) except at the beginning of a sentence; to use a long ‘s’ whenever a single ‘s’ occurred in the middle of a word (e.g. a long ‘s’ would be used in ‘basket’), and to use a long ‘s’ as the first of a double ‘s’ (e.g. a long ‘s’ would be used for the first ‘s’ and second ‘s’ - but not the third ‘s’ - in ‘successful’).

In Britain at this time the long ‘s’ was in the process of being abandoned. Colonial - sorry, newly independent American - practice may have lagged slightly so it is possible that abandonment of the long ‘s’ was not quite as advanced. It would be advisable to check a selection of documents printed in America at the time to decide whether to use the long ‘s’.

From experience, it can be difficult to remember to use the ligatures and long ‘s’ - extra proof reading and correction tends to be needed.

Have fun!

Neil, the laid pattern is a texture to the paper. With mould-made papers, the pulp would be kept in liquid suspension in a vat and lifted out by way of a frame (called the deckle) with a wire net on the bottom (called the sieve) to catch the fibers while letting the water drain out. The wires of the sieve would leave a slight texture to the paper as it drained.

The most common design to the sieve was closely spaced wires running one way across the deckle and fewer supporting wires more widely spaced running across the closely spaced wires. The pattern they produced in the surface of the paper is called laid. This was the most common paper texture in the Colonial period.

Modern, machine-made papers can have this pattern as well. It’s added to the paper during production using a specially textured roller (a dandy roller) specifically to evoke the look and feel of old-fashioned paper.

Mould-made paper would be the best choice for your project, but it is much more expensive than machine-made paper, and frankly most people will never notice the difference. Crane’s Crest Laid Pearl White would probably work for you, is 100% cotton, and the company even started making cotton paper in the Colonial period. Other machine-made laid papers like Classic Laid, Royal Laid and Strathmore Writing Laid are either pure wood-pulp or primarily wood-pulp based papers and won’t have the same feel as the linen- or cotton-based papers used in the period.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

Sorry, Michael, but I want to correct some of your terminology, just because I think it’s as important as using the correct terminology in printing.

The modern mould-made papers are machine made using a machine that imitates the hand papermaking process to a certain extent. The early hand moulds, however, consist of a mould and a deckle; the mould is a wooden frame with reinforcing ribs, and has a wire screen consisting of “laid” wires held in place by “chain” wires twisted around them and positioned above the reinforcing ribs. The deckle is an open frame that fits over the mould and meters the amount of pulp taken up by dipping the mould and deckle together into the vat. Later hand moulds used a woven screen more like cloth and gave a smoother paper without the laid and chain lines, but still hand-dipped in the vat of pulp “stuff”. There is no “sieve” as such — the mould is the “sieve”.


My apologies, Bob. I seem to have learned somewhat different terminology. But then, I’ve only studied traditional papermaking as a hobbyist, so far. What I was taught was that the whole thing was the mould, made of the deckle and sieve. I’ll try to remember to use better terminology from now on.

I’m pretty well versed in the Fourdrinier process from modern printing but I’m not really clear on the differences between hand-making paper and mould-making it by machine. At first glance they seem largely the same, but I don’t know much about mould-making machinery.

Michael Hurley
Titivilus Press
Memphis, TN

I’m not absolutely certain, but I believe the machine uses a large screen drum on which the stuff falls in a metered stream from the vat, as the drum revolves. I think the deckle is like a large belt with rectangular windows cut in it which is held against the drum during formation and lifted away for transfer of the sheets to the water removal and drying sections. I think the drum also vibrates sideways as it turns to simulate the “shake” of hand papermaking and distribute the fibers in all directions, rather than the grain induced by regular fourdrinier machines. I can tell you that mould-made paper is very nice, having just printed our book about the Columbian hand press on some cream-colored 110gsm Zerkall wavy-laid mould-made paper.