In this age of progress, when the fine arts are rapidly becoming trades, and the machine is on every side superseding that labour of head and hand which our fathers called Handicraft, we are in danger of losing sight of, or, at least, of undervaluing the genius of those who, with none of our mechanical advantages, established and made famous in our land those arts and handicrafts of which we are now the heritors.
The Art of Letter-founding hesitated long before yielding to the revolutionary impulses of modern progress. While kindred arts--and notably that art which preserves all others--were advancing by leaps and bounds, the founder, as late as half a century ago, was pursuing the even tenor of his ways by paths which had been trodden by De Worde and Day and Moxon. But the inevitable revolution came, and Letter Founding to-day bids fair to break all her old ties and take new departures undreamed of by those heroes of the punch and matrix and mould who made her what we found her.
At such a time, it seems not undutiful to attempt to gather together into a connected form the numerous records of the Old English Letter Founders scattered throughout our literary and typographical history, with a view to preserve the memory of those to whose labours English Printing is indebted for so much of its glory.
The present work represents the labour of several years in what may be considered some of the untrodden by-paths of English typographical history.
The curious Dissertation on English Typographical Founders and Founderies by the learned Edward Rowe Mores, published in 1778, is, in fact, the only work in the language purporting to treat of Letter Founding as distinct from the art which it fosters. This quaint and crabbed sketch, full of valuable but half-digested information, was intended to accompany a specimen of the types of John James, whose foundry had gradually absorbed all the minor English foundries, and, after the death of its owner, had become the property of Mores himself. The enthusiasm of the Oxford antiquary infused new life into the dry bones of this decayed collection. Working backwards, he restored in imagination the old foundries of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, as they had been before they became absorbed in his own. He tracked back a few famous historical types to their fountainhead, and even bridged over the mysterious gulf which divided the early sixteenth from the early seventeenth centuries of English letter-founding.