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Joseph W. Phinney

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Indices : Joseph W. Phinney (1848-1934)

Joseph W. Phinney was a prolific 19th-century American type designer. He started with the Dickinson Foundry of Boston, and practised both type design and management. He eventually acquired the type foundry. In 1892 he was a key player in the formation of American Type Founders or ATF from many other foundries. Phinney started out in a position equivalent to “artistic director” and oversaw the consolidation of the member foundries’ type collections into one library, deciding what to toss out and what to keep.

Phinney also purchased Frederic Goudy’s first typeface, giving Goudy $10, which was twice what the newcomer had asked. Phinney himself added the lowercase to Goudy’s all-caps several years later. The resulting typeface was “Camelot.”

Many of the typeface designs credited to Joseph W. Phinney are based on earlier typefaces, ranging from blatant knockoffs to definite revisions. For example, Phinney’s Satanick, Kelmscott and Jenson Old Style are directly “borrowed” from William Morris’ work. (Jenson Old Style was later itself revived as Italia). Cloister Black is based on the earlier Caslon Text, and Globe Gothic has a long prior lineage.

J.W. Phinney ultimately rose to be third in command of ATF, a senior vice president. He died in 1934, having retired from active work right around the time ATF fell on hard times during the depression (it went into bankruptcy in 1934).

Typographer and occasional type designer Thomas W. Phinney (1965-) is distantly related to J.W. Phinney, but is not a descendant. He did a presentation with much biographical information about JWP at the 2003 ATypI conference in Vancouver, and still collects more details whenever possible.