Be it known that I, George Bruce, of the City and County of New York, in the State of New York, have produced new and improved Printing Types by cutting the originals in steel from new and varied designs...
It is regularly mentioned, in discussion of the history of typeface design protection in US law, that the first design patent granted, in 1842, was for a typeface. This week I happened to be corresponding with a US patent lawyer on another topic, and this came up in conversation. 'Oh, I have a copy of that patent application' he said. He was kind enough to send me a copy as a PDF, and give permission for me to post it in a public forum.
The application doesn't actually show the type design(s), and as the lawyer with whom I was talking noted, 'It would obviously not fly in this format today, but it is worthwhile to see form a historical perspective.'
I have not deciphered the whole document yet, but it looks to me from the initial paragraphs that was is being talked about is not a single design but something like a suite of types including ornamented letters of various sizes and 'border pieces'.
Of particular interest is the justification offered for the patent application near the bottom of the first page:
It is difficult to find much in Printers Types that is new in design if we regard only their characteristic lines, but if we look at the ways in which the figures are varied while the characteristic lines are retained, we find the same variety what would be expected in the portraits of a person painted by many different artists in different positions.