Simon Loxley is a graphic designer and writer on design, typography and design history.

Stanley Morison and Times New Roman.

Published in Ultrabold, (No. 7, autumn 2009).

For some reason back in the summer I started musing again about that 1990s controversy, the claim that Stanley Morison had effectively stolen someone else’s design and passed it off as Times New Roman, and whether anything more had subsequently been said on the subject. Within weeks I had an answer, not once but twice. On August 1 an article in the Financial Times, ‘The History of the Times New Roman typeface’ about Mike Parker, former head of typographical development at Linotype, revived his old assertion. Then in September I received a promotional email from Font Bureau announcing: ‘Starling: a revival for our times’.

They continued: ‘In 1904 William Starling Burgess, gifted American polymath, drew his second type for Lanston Monotype, designated Lanston No. 54. A few years later, Burgess would abandon type for a distinguished career designing experimental aircraft, racing yachts, and the Dymaxion automobile. The type languished for decades until Frank Hinman Pierpont, American head of the British Monotype factory, passed on proofs of the design to Stanley Morison, who was developing a new roman for The Times of London. Mike Parker found the original drawings, now housed at the Smithsonian Institution, to be superior and prepared the Starling series for Font Bureau.’

According to Parker, he had been put on the trail of Morison’s subterfuge in the early 90s by the now deceased Canadian designer and printer Gerald Giampa, who had bought ‘the remnants of the Lanston Monotype Machine Company’. He had shown Parker a set of metal patterns that looked identical to Times then, excusing himself for claimed contractual reasons related to the purchase, kept a putative store of evidence hidden.

Mike Parker’s resulting article ‘Starling Burgess, Type Designer?’ appeared in Printing History issue 31/32 (Volume XVI, numbers 1/2) in 1994. The proposition was as follows. In 1903 the multi-talented Burgess paid for the publication of a volume of his own poetry. This venture, a visit to England where he possibly met the poet Algernon Swinburne and mingled in a general Arts and Crafts ambience, and the fact that in Boston he ‘was surrounded … by typographic enthusiasm and creation’, inspired him to design his own typeface (or typefaces plural, it was suggested) and commission Lanston to produce it — or them. However he became distracted by a new enthusiasm for aviation, lost a lot of money and was unable to pay Lanston for the type.

In the early 1920s Lanston offered Burgess’ type, unsuccessfully, for a prototype masthead design in the early development stages of Time magazine. ‘We must assume,’ wrote Parker, ‘that the design of [the face] was transferred from Philadelphia to Salfords [British Monotype’s drawing office] as pattern letters sent from [Harvey Best, president of American Monotype] to Pierpont’. In 1930, as Morison struggled with the development of the new type for The Times, ‘Pierpont must have suggested [Burgess’ design] as a possibility to Morison’, who appropriated it virtually wholesale to become Times New Roman.

So many assumptions, beyond the two above, were required of the reader to believe the story, that to my mind the article swiftly became undermined as a serious piece of research. If the sails of one of Burgess’ yachts had had as many holes as Mike Parker’s theory, it would never have made it out of the harbour. A rejoinder by Harold Berliner, Nicolas Barker, John Dreyfus and Jim Rimmer in Printing History 37 (Volume XIX Number 1), ‘Starling Burgess, no type designer; a rebuttal of some allegations and suppositions made by Mike Parker in his article “Starling Burgess, Type Designer”’, picked up on all the points that had struck me and added many more, including discrediting the suggestion that Burgess had designed an earlier face for Lanston. Damningly, Jim Rimmer pointed out that a suggested italic face of Burgess’ was actually designed by himself at the request of Gerald Giampa. Of the numerals 54 punched into the patterns, the serial number supposedly given by Lanston to Burgess’ design, he wrote: ‘Mr Giampa gave me a set of punches for use in numbering my own matrices. The design of these numerals is identical to those used to stamp “54” on the patterns reproduced on the cover of Printing History 31/32…’

Unless further evidence could be offered, the theory looked effectively sunk. As apparently was any further evidence. In 2000 Giampa’s house was flooded, ‘a century’s worth of printing history was lost’, says the FT, and the archive of Lanston drawings in the Smithsonian is now contaminated by asbestos and lead, so no-one can have a look.

The appeal of Mike Parker’s assertion is that everyone loves a story like this, but in the absence of further, better evidence, to me it doesn’t really have a leg to stand on. While I can see the promotional logic to Font Bureau of running out the story again — and here I am talking about it — it bothers me that if repeated often enough it may stick, and eventually become accepted as the truth, which on the evidence it has no grounds to be.

What are Ultrabold readers’ opinions on all this? Anyone who would like to read the original articles in full can find both issues of Printing History at St Bride Library. The FT article is online.