When in the course of human events
On the Fourth of July, Americans celebrate the Declaration of Independence, a document. Jefferson’s beautiful handwritten version may be the most treasured. But the Declaration was quickly set in type, in Caslon ironically since it was the established typeface of the country we were rebelling against.
The first broadside was printed by John Dunlap, posted throughout the colonies, sent to the troops, and one copy to England. (The power of the press.)
Dunlap was in a hurry, and while the headline type was brash, there were typos, and only two signers, John Hancock and Charles Thompson. Plus his own credit at the bottom.
Leave it to a woman to get it right. The next January in Baltimore, after the state of New York signed, making it unanimous, Congress ordered a bigger press run from Mary Katherine Goddard, who signed it as well. A prominent publisher, printer and bookseller, Goddard reset the Declaration in two columns, so you can read it. She calmed down the display type, and set the signatures elegantly, grouped with braces and brackets by state, and then added her own signature. It’s still in Caslon.
Dan Reynolds, a Baltimore native who lives in Berlin, pointed on Facebook to a broadside in German that was published in Philadelphia soon after the signing in July 1776.
Thomas Jefferson’s original manuscript is the New York Public Library digital collection. To paraphrase JFK, the typography inspired by the Declaration is the most extraordinary collection of design talent ever devoted to a single-page document—with the possible exception of when Thomas Jefferson wrote one out by hand.
More information about Goddard is in a July 4th post by the (coincidentally eponymous?) Mary Katharine Ham in The Federalist.com. She talks about Goddard’s bravery and strength, and relates “She never married, and her short will mentions only one person—a slave named Belinda Starling, to whom she willed her freedom and ‘all the property of which I may die possessed, all which I do to recompense the faithful performance of duties to me.’”
The New York printer and artist, Mary Belloff, produced a handset, letterpress reprint of the Goddard broadside at her Intima Press in 2009. An overview is here, which is linked to a fascinating project timeline.
Nick Sherman goes into detail about Caslon and the Declaration in a 2012 post about the Dunlap broadside in Fonts In Use.