The John Stevens Shop in Newport, RI. Founded in 1705 by an English im­mi­grant.

What we do is this: We use a brush to draw let­ter­ing on pa­per, then we carve that let­ter­ing into stone. We do sim­ple com­mis­sions like house num­bers, to huge things like the Martin Luther King Memorial (that one had a cus­tom type­face and was carved in place).

People look at it this process and think: Why would you draw and carve by hand when you could use dig­i­tal type and a CNC mill. It’s a tra­di­tion that has been handed down for gen­er­a­tions.

Bensons grand­fa­ther came from New york, Where he had been trained as an artist. He saw colo­nial grave­stones in the area and un­der­stood im­me­di­ately how in­di­vid­ual and beau­ti­ful and hand­made these things were. In colo­nial times there were few ex­am­ples for en­gravers to look at for let­ter­ing and or­na­men­ta­tion, so they de­vel­oped both as one uni­fied piece of de­sign.

As graphic stan­dards start to de­velop in North America, you start to see let­ter­ing that be­comes more like type. Gravestones started to look more ty­po­graphic, like pages of books, or broad­sheet news­pa­pers. You even start to see heav­ier faces.

In the 19th cen­tury peo­ple tried to make their let­ter­ing look me­chan­i­cal rather than hand­made, and liked nat­u­ral­is­tic or­na­men­taion.

In the 1920s when sand blasted en­grav­ing be­came a thing the grand­fa­ther was­n’t in­ter­ested. He kept do­ing it by hand fol­low­ing the coloni­nal model but ap­ply­ing his own sen­si­bil­ity.

Eventualy he started look­ing at Roman let­ter­ing. Edward Catich re­alised that Roman let­ter­ing was made with a broad edge brush be­fore be­ing en­graved. If you look at the forms you see that they come from brush work.

In the Renaissance that brush skill was lost. In Romain du Roi and sim­i­lar ef­forts they try to fig­ure out how to con­struct the let­ters with geom­e­try. Giovanni Francesco Cresci made some beau­ti­ful let­ters that tried to look like ro­man cap­i­tals but where ac­tu­ally me­chan­i­cally made.

Catich: The Origin of the Serif (1968) has be­come the bible of Roman brush let­ter­ing. These let­ters where pro­duced by a set of brush strokes that pro­duce the lively forms you see.

The grand­fa­ther got that tech­inque, some Carolingian min­isu­cle, some chancery italic. Catich was most in­ter­sted in com­ing as close to the Roman orig­i­nal as he could, but the grand­fa­ther did more mod­ern let­ters but fol­low­ing some of the same prin­ci­ples. All of it holds to­gether re­ally beau­ti­fully.

He was­n’t afraid to change the let­ters, chang­ing pro­por­tions, ter­mi­nals and such.

Inspiration from Rudolf Koch, Dwiggins, Herman Zapf. The work of the fa­ther be­came more pol­ished than the grand­fa­thers work.

In the 1980s the com­puter comes around and peo­ple think the shop is screwed. The dad saw the ma­chine as a tool, with­out knowl­edge of let­ter­forms you have noth­ing. He used a com­puter to do the FDR mon­u­ment in Washington. There’s dig­i­tal type used there, but many of the let­ters there are still brushed on the wall by hand. The first to do that con­nec­tion.

Louis Kahn NYC FDR memo­r­ial. The cen­tral in­scrip­tion for that is in this con­crete area. It’s an ex­cerpt from four free­doms. Yale uni­ver­sity are gallery let­ter­ing was the source for the type­face.