Robert Wiebking

image link-topic-sf0.jpg

What Edward P. Prince contributed to English private press printing when he engraved the punches for the Kelmscott Press fonts, the Doves Press fonts, and others, Robert Wiebking of Chicago contributed to fine printing in America. - R. Hunter Middleton. Chicago Letter Founding.

1. Summary

Chicago. 1870-1927.

Robert Weibking was one of the most important figures in Twentieth-century American type. He cut many of Goudy's early types (including Kennerley) as well as Bruce Rogers' Centaur. It is obvious why R. Hunter Middleton compared his role in American fine printing to that of Edward Prince in England (who cut the Golden, Troy and Chaucer types for Morris and the Doves type for Walker and Cobden-Sanderson). Yet he also provided the technical basis for the matrix making of the Ludlow Typograph Company, and therefore most of the newspaper display type of the Twentieth century. He also designed a creditable array of faces, including Artcraft. But he remains almost entirely unknown.

There are vanishingly few primary sources for Wiebking (see for example an advertisement for his Advance Type Foundry from 1913). The best sources that exist are a very few secondary sources from the 1930s by those who knew him.

Wiebking's history has several threads:

Note that several sources spell his name "Weibking" (I find myself typing it that way often, actually). But the advertisements published by Wiebking, Hardinge & Co. for their Advance Type Foundry and the patents by Hardinge assigned to that company confirm the spelling "Wiebking."

2. Chronology

This is a collated list of facts attested in the literature regarding Wiebking, together with a few other items to situate him in the history of matrix making and typefounding.

1870. Born November 25, in Schwelm, Westphalia (Kingdom of Prussia). Source: Werner (1932).

1870s. Herman Wiebking (father) using an engraving machine to cut matrices for cast metal lettering (but not for printing types). Source: Werner (1932).

1881. Family emigrated to US. Source: Werner (1932).

1882. Herman Wiebking engraved at least one matrix used for typecasting by Marder, Luse. Further details unknown. Source: Werner (1932).

[1882. First commercial typographical matrix engraving in America, at Central Type Foundry, with a pre-1880 machine of German manufacture. Source: Werner (various articles)]

1884. Robert Wiebking apprentices to C. H. Hanson, a Chicago-based commercial engraver. Source: Werner (1932), Middleton (1937). Period of indenture eight years. Source: Middleton (1937).

[1884. Benton, Waldo advertise a machine to engrave punches. Source: Inland Printer, July 1884. By the time of the amalgamation of Benton, Waldo & Co. into ATF in 1892, several Benton patrix/punch cutting pantographs were leased to electrolytic matrix making firms and composing machine manufacturers in the US and England. Source: Cost. The Bentons. (2011)]

[1888/9. Nicholas J. Werner and Gustave F. Schroeder leave the Central Type Foundry and set up an independent matrix engraving firm using the Central pantograph and another pantograph commissioned by Schroeder. Source: Werner ("St. Louis' Place...", "St. Louis in Typefounding History.", Loy. "Designers and Engravers of Type," No. 19 ("Nicholas J. Werner") Inland Printer. Vol. 23, No. 5 (1899-05) and No. 11 ("Gustav [sic] F. Schroeder"). Vol. 22, No. 3 (1898-12), p. 338.]

[1891. Werner and Schroeder dissolve partnership; continue matrix engraving as two independent entities. Sources: Werner, Loy.]

By 1891. Robert Wiebking marries Barbara Spahr. Sources: search for Robert Wiebking, revealing a listing for his spouse (Barbara Spahr) in the Cook County, Illinois Marriage Index, 1871-1920. The same search records her as his spouse in his death record (d. 1927) in the Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths index, 1916-1947.

1892-07-24. Birth of Robert P. Wiebking, son of Robert and Barbara Wiebking. Source 1: The April 27, 1942 US Selective Service (military draft) card for Robert P. Wiebking is online on the "" site. It gives his date of birth as July 24, 1892, his spouse as Edna Wiebking, and his employer as the Wiebking Engraving Co. Source 2: search for Robert Wiebking, revealing the birth of Robert P. Wiebking "abt. 1893" with a 1920 residence in Chicago, in the 1920 US federal census.

1894. Robert Wiebking and Henry H. Hardinge construct a matrix and punch engraving machine. Source: trade note in Inland Printer, 1913. "Ready to accept commissions for engraving punches or matrices." Source: Middleton 1937.

[1895. Inland Type Foundry formed; Werner associated with it at some point.]

1895. Birth of William H. Wiebking, son of Robert and Barbar Wiebking. Source: search, revealing this information from the 1910 and 1920 US federal censuses.

1896. Robert Wiebking and Henry H. Hardinge form partnership (not formally incorporated yet). Source: trade note in Inland Printer, 1913.

1899. Designed and cut Engravers' Roman for BB&S. This is the earliest identified type cut by Wiebking of which I am presently aware, but he had been in business since 1894.

[ca. 1899. L.B.Benton engraves his first matrices.]

1901. Robert Wiebking and Henry H. Hardinge partnership incorporated, as Wiebking, Harding & Co. Source: trade note in Inland Printer, 1913.

1902. Cut Goudy's Pabst for ATF. This was the first type he cut for Goudy, and Goudy's fifth type design.

1909. The Ludlow Typograph Company, which had not yet brought its machine to market, "established its own factory on the ground floor of the building occupied by ... Robert Wiebking." Source: Anon. [probably Middleton] William A. Reade: 1866-1930 (Privately printed, 1930) .

1909 - ca. 1912. Does contract punch engraving work for the Ludlow Typograph Company, and then provides them with pantograph engraving machines for their own use. Continues to do contract engraving work for Ludlow until his death. (See "Middleton on Wiebking and Ludlow" section, below)

1912. Ludlow 36 point Caslon Bold produced, either by Wiebking or by Ludlow on Wiebking-supplied equipment. Source: William A. Reade: 1866-1930.

1913. Wiebking, Harding & Co. begin the Advance Type Foundry formed; Source: trade note and various advertisements in Inland Printer, 1913.

1913. Some number of months before Sept., 1913, Wiebking, Harding & Co. sell Advance Type Foundry to Western Type Foundry Source: trade note in Printing Trade News, Vol. 45, No. 11 (Sept 9, 1913): 37

1913. Sept., 1913, Wiebking, Harding & Co. sell their own plant to Western Type Foundry Source: trade note in Printing Trade News, Vol. 45, No. 11 (Sept 9, 1913): 37

1913. Presumed, but not confirmed, that Wiebking began working for Western Type Foundry. Throughout the Advance and Western periods, it is likely that he continued independent commercial engraving work.

1914. Cuts Centaur for Bruce Rogers.

[1918. Western Type Foundry acquired by Barnhart Brothers and Spindler Sources: Various. I presume that Wiebking did not continue employment with BB&S, but have no evidence one way or the other.]

1918-1921. Several types cut for Goudy (in this period just after the acquisition of Western by BB&S).

1921. Goudy sends drawings for Lining Gothic (Goudy No. 41) to Wiebking, "who for some reason did not cut the matrices as quickly as I thought he should, and so I recalled the drawings." Source: Goudy. A Half-Century of Type Design and Typography (1946) .

1922. Designed and cut Laclede Oldstyle for Laclede Type Foundry (renamed Munder Venezian by BB&S)

1925. Cut Goudy's Marlboro / Marlborough. This was the last type he cut for Goudy, and Goudy's 52nd type design.

1927. Death of Robert Wiebking. June 25. Sources: Werner (1932). An search also confirms a listing for the 1927 death of Robert Wiebking (son of Herman Wiebking, husband of Barbara Wiebking) in the Illinois Deaths and Stillbirths Index, 1916-1947.

3. Portrait

To the best of my knowledge there is only one published portrait of him. It is from N. J. Werner's article "Wiebking Created Popular Faces in Chicago, Friend Discloses" The Inland Printer Vol. 90, No. 2 (November 1932): 71-73. Click on it for the 1200dpi original scan (24 Megabytes).

[click image to view larger]

image link-to-inland-printer-v090-n2-1932-11-1200rgb-0071-wiebking-portrait-photograph-sf0.jpg

4. Advance Type Foundry Literature

The following summary appeared in the "Trade Notes" section of The Inland Printer, Vol. 50, No. 6 (March, 1913): 914. Note, however, that the spelling Wiebking's name (here "Weibking") is incorrect; the correct spelling of "Wiebking" is confirmed by the ads placed by the firm later in 1913. It is also not true that Wiebking and Hardinge were the first to construct a matrix engraver. The earliest known machine used in America was the Central Type Foundry machine, which originated in Germany and was cutting matrices by 1882. By the time Wiebking started in 1894, commercial matrix engraving services had been available from Nicholas J. Werner and from Gustave F. Schroeder, first in partnership (1888) and then independently (1891), for several years. Linn Boyd Benton, however, did not adapt his patrix and punch engraving pantograph to direct matrix engraving until 1899. Still, this trade notice is important because it dates the partnership of Wiebking and Hardinge (the date fits what is otherwise known of Hardinge's career).

[click image to view larger]

image ../../../../noncomptype/typography/advance/link-to-inland-printer-v050-1912-10-1913-03-hathi-umn-319510018987754-p0914-img1054-sf0.jpg

(From the Hathi/Google digitization of the University of Minnesota copy. Hathi ID umn.319510018987754)

Very little information survives about the Advance Type Foundry. For more, see the main entry for Advance Type Foundry (Wiebking, Harding, and Co.)

5. Werner (1932)

Nicholas J. Werner was a St. Louis based printer and matrix engraver. He was at the Central Type Foundry when they were the first in America to cut matrices by pantograph engraving (in 1882) and later (ca. 1888/9) went on to form the first independent matrix engraving firm with Gustave Schroeder. In his later years, he wrote frequently for The Inland Printer and other publications.

Werner is our primary first-hand source for a number of important events in the history of matrix making and typefounding (e.g., the first matrix engraving). In writing on these matters, my impression has been that Werner is an accurate source with the exception of exact dates. He wrote primarily of things with which he was personally involved, but wrote of them long after they happened. So I believe that one can rely on him for the fact of some occurrance, but should cross-check the dates against other sources. (By way of contrast, Henry Lewis Bullen, a contemporary of Werner's who wrote even more extensively, fabricated much of what he wrote on these matters and cannot, therefore, be relied upon for anything.)

[click image to read]

image link-to-inland-printer-v090-n2-1932-11-0600grey-0071-073-werner-on-wiebking-sf0.jpg

Werner (1932)

"Wiebking Created Popular Faces in Chicago, Friend Discloses" The Inland Printer Vol. 90, No. 2 (November 1932): 71-73. This is the only contemporary article on Wiebking of which I am aware. It appeared five years after his death.

It is almost certain that Werner knew Wiebking personally. The statement in the third column of the first page, "He once told me that his father used an engraving machine as far back as 1875..." confirms this. He also indicates that he obtained information both from Robert Wiebking's son and brother, Robert P. Wiebking and Adolf Wiebking, respectively.

Because it is such an important source, I'll cite here some of the items of fact from the article:

Robert Wiebking's father was Herman Wiebking. There were three sons (Robert, Adolf, John) and one daughter (Hedwig).

Robert Wiebking born 1870-11-25 in Schwelm, Westphalia. The article says "Germany," but at the time this would have been the Kingdom of Prussia.

His family emigrated to the US in 1881.

Robert Wiebking married (wife not mentioned) and had three children (Robert P., William H., and Frances C.) Robert P. Wiebking and William H. Wiebking became engravers [whether commercial engravers or type engravers is not specified].

Robert Wiebking was employed as a basket weaver in Chicago until 1884. Then worked for C. H. Hanson, of Chicago (a commercial engraver).

Robert Wiebking started his own business in 1893, "having made connections with" the Crescent Type Foundry and the Independent Type Foundry. Note: I have not yet found any other references to the Independent Type Foundry, and am not yet certain that it really existed.

Werner says that Wiebking was in partnership with H. H. Hardinge from 1900 to 1914, and that during this time they "started their Advance Type Foundry." These dates require checking, however. The press releases for the Advance Type Foundry indicate that the working relationship of the two dates at least to 1894 and the formal inception of their partnership to 1896. The Advance Type Foundry itself existed for only a few months. McGrew dates its first face, Artcraft, to 1912. However, there is no evidence of the foundry in The Inland Printer until March 1913. Further, there is evidence that both the Advance Type Foundry and the plant of Wiebking, Hardinge & Co. were sold to the Western Type Foundry before the end of 1913.

The Advance Type Foundry merged with the Western Type Foundry. Werner implies that Wiebking stayed with the Western Type Foundry and that when it "was made a branch of Barnhart Brothers & Spindler in 1919, he once again became an engraver..." Here again Werner's dates require checking, as other sources give the date of the acquisition of Western by BB&S as 1918.

Werner discusses briefly the typecasting machinery that Hardinge and Wiebking developed. This was patented in Hardinge's name; see the Hardinge Type Caster Notebook for more information. Henry H. Hardinge was one of the brothers who founded the famous Hardinge machine tool firm. Hardinge has, therefore, serious credibility as a machine designer. No evidence survives as to the relative contributions of Hardinge and Wiebking to the pantograph engraving machines used by the Wiebking/Hardinge partnership and the Ludlow Typograph Company .

Robert Wiebking died on June 25, 1927.

As to matrix engraving, Werner says that according to either his own conversation with Wiebking or Robert P. Weibking's recollection (the writing is ambiguous) Herman Wiebking "used an engraving machine as far back as 1875, possibly in 1870." Citing Adolf Wiebking, Werner says "My father's original engraving machine was made by somebody in Berlin, possibly during 1870 or even before..."

Adolf Wiebking further noted that Herman Wiebking "cut matrices and cast up metal letters in 1878 to 1880, before he came to the United States." He would appear to have used a hand mold for casting. It would also appear, though, that these letters were not used for printing but instead for signage (such as door signs).

Citing either his own conversation or Robert P. Wiebking, Werner says that Herman Wiebking "engraved a matrix, in 1882, from which type was cast by Marder, Luse & Company" and that Robert Wiebking "engraved his first successful matrices in 1894." To put this in context of contemporary machine engraving for type, the Central Type Foundry was engraving matrices by 1882. Benton was engraving patrices and punches by 1884, but did not engrave matrices until fifteen years later, circa 1899. Schroeder & Werner were providing independent matrix engraving services by 1888/9 (cutting, inter alia, DeVinne).

Werner cites the following types as designed by Wiebking (the dates in [square brackets] are from McGrew and other sources). This is not the order Werner lists these in; I've sorted by approximate date/foundry. It is an interesting project to try to work out where or for whom Wiebking was working at what time, based on the dates of the typefaces. For example, it is presumed that he was employed by Western Type Foundry after they acquired Advance Type Foundry and the plant of Wiebking, Hardinge & Co. in 1913. Yet he cut the 1914 Engravers' Litho Bold for BB&S, as well as other faces independently (e.g., Rogers' Centaur in 1914). My own suspicion (though I cannot verify this) is that there was no point between his first workable pantograph in 1894 and his death in 1927 at which Robert Wiebking was not equipped to do commercial matrix engraving work.

He notes that Wiebking engraved the original matrices for Bruce Rogers' Centaur for hand setting, and that Rogers confirmed this in print. He says as well that Wiebking engraved "the twelve-point size of a face designed by Dr. George Parker Holden ... intended to demonstrate his ideas regarding a readable letter."

Werner's article also has some interesting historical information on early matrix engraving, not strictly related to Wiebking. Significantly, he implies that traditional punchcutting and the electroforming of matrices from engraved patrices are methods of equal validity, and he discusses the history of the non-Benton pantograph engraver used (inter alia) by the Central Type Foundry .

6. Middleton

The other principal secondary source for information on Wiebking is in R. Hunter Middleton's book Chicago Letter Founding. (Chicago: The Black Cat Press, 1937.) Middleton was the chief type designer for the Ludlow Typograph Company (which had been equipped with Wiebking engraving pantographs) and knew Wiebking personally.

6.1. Middleton on Wiebking, Generally

Middleton gives the following facts about Wiebking:

His father was Herman Wiebking. He was born in what Middleton cites as "Schwelem, Germany." This is almost certainly "Schwelm," which at the time would have been a part of the Kingdom of Prussia. The Wiebking family emigrated to the US in 1881. Middleton says that Robert Wiebking was 11 at this time, putting his year of birth at approximately 1870 (this matches Werner's account, above).

Middleton says that "the elder Wiebking brought his matrix engraving machine with him from Germany," but does not indicate that he (Herman) did anything with it. Herman Wiebking died in "the late [18]eighties." In another work ( Making Printers' Typefaces. (Chicago: The Black Cat Press, 1938)) Middleton says "It is not generally known, but a fact, that Robert Wiebking developed an engraving machine of his own design, the model of which was brought to America by his father in 1881. This machine was protected behind the walls of his shop [i.e., through trade secrecy] rather than by patents."

Robert Wiebking apprenticed in 1884 to C. H. Hanson, a Chicago commercial engraver, for eight years.

Two years after leaving Hanson, he "was ready to accept commissions for engraving punches or matrices. This puts the start of his matrix engraving business at 1884 + 8 + 2 = 1894. This matches the 1913 Inland Printer trade note cited earlier.

6.2. Middleton on Wiebking's Type Designs

Middleton cites the following typefaces designed and cut (not merely cut) by Robert Wiebking. It is substantially the same list as that presented by Werner. (As I did above, I've rearranged these by date and foundry (when known)):

6.3. Middleton on Wiebking's Work for Goudy

Middleton (pp. 18-19) presents two lists of typefaces designed by Goudy and cut by Wiebking. The first of these is a list kept by Wiebking himself. The second is derived from Goudy's account in Story of the Village Type. Here I've combined these two lists in chronological order, based upon the dates given in Goudy's A Half-Century of Type Design and Typography (1946) . In [square brackets] after each name I've indicated the list it came from ('W' for Wiebking's list, 'G' for Goudy's), the number and date assigned to this type in A Half Century, and various other remarks.

In addition to the types noted above, Middleton also cites two types from Wiebking's list of types he cut for Goudy which do not appear in Goudy's own list (or in McGrew, or in Bruckner's biography of Goudy). One of these is "Goudy Solid." (Goudy Open (No. 34, 1918) was cut before a "filled-in" version, but that was called Goudy Modern (No. 35, also 1918) and is already accounted for in Wiebking's list.) The other is "Forum Bold."

6.4. Middleton on Wiebking's Other Matrix Engraving Work

The only non-Goudy non-Wiebking face listed by Middleton as cut by Wiebking is:

Middleton also says that "The casual records kept by Robert Wiebking disclose no reliable dates." During Wiebking's career from 1894 to 1927, Chicago was a major center of typefounding and he was its preeminent matrix engraver. It is certain that he must have engraved many more types than these.

(See also the section on Middleton on Wiebking and Ludlow, below.)

6.5. Middleton on Wiebking and Ludlow

Middleton describes Wiebking's associations with the early Ludlow Typograph company in admirably tactful terms. Ludlow "purchased one of Wiebking's engraving machines" and provided a "brief period of tutelage in engraving methods" to "[launch] the Ludlow Company on an independent engraving program." He notes: "Mr. Wiebking lived to see the Ludlow Company succeed and to find in the 'upstart' a constant and reliable client. It is also gratifying to record that Wiebking continued to do Ludlow engraving work until his death on June 25, 1927."

The dating of Ludlow typefaces is difficult, and sometimes impossible. By the first bound specimen book of June 1930 (three years after Wiebking's death) Ludlow was showing series through 28-H (Tempo Medium). Some unknown number of earlier Ludlow faces, therefore, must have been cut not by Ludlow by by Wiebking on commission. Middleton's remarks also imply that Wiebking was engaged not only in direct matrix engraving but also in punch engraving, since matrices for most of Ludlow's faces, and all faces in smaller (for Ludlow) sizes, were punched rather than cut. Middleton confirms this in ( Making Printers' Typefaces , where he refers to "a brief tutelage on punch engraving by Mr. Wiebking."

7. 21st Century Accounts

One of the few tertiary sources devoted to Wiebking is a very nice article by George Everet Thompson, "Robert Wiebking 1870-1927." This is online on his website, The Spurius Press, at When citing from it, though, it would be well to doublecheck historical items against Werner's 1932 article and type/matrix attributions against McGrew.

There is also a Wikipedia article on Wiebking.

It is always wise to verify modern accounts (including this present Notebook!) against original sources.

Select Resolution: 0 [other resolutions temporarily disabled due to lack of disk space]