Theodore Low De Vinne

Theodore Low De Vinne was born on December 25th, 1828 in Stamford Connecticut to his father Daniel, an abolitionist, Methodist circuit rider, and author, and mother Joanna Augusta Low De Vinne. De Vinne was the second oldest of six sons and attended public schools in Catskill, amenia, and white plains, New York (Koenig, 2022). He started his career at the age of fourteen when he began an apprenticeship with the Newburgh, New York, Gazettes printer. De Vinne got married to Grace Brockbank in 1850 and started work as a journeyman compositor for Francis Hart, who made him a partner with ownership in 1858 and renamed the business Francis Hart & Company.

De Vinne was the secretary for Typothetae of the City of New York and became president of the Typothetae of America when it began in 1887. After being established as a printer, he began to organize the printing trade and set realistic prices for printers by producing The Printers’ Price List: A Manual for the Use of Clerks and Bookkeepers in Job Printing (Encyclopedia, 2022).

Meanwhile, Francis Hart & Company became the printer for the nation’s foremost children’s magazine, Scribner and Company’s St. Nicholas. They were so pleased with the quality of printing, that they awarded Francis Hart the printing of Scribner’s Monthly in 1876 (Encyclopedia, 2022). Hart passed away shortly after in 1883, and De Vinne bought the rest of the firm and renamed it De Vinne Press and became the prime source of quality printing. He gained more than 300 people working for him in a seven-story building (Encyclopedia, 2022). His career was thriving.

De Vinne enjoyed functional typefaces and had the slogan “legibility first, decoration last” (Encyclopedia, 2022). He invented the two type fonts, the Renner and the Century family. He designed the Renner alongside Henry Brehmer in 1898, which was inspired by a Venetian printer Franz Renner and the Century family with Linn Boyd Benton. Century typefaces are essential due to their rating of being highly readable in legibility studies (Encyclopedia, 2022). There is a typeface that goes by the name De Vinne, which despite popular belief, was not invented by Theodore Low De Vinne but was named in his honor (Encyclopedia, 2022).

De Vinne not only invented typefaces but also invented the use of coated paper for printing woodcuts in 1875. He was also a part designing printing presses and was among one of the first printers to use the Linotype machine for bookwork in 1891(Encyclopedia, 2022). His innovation continued to the early twentieth century when he was among the first to begin experimenting with printing in color, which led to him winning the gold Special Medal of Award of the American Institute of Graphic Arts in 1908 for his work on four-color-process printing (Encyclopedia, 2022).

Come the mid-nineteenth century; people started to debate who was the true inventor of modern printing. De Vinne insisted that the invention of printing has to be defined in order to identify the actual inventor. In his book The Invention of Printing, he narrowed the invention of printing as a whole to the creation of the type mold. This meant that Gutenberg was the true inventor of the type mold and printing altogether (Encyclopedia, 2022). De Vinne wrote many more essential books on the history of typeface and contributed lots of knowledge and mastery of the subject. While researching for his writing of The Invention of Printing, he curated an extensive collection of books on history.

De Vinne passed away in New York on February 16th, 1914, at the late age of 85(Britannica, 2022). When he passed, his collection of books was put into three categories of American history books, a typographical library that had been maintained at the De Vinne Press, and his printing history books (Encyclopedia, 2022). These collections were distributed to both Columbia University and the Newberry Library of Chicago. Rare books librarian, Henrietta Bartless at Yale University, acknowledged his collection and stated that he had created “the finest library on the history of printing which has ever been offered for sale in this country” (Encyclopedia, 2022). Theodore Low De Vinne was one of the most essential printers to this day due to his type design, business, book collection, and dedication.



“De Vinne, Theodore Low 1828-1914.”,, 5 Apr. 2022,

The Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica. “Theodore L. De Vinne.” Encyclopædia Britannica, Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 12 Feb. 2022,

Koenig, Michael. “De Vinne and the De Vinne Press.” The Library Quarterly: Information, Community, Policy, vol. 41, no. 1, 1971, pp. 1–24, Accessed 5 Apr. 2022.