By the Numbers no. 2—Fat Faces in New England Cemeteries
This second installment of By the Numbers is devoted to examples of Fat Faces found on gravestones in cemeteries in Massachusetts and Maine. Fat Faces are neoclassical (didone) types in which the thick strokes have been made even heavier while the thin ones remain thin. They first appeared in England at the beginning of the 19th century.  Aimed at advertising and commercial printing, rather than book printing, they quickly spread to other countries, including the United States. Here are four versions of Fat Faces issued by British foundries between 1815 and 1825. The last three show the style at its zenith with counters made as small as possible. As regards numerals, the 2, 5, and 7 tend to have the most variety of form. This will be especially evident in the American gravestones.
American foundries copied many of their types from their British contemporaries. This was certainly true of the Fat Faces shown by the Boston Type and Stereotype Company in its 1837 specimen book (see below). Their versions of Fat Faces were the most likely ones that Massachusetts and Maine lettercarvers had as models of the new style. But they did not copy them slavishly.
The lettercarvers invented their own interpretions of Fat Faces. The gravestones that are shown here come from cemeteries in Massachusetts and Maine.  The dates of death range from 1815 to 1855, but those are not necessarily the dates when the gravestones were carved. The heyday of Fat Faces—based on the cemeteries I have visited—was from the mid-1820s to the end of the 1850s. The stones are almost universally slate and most are very deeply and sharply carved. They often have a surprisingly mechanical appearance. Fat Faces continued to be used into the 1860s as marble replaced slate as the principal material for gravestones, but the tendency of marble to “sugar” has resulted in softened letters and numerals, deprived of power and charm.
The Benjamin Gates (1788–1815) gravestone is unlikely to have been carved the year of his death. But the looseness of the Fat Face letters suggests that it was carved without reference to typographic models. Of particular note are the A, G, g, and &. The numerals are relatively staid.
The gravestone of Stephen Sawin (d. 1843), with “DIED” carved in imitation of Caslon Italian, indicates that the lettercarver was aware of typographic models.  Among the numerals, the narrow, high-waisted 7 in the date stands out. It almost struts.
Although the gravestone for Mary Houghton (1779–1834) is in Bolton, the oval border is similar to the one for Benjamin Gates in Ashby less than 4o miles away. It is likely that the same lettercarver was responsible for both. But these are more mature letters and numerals. Note the upper story of 3 with its curl instead of a ball terminal. This is something not found in the typefounders specimens.
This gravestone for John Quincy Adams (1830–1837) and Frances Ame Adams (1824–1838), brother and sister who died young. The Q has an amazingly plump tail, but the numerals are less exciting. The 2 has the curled top found in the 3 in the Mary Houghton and Stephen Sawin gravestones rather than the ball terminal of the Benjamin Gates gravestone.
The carving of the John M. Houston (1797–1820) gravestone is not cut as sharply and deeply as the others shown here. The letters are more hesitant which makes it unsurprising to find a mistake in the date. A zero has been carved over a 1 and a second comma was added even though the original one would have sufficed. The 8 seems to be formed from a small circle hiding behind a larger one, almost like the moon behind the sun.
The numerals from the gravestones of Samuel Stowers (d. 1825) and Elizabeth Stowers (d. 1836) in Sandy Point, Maine are very different from those in the Bolton and Ashby, Massachusetts gravestones. The 2 has a ball terminal and a flat base; the 5 has a sharply pointed horizontal stroke; and the 7 has a distinctive join of its horizontal and diagonal strokes. These characters have no direct typographic counterparts.
The gravestone of Mary Butman (1771–1848) is notable for the way in which the numeral 7 has been constructed. The horizontal stroke curves sharply upward at the right and then swoops back down in a curve that swells to form the numeral’s base. The 4 and 8 are crudely carved, with the latter appearing top heavy in the left instance and lopsided in the right one.
The most intersting aspect of the gravestone of Mary Gilmore (1765–1849) is the contra italic used for the name of her husband John Gilmore (not shown here). However, the form of the numeral 2 is worthy of attention. It is the only numeral that is not narrow. Although its basic form can be traced back to that of 2 in the Four-Line Pica, No. 3 of Caslon & Livermore (1825) shown at the top of this post, the Gilmore numeral has more pizzaz. For some odd reason it reminds me of the profiles of men and women in drawings by Saul Steinberg.
This sheet of rubbings shows the variety of interpretation of the form of numerals that existed at the same time, even in a small community such as Pleasantville, Maine. Look especially at the 2 and 7.
The numerals of the gravestone for Joshua Lawrence (1783–1853) are fairly ordinary, except for the voluptuous 7. It has the appearance of an upside-down 2.
The numerals from the gravestone of Mary Gilmore (1838–1861) are especially lively. The two parts of the 7 only barely touch and the horizontal stroke swells like gnocchi. The 5 is even more dagger-like than the one on the Samuel Stowers gravestone. But despite his deft touch with these numerals, the carver stumbled over the form of the 8.
The gravestone of Edward McGrath (1819–1855) is made of marble. The numerals are deeply carved, but they lack the brilliance of those cut in slate. The tipsiness of the 2 and 8 suggests that the carver may have traced models onto the stone. (Don’t miss the shadowed “DIED” which imitates typefaces offered by wood type manufacturers.)
I showed the gravestone of Capt. David H. Libby (1803–1836) in one of my 2009 gravestone typography posts. Back then my focus was on the Caslon Italian used for “DIED,” but here the emphasis is on the numerals, especially the chunky 2. What is notable about this gravestone is that the text has been carved in relief.
1. Robert Thorne’s Double Pica No. 2, shown in his specimen of 1803, is usually considered to be the first instance of a fat face type. The phrase “fat types” originated with William Savage, who used it in his Practical Hints on Decorative Printing (London: Longman, Hurst, Rees, Orme, and Brown, 1822), p. 72 of the Appendix.
2. Maine was a province of Massachusetts from the 1650s until 1820 when it gained statehood as part of The Missouri Compromise of 1820. Thus, lettercarvers in Maine in the early 19th century were likely to have been influenced by trends in Boston.
3. For a history of Caslon Italian, see “The ‘Italian’ Monstrosity” by James Clough in Tipotalia 1 (2009) and “A Short History of the Italian” by David Shields in Ultrabold: The Journal of St. Bride Library (Summer 2009). For the use of Caslon Italian in American gravestones see my 2009 Blue Pencil posts on gravestone typography.