University of Virginia Library

BY 1800 BINNY AND RONALDSON WERE DOING rather well for themselves financially. It was only four years before that James Ronaldson, deciding not to rebuild his fire-gutted bakery, had become the partner of Archibald Binny, just arrived from Edinburgh equipped with the skill and tools of type founding. The two men formed an excellent combination: one the business man, the other the craftsman, and both were canny Scots. After a short period of partnership they absorbed the New York foundry of Adam Mappa and later expanded their own shop in Philadelphia. At the turn of the nineteenth century they owned the only foundry in the United States casting English letters.

But like most of the other manufacturers of this period, they constantly faced the problem of maintaining an adequate supply of raw materials. Although some of these could be procured in America, many others had to be imported, so Congress, attempting to encourage native manufacturing, admitted a number of items duty free. Importation, however, was a time-consuming process and an expensive one; if, like antimony, the material did not appear on the free list, the duty to be paid was large. When Binny and Ronaldson received approximately three tons in 1800, they were charged the sum of $161.54 as duty. The partners paid the bill, but not without protest. On January 8, 1802, this petition[1] was read in the House of Representatives:


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To the Honourable the Senate and House of Representatives of the United States

The Petition of Binny & Ronaldson Letter Founders in Philadelphia

Respectfully Sheweth

That your Petitioners have established the Manufacture of Printing Types in Philadelphia, in the prosecution of which they have had many obstacles to encounter, which by industry, attention, and œconomy, they have hitherto surmounted—That the high price of the Metals of which their Types are composed, together with the difficulty of procuring some of them, particularly Regulus of Antimony, is a considerable bar to the success of their establishment —That after many unsuccessful endeavours to procure Regulus, or Antimony from which it might be extracted, in this Country, they have been obliged to send to Europe for it, and with much difficulty and after long delay they succeeded in procuring a quantity of it in London at a very high price, which for the sake of greater security they directed to be shipped in two different vessels, and it was accordingly sent out on board the Susanna and the Pennsylvania, who both arrived in the Delaware in October 1800—That Regulus of Antimony being a new material, not to be procured in this Country and imported for the express purpose of being Manufactured here, they did not expect any duty would have been charged upon its importation, and therefore applied to the Collector of this Port who informed them that he had no power to remit the Duties—That they then applied to Oliver Wolcott Esqr. Secretary of the Treasury who answered them as follows

Treasury Department Novr. 13. 1800

I have received yours of the October 1800, and feel every disposition to oblige you and to encourage the business which you have undertaken as far as I am authorized by Law, and am sorry that in the present instance it will not permit a compliance with your request, it not being in my power to remit Duties expressly imposed by Act of Congress.

I am
with consideration
Messrs. Binny &Ronaldson Philadelphia}
Your obt. Sert.
Oliver Wolcott

That your Petitioner feel themselves constrained to apply to Congress for relief in the present instance, which from your Justice and laudable inclination to encourage the rising Manufactures of the United States, they have the fullest confidence of obtaining, when it is recollected that all other articles of a similar nature, as far as they were understood at the time of enumerating the Duties, have been expressly exempted, such as Tin, Pewter, Copper, Brass-wire


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&c.—and Regulus of Antimony would doubtless have also been exempted had it been adverted to, or its uses been known in the Country at that time—That as Regulus of Antimony may be advantageously used in several other branches of Manufacture, and is applicable to no other purpose, your Petitioners submit to this Honourable Body the propriety of remitting the Duties in the present instance and exempting the articles in future, in which case the loss to the Revenue would be trifling indeed and the encouragement to several useful branches of Manufacture very considerable.

The amount of the Duties prayed to be remitted are as follows

Cwt. qrs. lb. 
36 . . 0 . . 0.  Imported in the Susanna-----------------  $102.48 
20 . . 1 . .22.  D°. in the Pennsylvania----------------  59.06 

May it therefore please your Honours to remit the Duties in the above instance, and to exempt Regulus of Antimony from Duty in future, or to grant such other relief in the premises as to your wisdom may seem proper

Archd. Binny
James Ronaldson.

Such a petition was not unusual and the House referred it, along with others, to the Committee of Commerce and Manufactures. The Committee must have studied these petitions very carefully for on February 10, 1802, it submitted a detailed report recommending various changes in the tariff. The Committee stated that

such manufactures as are obviously capable of affording to the United States an adequate supply of their several and respective objects, ought to be promoted by the aid of Government. Two modes of administering this aid have presented themselves to your committee: The one, to permit, free of duty, the importation of such gross articles as are essential to those manufactures. The other, to impose higher duties on such articles (on importation) as can be supplied by our own citizens to advantage.[2]
And in this vein it recommended that the duty on regulus of antimony be lifted and that the duty on imported printing types be twenty per cent ad valorem—an increase of seven and a half per cent.


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The news might well have remained buried in the list of proposed duties on such items as fur hats, glue, tarred cordage, pickled fish, and dried fish. But to one journalist, William Duane, publisher of the Philadelphia Aurora, who was in Washington hoping to get the government contract for printing and stationery, this was exciting information. In fact, it is probably true that the duty on type was increased at his suggestion. In 1800 he had married Margaret Bache, widow of Benjamin Franklin Bache, the owner of the Aurora as well as of the type founding materials which Benjamin Franklin had brought from France in 1786. Thus Duane could appreciate the possibilities of establishing a lucrative type foundry once imported types were priced prohibitively high. He proceeded immediately to notify the Aurora. Five days later, it printed the following:

From the Editor.
Washington, February 10, 1802.
The duty on Antimony is taken off.
A duty on foreign types of 20 per cent. laid on.[3]

This laconic communication set off a chain reaction which was felt in six cities. A narrative of the effects in chronological order would be confusing even if more scientific. Instead, they will be described city by city.