Mindy Belloff of Intima Press has produced an exquisite re-creation of the 1777 Goddard Declaration of Independence, employing the techniques of its day: set one letter at a time, printed letterpress on period-style paper. Here, Arianna Orland explores with Belloff the challenges involved in crafting this extraordinary facsimile … and why we should carefully consider the Declaration’s relevance today.
Q: What inspired you?
I first saw the document at an exhibition in 2008 that featured a number of Declaration of Independence broadsides. The broadside that stood out was a unique two-column design. The colophon read that it was printed by Mary Katharine Goddard. I became interested in her as a colonial American woman printer, did some research and learned she was also postmistress of Baltimore for 14 years.
This is the second letterpress printing of the Declaration. Congress commissioned an edition of only 13 copies in January of 1777, one for each of the colonies. The Goddard printing was the first copy to reveal all the signers’ names. The thing that still gives me chills is Goddard had the courage to put her name at the bottom of the document, along with the Founding Fathers, putting herself at risk for treason — and probably death — if the British had prevailed.
Q: I understand you went back and forth on making one small change to the document. What was it?
I’m not sure it is a small change. As a woman of my generation, I can’t imagine setting the words “all Men are created equal” in type. My initial inclination was to make the Declaration gender-inclusive — that “all People are created equal.” I was trying to understand what “all Men” meant in 1776. Whether it was “all men” or “all white men,” or “all mankind” is still being debated today. This is why I decided to print a second, inclusive version in the coming months, in addition to the facsimile I completed in December.
Q: What were some of the challenges in setting the type?
The biggest challenge was the font, Caslon — I had to order it from my typecaster. It arrived in batches over a three-week period. The amount of type was overwhelming. I hand set over 7500 characters, not including spacing material, and I’m sure I was sent over 10,000 pieces of type.
The other issue was that certain pieces of type were sent after I had begun. My typecaster forgot to cast some of the “long s and t” ligatures that look like ft, so I had to set the document with other letters and swipe them out later. It took a lot of time getting used to using the ligatures and the long s. For example, the word Happiness looks like Happinefs.
Towards the end of setting the text, I ran out of upper case Ps and Ds and lowercase ds, which were cast and sent express mail — quite a luxury compared to the late 18th century.
I took pica measurements from the original, so I could re-create the spacing and leading. The signers’ names are set in small caps and italics, all 11 pt. on a 12-pt. body, with some 6-pt. superscripts and 6-pt. spacers. The large W is 72 pt. There are over 800 of the letter e but less than 20 of j and k.
Q: Is the Declaration facsimile for sale?
Yes. It is printed in two colors and presented in a portfolio with a collection of essays. I received permission from the Library of Congress to re-create John Hancock’s signature, which I printed from a polymer plate. The edition is limited to 100 copies. The current price is $400.
Q: What can we look forward to in the future from you?
I am beginning a new book edition with etching and letterpress, with images inspired by a gothic building in Manhattan. There is most likely another historical document in the future, but it will have to wait until I rewrite the Declaration of Independence and print Version 2!
Mindy Belloff creates fine book editions and offers custom letterpress printing and bookbinding services at Intima Press in New York City. She is the proprietor of Studio on the Square, which offers workshops in letterpress printing and the art of the book.
Arianna Orland is the principal of Activate Studio and founder of Paper Jam Press. She very much believes all people are created equal. Her letterpress-printed posters are available at Felt & Wire Shop.