Firmin Didot’s Mongolian fount

The punches of the first European metal printing type for the traditional Mongolian script were cut by the Parisian punchcutter, typefounder and printer Firmin Didot  (1764 – 1836), second son of François Ambroise Didot l’aîné (1730–1804). [1]

The manufacture of the typeface was requested by the French orientalist Louis-Mathieu Langlès (1763–1824), to print the Mongolian characters in the second edition of his lexicographical work on the Alphabet Tartare-Mantchou in 1787. Over the years, Langlès had collected a large library, known for its Eastern works, and was acquainted with the fine printing work of the Didot family. His collection also included “sheets of works, more or less advanced in printing”. [2] Lyrus Redding, a British writer who published his encounters with Langlés of 1816, believed these extraordinary and richly produced historical and military works, were executed primarily by Didot. [3].

Firmin Didot presumably learned the craft of cutting punches from Pierre-Louis Wafflard, the punchcutter in his father’s printing office, which Firmin succeeded to in 1789. A set of original punches of the caractères mandjous –as this type was referred to–  are preserved in the archives of the Imprimerie Nationale in Paris. The type was cast on 15 Didot point. [4]

[1] It is not certain whether other metal founts were produced in Asia earlier than Firmin Didot’s typeface.

[2] Redding, Lyrus. 1867. Personal reminiscences of eminent men. Volume 1: p 292

[3] Langlès also wrote works on Indian and Persian literature and culture.

[4] The Cabinet des poinçons of the Imprimerie Nationale in Paris also contained punches for two other Mongolian typefaces, amongst various other non-Latin founts. These were Mandjou Corps 9, cut by Firmin Didot in 1806, and Mandjou Corps 19, cut under Baron Shilling de Canstadt in St Petersburg in 1822. In 1963, the Parisian collection comprised 355 Mongolian punches and 14 woodcuts. [Also other punches for Mongolian and Uighur characters are preserved in the archives of the Imprimerie Nationale. These punches were cut by Renard in 1807, as mentioned in Le cabinet des poinçons (1963). Paul-Marie Grinevald writes in Les caractères de l’Imprimerie Nationale (1990, p 305) that their collection also preserves the punches for a fount called syro-ouïgour, which was cut in 1806 by Fouquet. These will be examined in greater depth at a later stage in the project.]

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