Herman Ilenburg/Ihlenburg


GoudyLeaf-LeftThis account of the life and work of German immigrant Herman Ilenburg/Ihlenburg integrates multiple biographies published in the series entitled Designers and Engravers of Type written by William E. Loy (The Inland Printer, 1896–1900) with the research of David Pankow.1 Supplementary information was compiled from such 19th-century sources as US design patents, trade periodicals, specimen catalogs and US federal, state or county vital records.

For some reason(?), Mr. Ilenburg/Ihlenburg’s given name is spelled with two “n”s by some 20th-century type historians. While he may have used “Hermann” in Germany and German websites refer to him this way, US immigration records published by ancestry.com* apparently do not. Furthermore after his first application for a design patent (Byzantine [USPTO D3270], approved 01 December 1868), all future affidavits exhibit his signature and printed name with only one “n;” likewise, his grave marker.*

*Someday when I have time, I will research this website with the local public library’s system to view the actual documents instead of a list of them. In the meantime, I may have found his grave in Bala Cynwyd PA, an affluent suburb of Philadelphia. In my dreams, I will photograph it and supply the following information to the West Laurel Hill Cemetery for WWW publication.



Herman Ihlenburg [Berlin 1843– Philadelphia 1905]

Loy’s article on Ihlenburg2 was published in May 1898, fourth in the series (which began in February with an introduction). His first research inquiry was addressed to Ihlenburg on 15 August 1896. In a second letter dated 10 September, he answered Ihlenburg’s reply of the 4th requesting an “extension” until the next ATF Philadelphia catalog was issued.3

In the same letter, he graciously grants the extra time needed, reviews his original inquiry and asks for specimens of his “most striking and most popular” faces as well as “what you consider your best and most original” one. He makes no reference to specific TFs. In his final summary, Ihlenburg apparently chose to exclude faces that he designed for the Bruce TF (more below). Furthermore, Pankow relied heavily (exclusively?) on Loy’s biographical information; so he too was unaware of them.

Symbol Key

In or before the year or month cited.
≥ In or after the year or month cited.
± Sometime between the years or months cited.
c In approximately (circa) the year or month cited.
=Different tradenames for the same typeface, earliest first.
®Patented in the US or registered abroad.
Digital revival completed or undertaken by a THP Partner.
#Digital revival developed by others known at this writing.


Born in Berlin (1843), Ihlenburg studied fine and applied arts (universal in the German public education system) as a boy, actively practicing painting and drawing with the intention of becoming an engraver. At age 14, he apprenticed at the Trowitzsch TF (Berlin). Afterwards, he was engaged by some of the most prestigious TFs in Europe: G. Haase & Sons (Prague), Flinsch (Frankfort), Battenburg/Gustave Mayeur (Paris) and Haas (Basle).

Pankow reports that he declined an offer of employment as a punch-cutter extended by the Conner TF (New York) soon after the US Civil War [1861–1865] and assassination of President Lincoln. He was successfully recruited by  L. Johnson & Co./MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan [MSJ] in 1866. According to US Passenger and Immigration Records, his ship arrived in Philadelphia.

HI Signatures

He became a US citizen in 1874.4 By September [USPTO D7777], the spelling of his surname changed from “Ilenburg” to “Ihlenburg.” According to 1880 US census records, he was married to Pauline Ihlenburg. At age 62 in 1905, he succumbed to typhoid fever, an epidemic caused by contaminated city water.

Pankow reprints an excerpt from Ihlenburg’s obituary published in Typographische Jarbücher (translated from German):

His accomplishments in graphic design can be expressed only partly in numbers;
the American art of graphics was reinspired by him.
He was an admirer of art, by nature inclined to contemplate…

Career Overview

Loy most astutely observes that “Very few engravers of type faces work from their own designs; indeed, the qualifications are so dissimilar that one would hardly expect to find them in the same individual.”5 Ihlenburg and his likewise Berlin-born countryman, C.E. Heyer [Berlin 1841–Chicago 1897]6 were among the rare “ambidextrous” geniuses who united these talents, which “draw on both sides of the brain.

Without question, Ihlenburg was the most prolific 19th-century US type designer. During his nearly four-decade career, he assigned some 140 patents for alpha-numeric or ornament fonts to MSJ; Loy reports six more applied for by others or unpatented in 1867–1879.

Besides MSJ faces, he assigned 17 designs to David Wolfe Bruce (New York) in 1872–1885. Considering that letterpress fonts were produced in multiple sizes, Loy estimates that (excluding Bruce faces) “Not less than 32,000 punches have been cut by his hand.”

L. Johnson & Co.|MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan|ATF Philadelphia

Just as Heyer (who also studied art in school) did for the Boston TF [1857–1867] and later for Barnhart Brothers & Spindler [1868–1897], Ihlenburg’s work soon propelled MSJ to world leadership in innovative display type design. Without crediting the designer for this success, Bullen makes the point very clearly:

It was in the foundry of MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan that a distinctive American school of design first developed. In 1867 … [and] every year thereafter, the number of original type-faces produced by this firm increased and fewer reproductions from European sources were made until in 1871, foreign designs disappeared from its specimen sheets.7

According to Loy, he designed three MSJ faces during the 1860s (USPTO records document the fourth):

  • 1867 Philadelphian ®Richard Smith [USPTO D2791]
  • 1868 Byzantine ®Ilenburg [USPTO D3270]
  • 1868 Minaret ®Ilenburg [USPTO D3271]
  • 1869 Broadgauge# ®Ilenburg [USPTO D3456]

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, facilis admodum constituto usu ea. At denique blandit pri, ad his erat delenit accommodare. Ut est veri salutatus, eam ad civibus omnesque senserit, melius percipit pri no. Cu has choro atomorum. Prima inermis ea ius, eam appetere ponderum eloquentiam an, ea usu essent insolens. Pro simul persecuti te, qui ut detraxit qualisque honestatis.

In 1897, he patented a design based on hand-lettering by Will Bradley for the cover of the December 1894 Inland Printer. Later, he added specifically German glyphs; this face was marketed as Ihlenburg.

George Bruce’s Son & Co. (New York)

Loy and Pankow mention in passing that Ihlenburg was employed for a short time by the Bruce TF: Loy, “He spent a year in New York “cutting for George Bruce’s Son & Co”; Pankow, “Except for a brief stint at the Bruce foundry in New York, he remained in Philadelphia for the rest of his career.” On the contrary, USPTO records indicate that he assigned 17 designs for alphanumeric and related ornamental fonts to David Wolfe Bruce during the 12-year period 1872–1884.

The six affidavits dated 1872–1874 claim residence in New York. Indeed, between 1872 and September 1874 (when the spelling of his surname changed), he applied for no MSJ-assigned patents. Perhaps his citizenship was conferred in New York.

Ihlenburg’s earliest known work for the Bruce TF occurred in August 1872: Ornamented No. 1529=Elmo‰ (shown left) and Ornamented No. 1529=Minsky# (1872) [USPTO D6074, D6075]. His final Bruce-assigned applications (No. 88=Chirograph and Ornamented No. 077) were submitted on 13 December 1884 and approved on 13 January 1885 [USPTO D15751, D15752].

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, facilis admodum constituto usu ea. At denique blandit pri, ad his erat delenit accommodare. Ut est veri salutatus, eam ad civibus omnesque senserit, melius percipit pri no. Cu has choro atomorum. Prima inermis ea ius, eam appetere ponderum eloquentiam an, ea usu essent insolens. Pro simul persecuti te, qui ut detraxit qualisque honestatis.

One wonders why he did not report to Loy his work for the Bruce TF.  In case it caused “ill will” between the two family businesses, THP speculates discretion in consideration of their distress during this period:

  • When Thomas MacKellar [b 1812] “retired” in 1885 (age 73), he designated management to his son William [b 1844], who died suddenly at work in 1897. He remained very active in MSJ/ATF Philadelphia activities and regularly visited the staff nearly until his own death in December 1899. He was a most beloved Philadelphian and generous philanthropist.
  • David Wolfe Bruce [1824–1895] had died the year before Loy’s research began. Pending his retirement in 1890, he trained long-trusted employees to succeed him: Henry M. Hall, Vilander B. Munson and Robert Lindsay. Only after his death did the fiercely independent Bruce TF finally join ATF in 1901.

A Perplexing Type Tradename Tangle

Figgins 1847, Bruce 1869

Tudoresque, L
Medieval, R

There is a great deal of confusion among Tudoresque (Figgins, 1847),8 Bruce Medieval (unknown, ≤1869) and MSJ Medieval TextIhlenburg/MSJ, 1870 [USPTO D3813]). It is (remotely?) possible that Ihlenburg designed and/or cut Bruce Medieval (unpatented), which was not shown by MSJ. Even so, he and MSJ are frequently (erroneously?) associated with it.

It is known for certain that MSJ did show the Figgins Tudoresque face in its 1885 catalog. Furthermore, MSJ also distributed a Boston TF [BTF] face with the same tradename (now called Ecclesiastic#),9 which was offered by the Hænel TF (Berlin) as early as 1847. Presumably to avoid tradename duplication, the MSJ version of Figgins’s face was entitled Medieval:

Medieval MSJ 1885

Tudoresque. V. & J. Figgins 1847|MSJ Medieval, 1885

Ecclesiastic/Tudoresque. Unknown (Probably French origin, Hænel ≥1847)|BTF ≤1860

Ihlenburg was issued a design patent for MSJ Medieval Text in January 1870 [USPTO D3813]. While it resembles neither the Figgins nor the Bruce face, perhaps the similarity of tradenames accounts for the existing mix-up.10

MedievalText MSJ 1885

Medieval Text. ®Herman Ihlenburg/MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan 1870

Related Pages

Forum Topics

To-Do. As for Heyer, tables charting patented and attributed typefaces designed/cut for MSJ|ATF Philadelphia and the Bruce TF. Additional biographical information per vital statistics records.


  1. Pankow, D. (1993): Recast in an American Image|The Work of Hermann (sic) Ihlenburg, Type Designer. In The Ampersand 13:10-18.
  2. Loy, W.E. (1898–1900): Designers and Engravers of Type. In The Inland Printer 21:182, May 1898.
  3. Loy, W.E. (August–October 1896). Letters of William E. Loy, California Historical Society (San Francisco). Reproduced in Johnston, A.M.; Saxe, S.O. [Editors] (2009): William E.Loy |Nineteenth-Century American Designers and Engravers of Type, pages 10-19. Oak Knoll Books, New Castle, DE.
  4. Hermann Ihlenburg Papers: Carey Collection, Rochester Institute of Technology
  5. Loy, W.E.: Designers and Engravers of Type. In The Inland Printer 20:774, March 1898.
  6. Loy, W.E. (1898–1900): Designers and Engravers of Type. In The Inland Printer 24:573, January 1900
  7. Bullen, H.L. [pen-name Quadrat]: Discursions of a Retired Printer. In The Inland Printer 38:675–676, February 1907.
  8. Gray, N. (1938): XIXth Century Ornamented Types and Title Pages, page 188. Faber and Faber Limited, London.
  9. Solo, D.X.: The Solotype Catalog of 4,417 Display Typefaces, page 110. Dover Publications, Inc. (Minneola, NY 1992)
  10. c.f. Johnston, A.M.; Saxe, S.O. [Editors] (2009): William E. Loy|Nineteenth-Century American Designers and Engravers of Type, page 43. Oak Knoll Books, New Castle, DE.