Researching the topic on Fonderie Générale (Paris, 1834–1912) raised some perplexing questions about the history of this famous ornamented Didone.
Twentieth-century historians attribute the design to Joseph Molé in c1819.¹·²·³ Indeed, the conservative styling is compatible with fonts intended for title pages of scholarly and literary books, mainstay of the publishing industry during this period.
The 1835 catalog issued by Tarbé (Molé successor) states that text, titling and display faces are offered therein. Even so, none resembling Molé Foliate# is shown by any Molé successor in five digital specimen books dated 1835–1896. On the contrary, surface ornamentation is limited almost exclusively to tuscans and egyptians.
Jaspert et al. (2001) note the then-current letterpress font source as Stephenson Blake² & Co. Ltd. (Sheffield). Millington explains that the face was “redrawn by S.L. Hartz from a design by the Parisian typefounder Molé.”⁴ Sem L. Hartz was associated with the Enschedé TF (Haarlem). SB introduced it in 1958 as “An Exotic Display Type.”
Did Molé transfer rights to this design before Tarbé’s acquisition in 1835?
If so: to SB? Enschedé? Another TF in existence at the time?
Did Molé himself design the leafy ornamentation attributed to him today? Or…
Did Hartz superimpose his own concept on the surface of a Molé Didone roman?
An anonymous developer digitized free revivals of this font and a matching “plain” one in 1997. They are difficult to find now, so they are available here.
¹Lieberman, J.B. Ph.D. (1967): Types of Typefaces and How to Recognize Them, page 114. Sterling Publishing Co., Inc., New York.
²Jaspert, W.P.; Berry, W.T; Johnson, A.F. (2001): The Encyclopedia of Type Faces (Second, Revised Edition), page 157. Cassel & Co., London.
³McGrew, M. (1993): American Metal Types of the Twentieth Century (Second, Revised Edition), page 349. Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, DE.
⁴Millington, R. (2002): Stephenson Blake|The Last of the Old English Typefounders, page 230. Oak Knoll Press, New Castle, DE.