M. F. Benton is not well known today. Yet I would argue that he was unquestionably the most important type designer of the Twentieth Century. Note that by this I do not mean "the best" or "your favorite," both of which are matters of opinion, but rather "most important" - which is quantifiable.
First, he designed more typefaces than any other - and overwhelmingly so. McGrew counts 221 faces for him. This is more than twice the number of his nearest rival (R. Hunter Middleton of the Ludlow Typograph Company, at 99). Most reasonably prolific type designers did ten or fifteen.
Benton's designs, moreover, were durable. Every so often I'll go online and check the sales figures for digital type. Each time I have done so in these first decades of the 21st century between two and four of the top ten typefaces, by sales volume, are M. F. Benton's. No type designer since Caslon has had this degree of enduring commercial relevance.
Second, Benton was the one who made the idea of a typeface family work. He wasn't the first to design what might be called families of typefaces, but he was the first to make them a workable commercial reality. Certainly if he hadn't done this someone else would have, but the fact remains that he was the one who did. Without this accomplishment, Twentieth- and Twenty-First Century type design simply wouldn't look anything like it did and does. Benton changed everything.
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