Type Artifacts, Assemble!

As I pursue all artifacts I’ll need to assemble in quantity for tiny type museums, I’m also gathering unique ones that I can document and use to better understand through first-hand experience and research how they fit into printing history.

In the previous post, I posted pictures of flong sheets I’d acquired for the museums. These paper molds were made from metal, wood, and etchings, and then themselves would be cast into metal for printing.

But sometimes people did odder things, like insulate the side of a house with them or use them to bind a book. While I haven’t been able to find out more about that house, I did purchase an affordable copy of the 1904 book, Fairy Tales Up To Now by Wallace Irwin. To my knowledge, it’s unique in having a binding made of dry flong, which had only been introduced a few years before to speed up newspaper production. The book is a set of stories in verse that are modern renditions of fairy tales typeset in columns like a newspaper!

It’s odd and fun.

Flongs pair with stereotypes, the metal plates cast from flongs. These are in short supply, because they were rarely retained—they were typically made for newspapers (usually entire pages) and melted down. Sometimes, a stereotype was made for advertising and used for printing or to send out to newspapers for local ads or to have flongs made.

Through eBay I tracked down my first and only stereotype so far. Sadly, it’s a coupon for cigarettes, and quite recent—from the early 1970s. The Raleigh brand was apparently profligate with coupons. This stereotype pair is the front and back black plates. A red plate was also used as you can see in an image of the coupon that I found online.

In 1852, not many years after the invention of photography, until the rise of offset lithographic printing in the mid-20th century, photographs had to be reproduced by the halftone process. A fine screen interposed between a high-contrast photographic medium—one that recorded only blacks—and a projected photographic image produced concentrations of black dots or squares of varying sizes which fool the eye into seeing shades of gray.

To reproduce these in the days of letterpress printing, printers first created a halftone negative by photographing the original through a screen, then exposed the negative on a prepared metal plate (typically copper) coated with a light-sensitive resist. Areas that received light hardened, while the rest remained in its original state. Put into a chemical bath, the unhardened areas would etch away, leaving a positive relief (raised) halftone image.

I’ve rarely handled halftone plates, and again found a high-quality newspaper plate mounted on wood—likely a souvenir for someone in decades past—so I could examine it first hand.

I also recently tracked down a “don’t worry”/”good luck” coin for Linotype operators. These coins were common in the 1910s to 1930s, apparently—they seem to have been created for a lot of organizations and companies. The coins had typically custom illustrations on the front, and the back a mix of unique elements and common good-luck charms, like horse shoes, four-leaf clovers, wishbones, and…er…swastikas.

The swastika only became associated with fascism when the Nazi Party in Germany appropriated it in the 1930s. Prior to that, it was used commonly for good luck—the word derives from the Sanskrit for “auspicious”—although it was a bit of cultural appropriation that led to its widespread use in Europe at the beginning of the 20th century.

Fortunately, the Linotype coin uses a friendly horseshoe. (A horseshoe has religious and mystical associations, too, but nobody uses it for hatred.)