The South Bend Malleable Range

While most of what I acquire for this project is intended to go into individual Tiny Type Museum & Time Capsules, as I noted in previous posts, I’m also trying to assemble a small study collection as I write about and provide context to printing history. That led to me purchasing a copper plate with an etching of an ad for South Bend Malleable Range products.

A copper etching made photographically from an original drawing, c. 1917

When I saw the plate listed on eBay, I searched to find its era—its provenance is unknown, and the plate has a hook as it were hung on someone’s wall. I quickly found that this ad had run around 1918, making the plate over a century old. The mounting was clearly done after printing, because it’s not type high, which is 0.918 inches. Instead, the raised portion is nearly an inch.

According to a contemporary book, Commercial Engraving and Printing (1924), a plate like this would have been created in a photographic process from an original drawing. Copper was used instead of zinc, which was cheaper and more common, because:

Line etchings are made on copper instead of zinc when the lines in the plate are to come very fine. It is impossible to hold such lines on zinc, which is a softer and more brittle metal than copper. Copper is usually used for line etchings made in combination with fine screen halftones, when the two are made as one plate. A line etching on copper will last somewhat longer than one on zinc and will give softer effects in the minute detail in printing.

As you can see in the image, there are some very fine lines in the illustration, though no halftones.

It’s reversed, which means it’s intended either for printing or for using the flong or “mat” (matrix) method, which I discuss in this article, to make a paper mold and then create a metal plate (a “stereotype”) that would actually be used on a newspaper press. With the cost of copper and the coarseness of newspaper presses and reproductions, I’m inclined to think this etching wasn’t made for direct printing.

This line of products was made by what was then the Malleable Steel Range Manufacturing Company located in South Bend, Indiana, from its founding in 1898 until a successor owner moved operations to North Carolina in 1983, where it continues as a division known as Southbend, part of the Middleby Corporation. Jim Sullivan took photos in 2017 of the factory ruins that remain in Indiana.

(This is not to be confused with other malleable range firms, some of which have surprising similar histories of founding and moving. The Malleable Iron Range company wound up moving to Two Rivers, Wisconsin, before shutting down—home to Hamilton, which was the biggest wood type manufacturer in the United States for most of its history!)

In checking through advertisements, it looks like the company began advertising as early as 1908 with a variety of ads, some of them clearly relying on the same images. In some newspapers, such as this 1909 use, you can see how the plate was inserted into the rest of the ad, because there’s ink showing on the right side of the company name showing that it’s of a piece.

The company sent out etchings to its resellers over the next few years to place in newspapers that included single products and more complicated, larger ads, all designed to fit in standard newspaper column dimensions. (The ad above has white space around it, but it was clearly created at the newspaper, so perhaps they just had extra space.)

This ad from 1916 looks almost like the plate I purchased, but not quite. The set of free cookware is somewhat different. (Also, please love that the newspaper was “published every Thursday by Lulu B. Ross.”)

These ads in various forms, including with just the cookware on their own, appear for the next couple of years. In 1918, the set of cookware offered changes, and that’s how I can date my particular copper etching. This ad runs for at least the next year. Because of the varying quality of digitization of old newspapers, it’s hard to tell whether copies of the ad get worse over time or whether the digitization was too high contrast and blew out the details of the line engraving.

National advertising wasn’t new 1908 (or 1918), and photographic etching dates back decades earlier. But this kind of concerted national effort using consistent imagery seems like it was just getting its start. That has to do with the ability to make copies of artwork. It’s one thing to have the same words run everywhere, even with the same basic type treatment. But it’s another to create hundreds of pieces of identical work designed for reproduction in newspapers.

The South Bend company’s approach was clearly distinct enough that a publication aimed at retailers, The American Artisan and Hardware Record, noted the national campaign in 1920.

It is the belief that dealers who take an agency for this line of ranges will profit greatly from the vast amount of advertising being now carried on and to be conducted in acquainting the public with New Model South Bend Malleable Ranges.

These ads also contributed, I’m sure, to the bogus copy pile at the newspapers who ran it. As noted in an article I wrote recently, advertising that arrived in a union shop that already had type set it required under unions rules that the shop’s typesetters re-set all the copy—and then melted it down (Linotype) or distributed it (with hand composition).