Photos of Flong and a Brief History

Every Tiny Type Museum & Time Capsule will have a piece of flong, a kind of letterpress-era mimeograph transfer sheet, only for metal. I haven’t written about flong comprehensively yet, but I’m preparing to, both as a freestanding article and as part of Six Centuries of Type & Printing, the book I’m writing that will be part of the museum project and available separately.

In brief, flong was a paper mold. Perfected in France in the late 1700s and then used increasingly extensively through the 19th century, flong allowed printers to set a portion of page of type and engravings, and press (or beat) a kind of paste-infused paper into the surface. Flong originally was a form of papier-mâché. When dried, the flong could be lifted off and then be used as a mold to create a metal printing plate, known as a stereotype (or, in France, a cliché).

Flong and stereotypes were critical in advancing the speed of printing and the scale of newspapers. They went hand in hand with the development of rotary presses, in which paper was fed through and a plate cylinder rolled in place over it. Eventually, continuous rolls of papers (known now as “webs”) could be fed into high-speed rotary presses for extremely fast production. Flong allowed stereotypes, which were bent into to shape to fit neatly on a printing cylinder.

Most flong was destroyed after use, either in the process of making a metal plate or because it had no value at all—it was largely used in the 20th century for printing perishable stuff, like newspapers. It was discarded or burned. What I’ve found so far that’s survived are “ad mats,” where mat is short for “matrix,” a term in the printing world for a mold.

Ad mats would be sent by national and regional advertisers to newspapers in the same way photostats and PDFs were later used. National brands would send retailers or partners ad mats (or send them directly to the paper) so that the local paper would just set in metal the name, address, and phone number of a store selling, say, GE products, but the ad was otherwise all ready to go.

I have some ad mats, but also acquired several large sheets of a related product: clip art, but in flong format. Pictures below.

I’ll be writing much more about flong and the ecosystem that required it and thrived as a result.