A Host of New Accessions, a Trip, and More

Since the last update a few weeks ago, material has been arriving in abundance for the Tiny Type Museum & Time Capsule. I expect by the end of the project to have collected around 5,000 individual items, which will then be mostly distributed into up to 100 museums. In some cases, I’ll wind up with a lot of material left over because of how it has to be purchased, and that may lead to future sets of different kinds.

(An update on orders: 70 tiny museums have now been pledged on Kickstarter or pre-ordered since. Only 30 remain available, as I plan the edition to be no more than 100 museums.)

San Francisco Type & Archives

Early in the month, I took a trip to San Francisco, to visit the Grabhorn Institute (home of M&H Type and the Arion Press) for an upcoming article for a travel publication that I’ll link to here with lots of photos; and visited the Letterform Archive and the Prelinger Library, two unique and wonderful SF institutions with some intertwined interests and a common board member. More to follow on that. (I gave a talk at Grabhorn, which you can watch here.)

At the Letterform Archive, I got to view a page of one of Gutenberg’s Bibles up close. Usually, you’re behind glass and at a distance or with a lot of reflection. As I’ve expressed before, it’s shocking to see how the first work of any scale printed with the European version of metal movable type is so perfect, regular, and beautiful. Imagine being a genius of this kind and directing so many people over multiple years in this endeavor? This is why Gutenberg reminds me of Steve Jobs, a man with some technical knowledge, but an incredible capability of synthesis and management.

Many of the surviving Gutenberg Bibles are intact, but a handful were separated, making some individual pages available.

(Gutenberg seemingly created all his innovations without any apparent firsthand knowledge of previous efforts in China and other countries in Asia across centuries, none of which ignited printing revolutions in those countries or regions.)

Also at the Letterform Archive, I saw my first lithographic stone in person. Lithography was invented just before 1800 partly by accident. It’s a complicated technology that involves drawing and etching on a prepared stone with materials that attract or reject ink and other pigment. It’s flat or planographic printing. Artistic lithographs are numbered, because each print that is made takes the result one further step away from the work originally drawn on the stone. Touch-up during printing is common.

But the stone at the Letterform Archive was right-reading—that is, it read as one reads a text. Lithographic printing requires a mirror, as does letterpress and intaglio (incised) printing, to produce a right-reading result. The answer, I found in a book on wood type of all things is that for certain kinds of tasks, like stationery, letterheads, forms, bank certificates, bonds, and the like, an engraving would etch on a small transfer stone in a right reading fashion, carving into the stone instead on on a medium applied to the stone.

These transfer stones would then in some process I haven’t yet determined have their contents copied and applied to a large lithographic stone for printing. The small stones might be a 12 by 18 inches, and contains many different elements. The large stone would be several feet on a side—as big as 44 by 62 inches! On my return to Seattle, a found a letterpress person selling a few litho transfer stones inexpensively and purchased one for study.

Progress on the Case

A few days ago, Anna Robinson arranged for the purchase and delivery of the wood for the case, a white oak sold in planks that she’ll be milling, cutting, and piecing for the case. It’s a very interesting process and we’ll be posting pictures along the way.

Of course the wood was delivered on the hottest day of the year so far—nearly 90°F in Seattle, which is like the corona of the sun by local standards. Anna is in the Cabinetmaking and Architectural Woodworking certificate program at a local school, and was able to get the wood delivered there. But pieces were 12-feet long and my estimate on weight was 800 to 1,000 pounds. That was too long and too heavy for any of our cars. So we had a hilarious hot-weather process of renting a truck nearby, deciding to cut the lumber to 6 foot for the storage space rented, loading it, unloading, and then drinking 1,000 gallons of water.

Anna’s working away at completing the second case prototype, and then will move into production in July of batches of cases. Some interior parts of the cases will be laser cut, such as drawer dividers, and the drawer handles still need to be designed and manufactured, so there are months of work to come on that.

New Accessions

A lot of new pieces have come in from various sources, some online sales, some personal contacts, and some friends dropping by.

That includes Monotype matrices of varying kinds. According to a Monotype specimen book, I now have Cellular Matrices, which are long and are square on both ends, used for sizes of type for normal reading (“book” sizes); Composition Matrices for 14 and 18 point and Display Figure Matrices for up to 36 point, also in use for composed text on a keyboard, even though they’re larger than book sizes; and Electro Display Matrices for a variety of sizes, intended for use in a sorts caster that produces individual pieces of identical type for hand setting.

Most of these came from one purchase, but the larger Electro Display Matrices were largely from a friend, who had found them in a letterpress shop that didn’t know what they were nor needed them (they do no casting). The “Electro” in the name refers to how they were made. Instead of being stamped or cast, the matrices were “electrotyped,” in which copper or other metal is deposited on top of a “positive” image from which you want to make a mold. I’ll have to write at length about this method, because it‘s quite complicated.

Some amount of this Monotype material will be included in each museum—I haven’t decided yet until I’ve collected enough varied examples precisely what, but it will be designed to let you see, hold, and compare among them, and understand their means of manufacture and use in casting.

A wood laser-engraved version of a Monotype Electro Display Matrix

A wood laser-engraved version of a Monotype Electro Display Matrix

I mocked up a letter typeface No. 240 in the Monotype catalog as an Electro Display Matrix with all the stamped numbers and engraved and cut a number of them on my Glowforge laser cutter, and gave these out at my talk at M&H Type.

I also acquired some matrices that are used with a Ludlow type caster. The Ludlow was designed largely for display types. It’s a mix of handsetting and Linotype, in that you set the matrices by hand in a special type stick, then lock that into the machine for casting. The Ludlow creates a solid slug, like a Linotype. The fellow in Montana who will be making the Linotype slugs for the museum—using the post-patent Intertype system, a Linotype competitor—also has Ludlow casters, and has a technique for separating letters as well as casting lines.

In my pursuit of phototype for study (of larger pieces) and inclusion in the museum (for smaller ones), I purchased something advertised as Harris-Intertype photo discs. What arrived was one disc clearly meant for machine phototypesetting: it was a negative, meant for shining like through to expose onto paper. However, the second item in the package was a glass square and a positive. It looked to me like a master for making the type discs!

Frank Romano, an eminent printing historian and founder of the Museum of Printing in Massachusetts, confirmed via Twitter that the design was a master for an Intertype 600 “built for Intertype by Purdy and McIntosh in the UK.” The Museum of Printing is really the only place in the world with a comprehensive collection of phototypesetting history, both fonts and machines, and I’ll be donating these rare discs to them after I’m done studying and photographing them.

Seemingly rare glass master for producing phototype discs for the Intertype 600.

Seemingly rare glass master for producing phototype discs for the Intertype 600.

Also recently acquired were some random Linotype slugs from years past with various business and greetings messages on them. I’ll be including in each museum both historical slugs like these, as well as a freshly cast slug containing the message of your choice.

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).

Quoins, Wood Type, and Phototype

The latest accessions to the Tiny Type Museum & Time Capsule have arrived!

Quoins and Quoin Keys

From the earliest days of printing, certainly in Gutenberg’s studio, type had to be locked up. You first composed it into lines, columns, and pages, and spaced it just right. But then you had to ensure that it stayed solid and level as it was moved from a composing stone—a level surface that assisted in planing type and other material—to the bed of a press. (For newspaper, it would be into a matrix-making machine en route to stereotyping.)

As you may know generally or from previous posts, a page or pages of type are collected into a forme and locked into a chase. The locking requires furniture or various sized rectangular pieces of metal and wood to fill on empty areas, and then wedges to lock them into place. A forme may also be called a lock up.

You should be able to pick up a chase and shake and nothing comes loose, but it should not be so tight that it puts pressure on the type and other elements. If there’s too much pressure, type can be crushed or ride up, or even burst out like a fountain. Compositors had to work very carefully to bring everything into order and balance the tension exquisitely. It comes from practice and isn’t as hard as it sounds after you’ve done it many, many times.

From “Work: The Illustrated Weekly Journal For Mechanics,” September 23, 1893,  page 147 .

From “Work: The Illustrated Weekly Journal For Mechanics,” September 23, 1893, page 147.

In the early days of printing, material was probably stuffed in or even lightly hammered into place. Later, more formal interlocking pieces of metal became standard, called quoins. The tension between them could be increased or decreased with a ratchet key called a quoin key. As equipment became more refined, quoins appeared that had internal ratchets with fine controls, and just a slot for the quoin key. The key is also often used as a hammer to tap on a planer, a broad wooden block placed on top of type and lightly hit to level material before locking up.

Each Tiny Type Museum will include a quoin of some vintage, and I’ve acquired the first set of them.

A variety of quoins, some of them disassembled, and two quoin keys.

A variety of quoins, some of them disassembled, and two quoin keys.

Wood Type

My plan is to include a variety of wooden type: old and new, laser cut and pantograph cut. I’m working diligently to find historic wooden type where I’m not breaking up complete or useful sets for current printers, as there is so much scattered type out there. These orphaned bits can be removed from circulation and put into the museum without decreasing the scarce supply of full fonts.

Via one antique seller, I acquired 400 pieces of absolutely pied type. (Pi is what happens when you mix up type, often when a galley was dropped on the floor. The children and teenagers who worked as printer’s devils in print shops had sorting pi back into cases as one of their key jobs.) I would wager these 400 pieces come from at least 75 fonts, maybe more.

The seller offered to clean it before shipping, but cleaning wood type is a process that can end up with it being ruined. I consulted David Black, a local expert on working with historic letterpress gear and type, and knows how to fix, build, or clean anything. Using his suggestions, I’ve cleaned a portion of the type, and it looks great. See the before and after.

This type is far too much to distribute among the museums, but it was affordable to purchase it as a lot. Pieces I can’t use I’ll be selling or giving away to other printers who like to make figurative or artistic use of type among other elements, and don’t need full fonts.

I’m still working to acquire more wood type to get a good mix of larger-sized letters and more provenance to know where it came from. Only some letters in a wood font are stamped with a manufacturer’s mark that tells you in which type factory they were cut. From quick research, the one stamped William H. Page & Co. is likely, but not assuredly, the oldest, as it was sold to the dominant Hamilton in 1891, and its mark stopped being used. According to type researcher and historian David Shields, this stamp was in use from 1867–1876. The Hamilton-stamped type is from the 1927–1950s, based on the stamp.

Four of the pieces I’ve processed so far have factory marks: Hamilton Manufacturing Company (which was in Two Rivers, Wisconsin), AWT for American Wood Type (Long Island City, NY), and “WmH.PAGE&Co” for William H. Page & Company (Connecticut).

Four of the pieces I’ve processed so far have factory marks: Hamilton Manufacturing Company (which was in Two Rivers, Wisconsin), AWT for American Wood Type (Long Island City, NY), and “WmH.PAGE&Co” for William H. Page & Company (Connecticut).

Phototype

There’s an ocean of things I could say about phototypesetting, but one of them is how little material remains from an era that stretched in its early practical days from the 1920s through the 1980s. Digital typesetting and full-page layout replaced phototype. In my search for artifacts, I’ve acquired three wonderful sets of history so far.

From a still-working printer in his 70s in the Central Valley of California, I received nearly two dozen font strips used with the Compugraphic EditWriter 7500, released in 1977. These strips have metal hooks on either end, and each spanned a hemisphere of a rotating drum. The EditWriter was a hybrid computer/optical system, and featured a CRT for typing in HTML-like formatting commands! I am incredibly fond of these strips, as I spent many many hours typesetting in the late 1980s on this model of system. I haven’t seen any since that time, so this is like coming home.

Via eBay, I was able to convince someone to sell me a set of 23 VariTyper Headliner TypeMaster discs that worked with an exposure system to set one letter at a time on a strip of film. The system dates to the late 1960s. These discs were manually controlled: you rotated to the desired letter to expose it, and the system advanced the correct proportionate width.

On route are two discs from a Harris Intertype system about which I know nothing. I’ll update this post with photos when I have them.

The phototype fonts are all too large to fit into the museum cases, and I’m collecting them for historical research and preservation in part. I may include scale-model replicas of at least the VariTyper if not others, so that the nature of each of these can be part of the museums, even if I can include actual pieces. There are some smaller phototype fonts, notably from the Berthold Diatronic, which used a small rectangular sheet, but these seem exceedingly scarce.

Frank Romano, a guru for decades on the history of printing, printing technology, and the author of definitive books on the Linotype company and phototype, gave this recorded talk in 2013, in which he has in front of him examples of all the prominent phototype font varieties.

This YouTube video shows phototypesetting in action shows the Berthold Diatype in use, which used a type disc.

Movie Ad Mats, a Superior Printing Press, and Tiny Type

More accessions have arrived for the permanent collection of the Tiny Type Museum & Time Capsule project, as well as artifacts that will be distributed among all tiny museums!

An eBay seller had a variety of tiny type (6 and 8 point) in wrappers that mostly had never been opened. The rubber band on one is still flexible after decades in storage, even. This isn’t unusual. Printers weren’t perfect about using every bit of type ordered, and sometimes type was purchased on behalf of clients and the projects never materialized.

This set of type is a mix of type produced in a foundry and type set on a Monotype, as well as some spacing material. It includes type from American Type Founders (ATF), a group of nearly three dozen foundries that merged in response to the rise of Linotype in the late 1800s, but eventually fell afoul of market changes; and from Andersen Typesetting Company, which appears to have cast on Monotype and sold sorts to handset shops, among other lines of business.

I showed the 6-point Copperplate Gothic Heavy to my older kid, who marveled that anyone could read type that small, or even see it to set it. I dug around on the kitchen counter and found some product inserts that had fine print that was probably 5 or 6 points—and fairly legible. But can you imagine setting 6 point (or 5 or 4!)? For some typesetters working at newspapers, the classifieds, legal notices, and other work might mean an endless amount of tiny typesetting. (They were paid higher piece rates for smaller type, though.)

I was also able to contact someone with a large supply of movie ad mats, all in very good condition. Unless I can score some much older flong—I think it’s really nearly all long gone—I believe I have all the pieces necessary to fulfill the expected edition of 100 tiny museums. It’ll be challenging to figure out which ad mat goes to which collection, but I’m keeping anything boring out of the mix.

Movie Mats cxd.jpg

Finally, I bought my first press. Admittedly, it’s tiny and doesn’t work. But this is where the addiction begins. Tiny presses have a long history, and there’s even a book about this: Personal Impressions: The Small Printing Press In Nineteenth-Century America. I own a copy, and it’s delightfully researched and well illustrated.

The Cowper’s Parlour Printing Press, shown in an 1864 book, was intended for home use!

The Cowper’s Parlour Printing Press, shown in an 1864 book, was intended for home use!

But these were largely either professional tiny presses, for business cards, small jobs, or portability; or parlor presses, meant for adult entertainment in an era when adult entertainment wasn’t nearly as “adult.”

However, real tiny presses for kids far predate the little rubber handstamped letter kits you might be familiar with. I purchased a very good condition Superior Star Rotary Press, probably dating to the 1950s, and sold under a variety of names. It requires setting rubber type into channels that are locked around a cylinder. The inking sheet is, of course, long dried out, but the rubber type and illustrations seem pliable. We’ll see if I can get an impression out of it.

Superior Star tiny press.jpg

I continue to talk to more and more people with stashes of material and interesting stories. More items are in negotiation or already shipped and I’m awaiting delivery.

I haven’t written much about the letterpress book that will accompany the museums, but I’m narrowing down the plan there, and continuing research towards the near-term manuscript drafting.