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.

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).


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.