Latest Accessions and Book Update

It’s past the midway point in summer, and my basement is full of lead and wood and books. Most of the items for the museum have now been acquired, arranged for, or are being made by various people. I have a few more special things to find and to order—some of those I want to wait a little longer, as they can be turned around quickly and I can refine my decisions. I’ll soon have samples of Linotype slugs (actually made on an Intertype, a competitor to Linotype after patents expired).

Two kinds of matrices—the molds from which metal type was made—that I’d really wanted to include in the museum recently arrived. One set is for Ludlow, a fairly simple kind of slug-casting machine designed for larger-sized type, typically employed in newspaper work. However, I believe one was in use still until 1990 at a printer to set the names that appeared on Yale University’s letterpress-printed diplomas (something I was remotely connected to at the time)!

Instead of using a keyboard or handset type, a compositor set molds into a stick, which is then cast as a single piece. This was used for headlines, ad copy, and other special purposes. It could also be used with a few tricks in casting or with a saw (a common item in printers’ shops) to create individual pieces of type. These brass matrices are kind of gorgeous as works of art, but they were workhorses.

I also accessioned two boxes of matrices for the Monotype Super Caster. Monotype introduced and purchased a few kinds of casting machines starting in the 1890s. The Super Caster was introduced by English Monotype in the late 1920s to allow producing larger sizes of metal type. (It eventually replaced the Giant Caster made by the American Lanston Monotype.) While casters from other companies competed, Monotype offered its own prized faces and brought its rigorous technological approach to the matter.

These mats were made in the Salfords, Sussex, Monotype factory south of London, the home of English Monotype for much of its history. The plant is decades gone, but Monotype has an office there. (The current Monotype was just purchased by a private equity firm, so the future of its offices is certainly not certain.) They were shipped to India at some unknown time, from where I purchased them. They have traveled some 20,000 miles—farthest than most mats, I’d wager. Hot-metal Monotype remains in use in India just as it does in other parts of the world in limited ways.

Based on the state of the boxes, including some very brittle newspaper, it’s plausible these were closed up several decades ago and recently rediscovered. The seller posted many dozen Monotype items all at once on eBay, including specimen sheets.

All of those numbers mean something! The typeface, adjustments required, point size, and other details. I have yet to find the decoder for Super Caster matrices.

Based on analysis by the Pygment Press on a Flickr page, these “mats” are likely mostly copper, a little zinc, and a tiny bit of lead plated with nickel or nickel and chrome. I’m not sure if these were struck from punches made on a pantograph or directly made by pantograph, but since they mostly copper and plated afterwards, I would imagine they were punched. (I’ll be writing about this in Six Centuries of Type & Printing.)

Monotype’s Electro Display Matrices were made through electrotyping, which means that a punch was definitely made on a pantograph, and then used create the electrotype matrix. (The electro matrices were designed for another kind of caster, but could be used in a Super Caster with an adapter.)

There’s surprisingly little information about the Super Caster online. That’s in part due to copyright. The majority of technological innovation in casting occurred before 1923, which in the United States is the current cutoff point for material absolutely known to be in the public domain. The date is different in the UK, but it’s complicated, because the duration still relies on the last surviving author of a work, even for corporate-produced matters. (It advances in the U.S. each January 1, and will move to 1924 on January 1, 2020.) It’s much trickier to learn about more recent equipment than old, a perishingly irritating irony of the digital age!

Someone has, however, digitized issues of the Monotype Recorder, the company’s magazine, which remains under copyright in the US and UK, but I doubt anyone will squawk about it because the only value is historical. Here’s a drawing of a Super Caster from 1951 accompanying details about upgrades made after the war. (Monotype’s Salfords plant was converted to military production for the duration of WWII.)

I’m almost through writing the book that’s part of the Tiny Type Museum & Time Capsule project. I have the threefold problem of fitting into a tight word count defined by the page length, cost, and nature of the book (given that it’s being set in hot metal and printed by letterpress) and continuously finding more interesting details that I want to put in. I’m effectively over word count now as I whittle and complete the manuscript. Then I’ll have sensible people read it and an actual editor and proofreader go over it.

A small portion of the books and materials I’ve consulted in the writing of my little tome, spanning about 130 years. So many older titles are digitized and available online—with searching!—while others are manuscript pages, snippets, or ebooks. I’ve got two shelves of less-consulted books not shown as well.

A small portion of the books and materials I’ve consulted in the writing of my little tome, spanning about 130 years. So many older titles are digitized and available online—with searching!—while others are manuscript pages, snippets, or ebooks. I’ve got two shelves of less-consulted books not shown as well.

In the meantime, I received a dummy of the book and slipcase from the binders. As I’ve noted elsewhere, the book will be set in North Yorkshire, England (Nick Gill at Effra Press), and printed in London (Phil Abel at Social Enterprise Printing, formerly Hand & Eye). However, after much consideration, it’s being bound in Germany at the 70-year-old family-owned Buckbinderei Spinner. I correspond regularly with members of the Spinner family and it’s all terrific. My London printer was unable to get solid bids at binderies in the UK, so this is now a tri-national book instead of a bi-national one. (Nick at Effra is one of several people worldwide working on cutting new matrices for Monotype composition: new versions of old faces and entirely new faces! Nick made a new Super Caster matrix!)

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The dummy is a mock-up of the final book and slipcase using the actual paper that it will be printed on and the book board and fabric that will cover it. It’s simply blank! It‘s still lovely to see. Just like the museum cases that are being built, the dummy is waiting to be filled.

Now please enjoy this 1884 illustration of a steam-powered robot typesetter that was the frontispiece for a book of printing jokes called “Quads.” Lots of efforts to set type by machine power were in process, and some sort of worked. But it wasn’t until the Linotype entered a newspaper composition room in 1886 that machines began to take over typesetting—with humans still operating the machines, at least.

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.

A Talk on Type History Featuring the Tiny Type Museum

I was in San Francisco in early June, and the Grabhorn Institute invited me to give a short talk in their gallery about type history and the Tiny Type Museum & Time Capsule. The institute preserves the practical history of type casting and fine-art printing by perpetuating it, fulfilling orders from letterpress printers and producing new books, while running an apprenticeship program, regular tours, and inviting speakers (like me!).

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.

Bogus Copy and Baseline Standards

I keep coming across interesting side topics that inform the whole of what I’m writing about in Six Centuries of Type & Printing, the book that will accompany the Tiny Type Museum & Time Capsule, and available for separate purchase in letterpress and ebook editions.

Two recent ones related to “bogus copy” and how type foundries handled baselines. I wound up writing quite a few words about both topics.

Bogus! When Typesetters Were Paid To Set Copy That Was Thrown Away: “Bogus” or “bogus copy” was effectively the result of a mid-1800s conflict between typesetters and management about how to pay for time standing around. Typesetters were paid piecework (by the “em,” as I explain in the article) for well into the 20th century, when hourly and other wages were routine.

But for compositors who were effectively employees, they rejected not being paid when there was no copy to be set. The job was often unionized, but even when not, it came with a lot of leverage, as typesetters were always in demand. The union demanded a “standing“ payment when there was no copy to set equivalent to 1,000 ems an hour, a standard expected rate.

Bosses didn’t like paying people for no work, so they gave them “bogus copy,” which were items to be typeset that would then be distributed (put back into type cases) or, later with hot-metal systems, melted down. In both cases, it was never used. Typesetters setting bogus would be compensated at the regular piece rates. It was a bit of pique on the part of publishers and foremen.

A 1907 report on factory inspection explained just a fraction of the piece rate and minimum labor, including how bogus was paid for.

A 1907 report on factory inspection explained just a fraction of the piece rate and minimum labor, including how bogus was paid for.

However, it was later turned against owners when more material started coming into job shops and newspapers that was already typeset and delivered as a mold or engraving. Unions established a right to re-set all copy that came into the shop in this fashion (with some very carefully delineated exceptions), even though that re-set copy would be discarded. This became the new definition of “bogus.”

Read the article for more insight into how this all developed—and how it lasted a century!

Aligning a Rocky Road: a History of Baselines: My friend Marcin asked me to do some research and review to help the underpinnings of this post at Figma, a company that makes design and prototyping software for apps. Figma is changing how it works with baselines, the invisible line on which the bottoms of lower case letters, periods, and other punctuation rests. I think the choices are very good!

But this research let me deep into the past, as I had a question I couldn’t answer: how did type foundries keep the baseline standard among different fonts? And how did foundries manage across the whole industry? Well—they didn’t! It took until the late 1800s for three different standards to coalesce that led to a normalization across type and typesetting.

Point sizes, unit-based widths of characters, and the baseline all came together to allow better intermingling of type, and a lot better efficiency! I describe much more in my article.

Explaining Flong and Stereotypes: How Newspapers Grew in Size and Volume

I’ve been working on this for a while, and finally assembled all the primary sources and material I needed to write it. I explain in some great detail about flongs and stereotypes, a method of effectively duplicating typeset material and engraved images and halftones photographs that was required for rotary presses to make any sense.

A flong is a paper mold made from something that would otherwise be printed on a letterpress (in relief printing). The stereotype is the solid metal cast plate (flat or curved) cast from it. For newspapers and high-volume printing, the curved plate paired with the rotary press, allowing super-fast continuous printing fed from large rolls of continuously made paper.

Making paper in rolls, rotary presses, the Linotype, and the largely forgotten flong/stereotype process together allowed periodicals to expand in size (number of pages) and volume (number of copies per volume). Newspapers benefitted most, but the plate-making technique was used for standard commercial work (job printing), book publishing, magazines, and other specialized purposes.

I wrote this article in part because there was no authoritative modern source that tracked the scope of flongs and stereotypes. Now there is!

Chunks of this research will feed into the Six Centuries of Type & Printing book. I have a far better and deeper understanding from those primary, contemporary sources of how printing took an incredible leap across the 1800s right at the start of the century and all the way through the end. While printing and typesetting changed multiple times in the 20th century, the 19th century had just as many revolutions, if not more.

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.)

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.