When type foundries had actual forges
August 6, 2013 9:04 AM   Subscribe

Beautiful set of photos from the Caslon type foundry in 1906. Bonus old-school typography pleasures: Remaking the Pictorial Webster's; Linotype: The Movie Trailer
posted by Erasmouse (14 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite
Good Lord, the Casting Shop must have been loud.
posted by wenestvedt at 9:24 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Vests for everybody!
posted by FirstMateKate at 9:29 AM on August 6, 2013

That was a wonderful set of photographs. Thank you for sharing it.
posted by Thing at 9:39 AM on August 6, 2013

I think it would be a bit unnerving to sit in the Director's Room, what with Bill and Lizzie Caslon peering over your shoulder like that.
posted by mochapickle at 9:52 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Yeech. For all the yearning we do about "the days back when we made things," I'm pretty glad that most of us don't have to work in conditions like that, and that we have access to modern building materials. Those shops look dark, dusty, and cramped.
posted by schmod at 9:57 AM on August 6, 2013

I remember going to my grandfather's printing plant when I was a kid in the late 70s and early 80s. They still had linotype machines and a few hand-set type benches into the 80s, for use with stationary and fancy business cards and the like. I've got my name set in lead somewhere.
posted by sfred at 10:12 AM on August 6, 2013

Awesome links, thank you.
posted by asfuller at 10:18 AM on August 6, 2013

Rube Goldberg himself would be gobsmacked by a Linotype machine. They are the most gloriously, awesomely, beautifully complicated machines ever.

Here is a video from 1960 that shows (in detail) the workings of a Linotype machine. Truly fascinating.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:27 AM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

This takes me back to working in a poorly-ventilated basement print shop, comparing test prints and making deals to get some time with one of the two sets of 12 pt Garamond, dreaming of having access to all the fonts in the world... good times. good times.

The picture of all of those cases and drawers and wonderful setting and sorting stations made me drool. My type trays are stacked on wide shelves because too many type cases these days are either broken up and discarded so antique dealers can sell the trays as gewgaw displays (You want to make me cry? Tell me you burnt the case that came with all the drawers you are selling.) or go for so much money at an auction that I get priced out. Retail is even worse.

If only I had a time machine, some era-appropriate money, and enough bungie cords to strap one or two of those lovely presses to said time machine ...
posted by julen at 10:33 AM on August 6, 2013

Since I am both a Linotype and Mark Twain fan, here's a little typesetting trivia: Mark Twain lost most of his (and his wife's) fortunes by investing approximately 8 million of today's dollars in the Paige typesetting machine. Linotype essentially crushed Paige and Twain's money went with them.
posted by Benny Andajetz at 10:58 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

I was reminded of this exhibit of the hidden history of women in printing when looking at all the photos showing women doing so much of the work.
posted by newrambler at 11:19 AM on August 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Great photos, thanks!

How fonts are made now*, and here's one of numerous ways you can create your own font.

* The page is a bit dated, but I think the basics are still there.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:46 AM on August 6, 2013

I have a familial connection to Linotype, and hot type in general.

My oldest brother started off his working life as a teenager in the late 1940s feeding bars of lead (also called pigs) to Linotype machines. Eventually he became a Linotype operator and typesetter at various job shops, moving on to composing hot type for newspapers at the Chicago Sun-Times and the Arizona Republic in Phoenix.

With the switch to offset printing, he was trained in phototypesetting. But he had always had an interest in having his own business, so he quit his day job, bought his own Linotype machine and reverted back to hot type. He used the hot type, along with hand-set type to print short runs on a Heidelberg letterpress and to create molds to make rubber stamps.

Unfortunately, he'd had lung problems, and passed away at the young age of fifty. In his declining years he suspected that working so closely to the fumes from the molten lead might have contributed to his health problems.

I'll always remember that damn Linotype machine. It made a glorious racket while he tapped out lines of type on the keyboard, releasing the brass matrices that would form the molds that the lead would flow to, eventually casting the slugs of type. That machine, being a somewhat complex beast, demanded constant lubrication and maintenance to keep it working. Occasionally it would break down, but in the '70s it was still easy to pick up a phone and find replacement parts. In the pinch he could make that thing run using paper clips and rubber bands, if need be.

My exposure to the Linotype was limited. I worked for my brother for about a year after I got out of school. I set hand type and ran the printing press, but the Linotype was his to use. I can still see him getting into a rhythm to become one with that machine, typing away at it, and knowing just where to bump it to get a stubborn matrix to fall into place.
posted by SteveInMaine at 4:53 PM on August 6, 2013 [4 favorites]

Wow, does this take me back! Back in the '70s, my dad had a motor-driven, hand-fed Chandler & Price 10x15 job press in the basement, almost exactly like the one in this video. There were about 40 fonts of type in a typesetting cabinet, and a stone-topped table for setting up type in a chase. There were composing sticks, quoins, quoin keys, gauge pins, leads, slugs, furniture, galleys and lots more that I don't remember. Throughout junior high and high school I used it to earn pocket money, printing business cards, tickets and invitations. My most prestigious job was printing invitations and tickets for the 1980 Leonard J. Waxdeck Bird-Calling Contest.

The year I took print shop in junior high, the school stopped teaching letterpress printing, focusing on offset lithography instead. A Linotype machine, two or three letterpresses and all the associated gear were hauled out to the corporation yard and left outdoors under tarps. I asked the print shop teacher what would happen to all of it, and he referred me to the business office, who blew me off every time I phoned them. I was hoping to pick up at least a few fonts of type. The school year wore on, the tarps blew off in the wind, and the rain came down and ruined everything. All that equipment, rusted or warped into useless junk. I walked past it every day, watching through the fence as it slowly deteriorated, and it just broke my heart.
posted by ogooglebar at 7:15 PM on August 6, 2013 [3 favorites]

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