"Foundry Type" vs. "Monotype"

A Study in the Power of Language in Sales

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On occasion, I have purposely cast characters from foundry matrices on a rebuilt Monotype display caster, dressed them, and offered them to fellow typecasting professionals who had always scoffed at Monotype quality. Even the veterans with many years' service could not reliably tell them from the best of their Barth-cast products. - Theo Rehak. Practical Typecasting.

1. Introduction

The questions "which is better, foundry type or monotype" or "what is the difference between foundry type and monotype" come up with a certain regularity in discussions of type and letterpress printing. They are not simple questions at all, because the terms ("monotype," "foundry type") are not themselves simple. Here I'll look at what they might mean. The final conclusion is simple: "foundry type" is simply an advertising slogan applied by certain companies to promote their products. It has no solid basis in technology.

This will necessarily involve a semi-technical look into the methods of typefounding. If you don't understand the technologies involved, you cannot judge the marketing slogans.

2. Pivotal Casters

2.1. Pivotal Caster History

The "pivotal" or "Bruce" typecaster (so called because of its motion and its inventor) was the first successful typecasting machine. It emerged in the 1840s (approximately) and has been in use ever since (though very rarely today).

The pivotal typecaster is essentially an automated hand mold combined with a "force pump" to deliver typemetal under pressure into the mold. This force pump is spring-driven.

Almost all of the type cast by American (and most European) type foundries in the 19th century was cast on pivotal casters. The exceptions in the US were:

After the amalgamation of most American type foundries into ATF in 1892, casting continued at a few traditional foundries (e.g., Barnhart Brothers & Spindler, Empire, etc.) and a few "upstarts" (e.g., Inland). We don't know entirely what kinds of machines they used. Keystone installed Schokmiller casters, and the short-lived Advance Type Foundry used Hardinge casters. Inland acquired Advance, and was in turn acquired by Barnhart Brothers & Spindler. So there may have been some other types of casters in use in the early 20th century, but information about them is scarce. It is probably safe to presume that most of the casting by traditional foundries not amalgamated into ATF was still done on pivotal casters.

In the 20th century, ATF inherited and developed further the casters designed by Barth at the Cincinnati Type Foundry (which in turn look very much like the Foucher casters developed in France from 1879 and in Germany by Küstermann from 1885). These are remarkable machines (more on them below), and ATF would certainly have liked its customers to believe that this was all they used. Yet we have the following memorable passage from Theo Rehak's Practical Typecasting (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Books, 1993), based on his days near the end of ATF:

"In the halcyon days of ATF the largest, busiest, and most intriguing casting bays were those in the Hand and Steam Department. Here, side by side and row after row, were the hand-cranked pivotal casting machines and their powered "steamer" counterparts (driven from pulleys and flat belts) which could cast anything [Rehak's italics] in a myriad of matrix-drives on 3- to 208-point bodies." (11)

This is firsthand evidence from someone who was there that the "largest and busiest" part of ATF's casting was that done on pivotal casters, not Barths. (To know exactly what proportion was pivotal vs. Barth is no longer possible. One would have to check each series of matrices to determine which style of machine it was made for and then multiply by production figures; neither of these is really possible. Suffice it to say that pivotal casting remained integral to ATF production despite the acknowledged superiority of the Barth.)

The conclusion that must be drawn from this history is that if you wish to exclude from the "foundry type" category type cast on pivotal casters, then you must exclude almost all 19th century type and much 20th century type from ATF and other foundries. I don't think this is tenable, so it must be that pivotal-cast type is "foundry" type.

2.2. Pivotal Caster Characteristics

There are two physical characteristics of pivotal casters which are relevant to the "foundry vs. ..." discussion: the force pump and type dressing.

A pivotal caster has a spring-driven force pump. We have not yet come to other kinds of casters in this discussion, but (looking ahead slightly) one may make the general characterization that the pressure provided by this force pump is less than that provided by the Barth and Küstermann casters, but equivalent to that produced by other 20th century typecasting machines such as the Thompson Type-Caster, Monotype Type-&-Rule Caster, Monotype Giant Caster, and Monotype Supercaster (as well as several lesser-known machines).

In other words, these various casters (most of which were produced by the two Monotype companies) employed pumps which were just as powerful as those on the pivotal casters which produced most of the type made by traditional type foundries in the 19th and 20th centuries. You cannot exclude these machines on the basis of the power of their pumps unless you also exclude pivotal typecasters.

The other difference between pivotal and later casters has to do with the way in which the type was "dressed" by the machine - that is, the way in which the flash from the casting process was trimmed from the sides of the type, especially around the shoulder of the type.

Pivotal casters are quite simple: they do not trim the type at all. Pivotally cast type was hand-dressed by low-paid (often child) labor.

Other casters such as the Thompson trim the type on two sides only (nick-side and anti-nick side). In practice, this is sufficient. Some casters, such as the Barth and Küstermann, trim type on all four sides. These were termed in the US "foundry automatics" because of this action (and in Germany "kompletgießmaschinen" - complete type casters).

3. Foundry Automatics

As has been noted, certain typecasters such as the Barth trimmed types automatically on four sides. Generally, these machines also employed much more powerful pumps than pivotal casters. There have been various designs for these machines, including a few independent designs of which little is known (Hardinge's, Schokmiller's). But the two best known are the Barth (in the US) and the Küstermann (in Germany, but imported into the US as well). Both of these trace their technical origins to the Foucher (France, 1879).

There is no question that these were the finest typecasting machines ever built. The various Barths (they were all semi-custom) in particular have a reputation for having been massively overbuilt.

There are two other factors (which we'll return to later) which affect the quality of type cast: the skill of the operator (the importance of which is generally underestimated) and the typemetal alloy used (the importance of which is universally overemphasized).

It is certainly the case that a Barth caster skillfully operated with a hard alloy will produce the finest type possible.

4. Composing Casters

So far we've been discussing type cast for hand setting. But word-for-word the overwhelming majority of all type cast from 1890 on was cast by one of several kinds of composing machines.

It's hard not to write a potted history of linecasting here (it is so much fun, after all), but that wouldn't be to the point. Suffice it to say that all of these machines (Linotype, Intertype, Ludlow; also Linograph, Rogers Typograph, Monoline, etc.) cast not individual types but entire lines as a single slug or "line-o-type."

Around 1900, a competitor developed using a completely different system: the Lanston Monotype Composition Caster. It cast individual types as composed texts.

All of these machines were (and when they survive, are) fine machines. The differences between them, and the arguments, were matters of sales and market share at the time; now that the market is gone, these arguments can fade into history.

The one point about these machines which is relevant for the present discussion is that by necessity they employed a typemetal alloy which differed from that used in hand set type. Again, it is hard here not to launch into an essay on metallurgy (which is interesting, really!) Suffice it to say that metal alloys do not generally melt or solidify at one single temperature. They tend to go through an intermediate "slushy" phase. This is not good for fast casting, obviously. Most combinations of metals have one particular alloy which does go from liquid to solid at a single temperature, instantly. This is called the "eutectic" point, and the alloy is the "eutectic" alloy.

The eutectic alloy is what you want for fast typecasting. The "ternary eutectic alloy" for lead/antimony/tin is about 84/12/4 (percent each). This is indeed pretty much standard Linotype metal. (Ludlow metal is the same or close, the metal used in the Monotype Composition Caster is slightly richer in antimony and tin - 79/15/6 for the softest alloy.) The eutectic alloy is softer than the high-antimony alloys used for traditional typemetal.

The Monotype and Linotype companies were of course quick to defend the durability of even these alloys (Lanston Monotype, in particular, routinely claimed print runs of 50,000 to 200,000 copies, though this is perhaps a greater testament to the skill of printers at the time than to the hardness of metals). Moreover, while Linotypes and Ludlows typically were run with near-eutectic alloys, the Monotype Composition Caster could, if desired, be run with quite different alloys (the "highest" alloy recommended in England was 64/24/12, and in 1918 the Lanston company recommended 58/26/16 "for long print runs" - an alloy higher in antimony and tin than ATF's "No. 1 Regular" alloy of 62/25/12.

It has at times been assumed, incorrectly, that the "mono" in "Monotype" refers to the type being used only once and then remelted. As should be obvious, the "Monotype" was named in response to its prior competitor, the Linotype. Monotype was always at great pains to distinguish its method of casting "single types" from the slugline composition of the Linotype. Monotype was also aware of the economics of remelting and re-using type, and indeed made quite a point of this. But they systematically referred to this as "non-distribution."

It should be noted before going further that the use of most modern letterpress printers is so much lighter than even the lowest estimates for print runs in near-eutectic typemetal alloys that metal composition is not, in practice, even an issue.

Moreover, the entire matter of composing casters, whether Linotype or Monotype, isn't really relevant to the discussion of type for hand setting. I bring it up only because most "foundry vs. monotype" discussions conflate the Monotype Composition Caster with the various other machines Monotype made more specifically for casting type for hand setting.

5. Monotype Casters for Hand-Set Type

Around the turn of the 20th century, typefounders and makers of typefounding machinery were seized by a strange collective madness: "Every Printer His Own Typefounder." This led to a series of typecasting machines intended for use by printers, not professional typefounders, in their own printing shops. The Compositype was the first of these, and the Thompson the most successful, but there were several. They all failed commercially (even the Thompson, mostly) because printing and typefounding are different activities. In the end, most printers did not want to become typefounders.

During this period, the Lanston Monotype Machine Company developed a caster for this purpose. They basically took the Composition Caster, stripped off its composition components (the Paper Tower) and slowed it down. The resulting machine never really had a proper name. Since they later added rule-casting abilities to it, the name it ended up with most frequently was the "Type-&-Rule Caster. (Enthusiasts call it an "Orphan Annie," but nobody really knows why; the story that this name derives from the serial number prefix cannot be substantiated by actual serial numbers.)

The Type-&-Rule caster can cast from the samllest sizes supported (generally 5 point, though there were some 4 1/2 point sizes) up through 36 point. It could only cast type for the case, not composed matter. (Though, chameleon-like, with the right kit of parts you could convert a Composition Caster to a Type-&-Rule caster and back again.)

While there is no reason you couldn't punch up a tape to control a Composition Caster so that it would produce fonts of type, that would really have been a waste of the machine's capabilities. It would also have limited you to composition sizes (generally up to 12 point, though there were later modifications for "large comp" sizes up to 18 point).

The Type-&-Rule caster was perhaps more successful than the Thompson/Compositype/etc. because it would have fit naturally into Monotype composition shops which needed larger type for display. (Similarly, the Ludlow linecaster was a good fit in Linotype shops.)

But 36 points is still relatively small. Later, the Lanston company went on to develop the Giant Caster (so called because it could cast up to 72 points; it is itself a machine of modest proportions). All of these casters were made both by the Lanston Monotype Machine Company in the US and by the separate Monotype Corporation Limited in England.

Later, the English Monotype company went on to develop the Supercaster, which was just that.

Also, in 1929 the Lanston Monotype company bought the failing Thompson Type Machine Company. Strangely, they continued producing the Thompson (and an English version was made as well) even though it competed with their existing machines. The Thompson, a solid, simple, and efficient machine, became the primary caster in the independent typecasting industry which developed in the 20th century.

In terms of operation, the Thompson trims type on two sides (there was once an attachment for trimming the other two sides, but it was rare and none are known to have survived). I don't know my Type-&-Rule/Giant/Supercasters as well, but I think that they too trim on only two sides (I could be wrong, though, especially for the Supercaster).

In terms of pump pressure, the pumps on all of these machines run at pressures lower than those of the Barths, but equivalent to any pivotal caster.

In terms of typemetal alloy, there is no need with these machines to use the near-eutectic alloy desirable for composition casting. It is possible to run whatever alloy you might wish in any of them. In 1947, the US Government Printing Office's official recommendation for them was 64 / 23/ 13, which is very close to the ATF No. 2 alloy used for italic type (65 / 21/ 14).

In other words, (a) there is no difference in pump pressure between any of these machines and the pivotal casters of traditional foundries, (b) there is no necessary difference in the typemetal alloys used with them, and (c) they were in fact at times run with "harder" metals than ATF used for some of its types.

6. Origins of the Myth of "Foundry" Type

In the 21st century, we are actually in a very pleasant situation where typefounders are all generally very friendly to each other. It was not always so. Typefounding has always been a cut-throat business run on the tightest of margins. This led naturally to aggressive advertising, and a tradition (in particular) of emphasizing the qualities of one's own typemetal alloys. Readers of 19th century specimens will be familiar, for example, with "Superior Copper-Mixed Types," though there has never been any real evidence to support this.

In the 20th century, the primary surviving traditional typefoundry, ATF, had already lost most of the type business to composition casters (Linotype and Monotype). In the market which remained, their primary competitors were not the remaining traditional foundries (which gradually they acquired) but the new shops set up with Monotype equipment. There were quite a lot of these.

ATF responded, in part, with a consistent, long-lived message in their advertising and sales literature that the only good type was "foundry" type and that the only real foundry type was ATF type. ATF's sales literature, taken as a whole over several decades, is a model of how to run such a campaign very well - a corporate image campaign that was at the same time, covertly, a smear campaign against their competitors. It should be studied in business schools.

In this ATF was abetted by two things:

First, there was and is a great confusion surrounding the word "monotype." Typecasting is a back-room operation. Even in shops equipped with Monotype Composition Casters, the Keyboards might well be in the front rooms and the casters in the back (in early advertising, the Keyboard operators wore suits while the castermen wore lower-class smocks and caps; in England the pay of castermen for many years lagged behind that of those at the keyboard). It is easy to conflate all "monotype" machines with each other, not realizing that a Composition Caster running at speed is a very different machine from any of the other Monotype machines casting types for the case.

Second, while there was much well-made type cast by the many independent type foundries of the 20th century, using Monotype equipment, this was not always the case.

I have in my possession a slightly magical rubber stamp. It says "#4 EXTRA HARD" on it, and it was used by a 20th century type foundry to mark its type packages. By chance, a friend of mine with access to an X-Ray Fluorescence analyzer has assayed type from that foundry, the box for which was so stamped. It is 81.20 Pb / 12.41 Sb / 6.17 Sn, which is very close to Linotype alloy. Practices such as this fed directly in to ATF's marketing, both because they accepted ATF's position (and tried to imitate it) and because the type they cast wasn't what they implied (ATF "No. 4, Hard" alloy is 50/28/20/2 (the 2 percent is copper)). The independent typefounding industry (the "mere Monotype houses") did not have industry-wide quality control to match ATF's in-house quality control.

7. Summary and Conclusion

1. Almost all 19th century type was cast on pivotal casters.

2. Much 20th century ATF type was cast on pivotal casters, not Barths.

3. Therefore, if one distinguishes "foundry" type from other kinds of type, one must include pivotally cast type.

4. The pump pressures on pivotal casters are in the same general range as those on Type-&-Rule casters, Thompsons, Giant Casters, Supercasters, etc.

5. One cannot, therefore, distinguish their products from "foundry" type on pump pressure alone.

6. Typemetal alloys can be run in all Monotype machines, even the composition caster, which exceed ATF's "No. 1 Regular" alloy. The choice of alloy is determined by economics, not the machine.

7. It is not possible to distinguish "foundry" type from any other kind of type based upon either the non-composing typecaster used or the alloys required by those machines.

8. The distinction between "monotype" type cast for the case (not in composition) and "foundry" type is spurious.

So what distinctions can be made?

It is meaningful, although not itself sufficient, to speak of type cast upon a particular machine, if indeed you know the identity of that machine.

It is meaningful, although again not itself sufficient, to speak of type of a particular alloy. Poor type may be cast from hard metal.

It is meaningful to speak of type which is well-cast or ill-cast. Typecasting is a skilled trade.

Any caster may be well-operated or ill-operated. Any caster operating below composition speeds may be operated with arbitrary typemetal alloys. Granted, a few machines (the Barth, the Küstermann) are undoubtedly superior, and if well-operated with hard alloys will produce the finest type possible. Nevertheless, any non-composing typecaster, whether operated in something you call a "type foundry" or in a garage, is capable of producing type which is the equal of most of the type which has been called "foundry" type in the 19th and 20th centuries.

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