A Heretic's Guide to Type
Or, Nearly Everything They Taught You Is Wrong
I try not to be a disagreeable person,
yet if confronted with the many books which are being
written today on the subject of type,
I find that I disagree with important
(and commonly accepted) points in most of them.
I believe, moreover, that I can provide sound evidence
for my objections
in both the history and technological practices of making and using type.
Here's an index to those places in the CircuitousRoot Notebooks
where these issues come up.
- Most one-off work involving letterforms,
as well as basically all such 19th century lithographic work and
much 20th century offset lithographic work,
was done by
The two are not the same, and it is nonsensical to ask
"what font did they use" about a 19th century street sign or
the finer class of 20th century department store showcards.
- Nearly all of the terms used in what is today taught as
"digital typography" are used incorrectly.
If you try to employ them in using or making physical type
you will fail, because they do not describe reality.
- A "type foundry" is an establishment in which
type is actually cast.
While this may seem obvious, most 20th century writers on type foundries
have in fact excluded the majority of them
for various reasons that may now be seen as simply
the marketing positions of certain of the (once) more powerful firms
On the Importance of All Typefoundries.
- The face size of type is not the same as the type body size.
This isn't a "heresy," really.
There can be no argument about this point; it is obvious to anyone
who has ever used metal type.
But the misunderstanding of this point is becoming a real problem.
It isn't surprising that people who know only
Computer Aided Lettering (which is what passes for "type" today)
get this wrong,
because type body information is not recorded in current digital formats
What is disturbing, however, is when otherwise meticulous scholars
about metal type
do not understand what type body size is.
a short Notebook on this subject
which illustrates the difference betwen face size and body size,
notes the importance of body size,
and identifies instances in the literature where type face size has been
confused with type body size
(this last point not to attack them but
merely to show how this misunderstanding has
damaged what is otherwise very serious and important scholarly work).
- There are three (not two) major methods for making the matrices
for metal type:
American and English histories (but not German ones)
erase patrix engraving
from the historical record, despite its having been the
primary method of production for display types
for hand setting from the middle
of the 19th century to the end of commercial typefounding.
The Issue of Patrix Cutting in Soft Metal
for a historical discussion and the evidence for this claim.
for pointers to the locations in CircuitousRoot where
patrix cutting is discussed (sometimes in technical terms).
- punchcutting (by hand or machine)
- patrix engraving (by hand or machine)
- direct matrix engraving (by machine)
- The first pantographic matrix making in America was done in 1882,
before Benton. See
Central Type Foundry Pantograph
[Aside: I am not "bashing" Benton.
He was a great man and an amazing intuitive engineer;
his place in
the history of type is secure.
But the mythology which has been created around him
has obscured his actual contributions.
Benton was a
Imprecision in history does him a disservice.]
- Linn Boyd Benton did not "invent the pantograph in 1885."
cut patrices pantographically around 1883.
advertised the machine cutting of punches in 1884
Henry Lewis Bullen's story about the involvement of P. T. Dodge of
the Linotype company in this is a fabrication.
Benton did not actually
cut a matrix until about 1899.
- Not all typographical pantographs were "Benton" machines,
nor is a Benton pantograph required.
at least five distinct pantographs, only two of which made patrices, punches, or matrices)
These are fine machines, but they are not magical.
They are one thread in
amount of activity in the application of pantographic methods to
precision engineering in the 19th century
Before, contemporary with, and after Benton
two dozen identified pantographs and a dozen more unidentified ones
have been used for patrix, punch, and matrix engraving.
- By the time Benton directly engraved his first matrix around 1899,
there were already several firms offering commercial matrix
engraving services to the typefounding industry.
There were also matrix electroforming companies known to have
been using pantographs for patrix engraving.
- (For a general survey of the points made above, see also the
Notebook on pantographic methods
Beyond (and Before) Benton.)
- All type casting machines need to be considered together as a single group.
Their division into "foundry" casters, "sorts" casters, "monotypes,"
and so forth was based on marketing efforts, not technical realities.
Why Not Categorize Them?.
- There have been many more different type casting machines used than
the marketing department of ATF and the type historians it trained
See the (necessarily incomplete) study of this at
Who Cast with Which Casters?
Neither Ottmar Mergenthaler
nor nor the Mergenhaler company in America
ever made a "Simplex" Linotype model.
The term was an alternative name for the German derivative of the
Model 1 Linotype made by Mergenthaler Setzmaschinen-Fabrik GmbH in Germany.
It entered the English-language literature on the Linotype in a
translation of a 1954 German book on the history of the Linotype which
wrongly called Mergenthaler's experimental machine of 1889
the "Simplex" Linotype.
Since then, its use has spread and it has caused considerable confusion.
There are now sources which claim that
Ottmar Mergenthaler built this machine,
that the Mergenthaler Linotype Company built it,
that it was the Model 1, that it was the "Square Base,"
that it was the Model 1
and the Square Base,
and even that it was the "Blower" Linotype.
None of these things are true.
The name "Simplex Linotype" has no place in the description of any American,
British, Canadian, or any other non-German Linotype model.
(The quite different
made very briefly by the Canadian Linotype company
was, confusingly, sometimes call the "Simplex,"
but it stands outside of the main lines of Linotype evolution.)
[click image to go to page]
Reading Metal Type Specimens
[TO DO: Revise and improve the illustrations - the present version
is a hasty rough draft.]
The specimen books for metal type,
and especially those for the industrial era of
metal type-making from the
1840s through the 1980s,
constitute the core set of documents for understanding the history of type
and for continuing type into the future.
They are essential references.
Yet they will be confusing to the 21st century maker of type who does not
have a background in metal type.
Not only are there matters in them which require an understanding of
the mechanics of metal type and type-composing machinery,
but there are subtleties in them which we have (needlessly) lost
in our digital era.
This Notebook is a quick and incomplete attempt to identify some of
the issues faced by the 21st century type enthusiast in confronting
If you are confused by something such as a single Linotype font
which is both Russian Condensed No. 3 and Antique Black No. 3 at the
or if you can't quite figure out what it means when a showing is set
"one point leaded" in type which is clearly larger than one point,
then you might find it to be of use.
All portions of this document not noted otherwise are Copyright © 2011-2014
by David M. MacMillan and Rollande Krandall.
Circuitous Root is a Registered Trademark
of David M. MacMillan and Rollande Krandall.
This work is licensed under the
Creative Commons "Attribution - ShareAlike" license.
for its terms.
Presented originally by