Type founding

The art of casting the characters on moveable types used in printing. The whole art of printing was carefully kept a mystery by the initiated until about half a century after the probable date of the invention, The early printers generally combined all the various processes of the profession in their own offices, but as the art spread over Europe, and secrecy became less and less necessary, the most enterprising speedily began to furnish their distant brethren with types from their respective foundries. For a long period it seems that type-founding, printing, and binding went under the general term of printing, and that printers cast the types used by them, and printed and bound the works executed m their establishments. Type-founding became a distinct calling early in the seventeenth century. The first record of the separation of the art of type-founding from the art of printing, would appear to be a decree of the Star Chamber (temp. Chas. I.), made July 11. 1637, which ordained the following regulations concerning English founders:—

That there shall be four founders of letters for printing, and no more.

That the Archbishop of Canterbury, or the Bishop of London, with six other high commissioners, shall supply the places of those four as they shall become void.

That no master-founder shall keep above two apprentices at one time.

That all journeymen-founders he employed by the masters of the trade, and that idle journeymen be compelled to work, upon pain of imprisonment and such other punishment as the court shall think fit.

That no master-founder of letters shall employ any ether person in any work belonging to the casting or founding of letters than freemen or apprentices to the trade, save only in pulling off the knots of metal hanging at the ends of the letters when they are first cast; in which work every master-founder may employ one boy only, not bound to the trade.

By a decree (28 Elizabeth), the master-printers in England were limited to twenty. The decree was revised 14 Chas. II.; renewed 16 Chas. II.; and again for seven years let James II., when it expired and was never renewed. The “polyglot founders,” as they have been called, were succeeded by Joseph Moxon and others. But the English were unable to compete with the superior productions of the Dutch founders, until the advent of William Caslon, who, by the beauty and excellence of his type, surpassed his Batavian competitors, when the importation of foreign type ceased, and his founts were, in turn, exported to the Continent. As usually practised, the work of producing a type or moveable letter for printing is sub-divided among various hands. These are:—

  • 1st.—The Punch Cutter, who “cuts” the punch; that is, engraves upon the end of a slip of soft steel a fac-simile of the face of the letter to be produced. This, when complete, is hardened and struck into a piece of copper to form the mataix, which is then handed to
  • 2nd.—The Justifier, who files the matrix so that when placed in the mould the latter becomes adjusted in such a manner that the height, thickness, line, &c., of the resulting letter are correct.
  • 3rd.—The Caster, who pours in the metal and casts the type in the mould. The type is then handed to
  • 4th.—The Breaker, a boy, who breaks off the jet, or runner.
  • 5th.—The Rubber, who smooths on a stone the sides of the type so that they lie side by side in such a way as to form solid lines.
  • 6th.—The Setter-up, who places the rubbed type in lines upon a composing stick, so that they may be submitted to the next operator,
  • 7th.—The Dresser, who “ploughs” or planes out the notch in the foot to remove the remains of the broken jet, and to allow the types to stand freely on their feet; and next scrapes in succession the dressed edges of the type, so that they may lie in their right position, and be true to line and body. This completes the “dressing” of the type, which is then taken from the composing sticks and set up in pages.

In by far the greater number of type foundries the third operation, that of casting, is now effected by a machine, the workman merely turning a handle to give motion to cams and levers, which open and shut the mould, inject the metal, &c., so as to produce type with great rapidity. For a long time the English master founders rejected these machines as imperfect, and incompetent to produce perfect types. The objection was a sound one, for the operation of the caster is not purely mechanical. The workman not only uses his muscles, but avails himself of the sense of touch to know whether the two halves of his mould are home, that is, in metallic contact. If not, the mould is opened and brushed, or picked with the hook to remove the dust or adhering particle of metal which, by preventing contact, increased the aperture of the mould beyond the space defined by the justified matrix, and if used in that state made a “big body.“ The machines having no such sense of touch, and giving no indication of the want of contact of the two halves of the mould, made “big bodies” constantly, and hence the objection to their use.

Up to the year 1853, although these machines were he full work in America, and even well known to the English founders, each successive French and American patent having been bought up by the English master founders, yet it is believed that not one of these machines was in actual use in this country. Even the beautiful polymatype apparatus, invented by one of the Didots, and worked for many years successfully in Paris by Marcellin Legrand, and which M. Pouchée purchased and worked for some time in this country, had fallen into the hands of the master founders through the agency of Mr. Reed, printer, of King-street, Covent-garden, and had been destroyed on the premises. This act of barbarism and of mistaken self-interest is recorded in the Jury Reports of the Exhibition of 1851, p. 409.

In the year 1853, Mr. J. R. Johnson patented (Patent No. 1351) a machine in which the fault of casting big bodies was eliminated. By departing entirely from the ordinary form of mould, and making the opening a fixed one, not defined or determined by the matrix, it is obvious that no enlargement from dust or particles of metal could occur. This also met the hostility of the founders, and an attempt was made to suppress it under the pretence of its pirating some of the patents held by them; but Mr. Johnson modified his machine so as to avoid the one alleged point. of similarity, and he preserved in its use. This machine, largely used both in this country and abroad, undoubtedly led to the employment of machines by the other founders, the fault of big bodies of their machines being tolerated in face of the active opposition, and diminished cost of type resulting from their use.

In the year 1862, Mr. J. R. Johnson, in association with the late Mr. J. S. Atkinson, patented a supplementary machine by which all the operations succeeding the casting, enumerated above, are performed purely automatically. Six of these machines may be seen at work on the premises of the Patent Type Founding Company, 31, Red Lion-square, Holborn, W.C., and are well worth the inspection of all interested in typography. The metal may be seen melted at one end of the combined machines by a jet of gas, and at the other a line of type emerging ready for the use of the printer, without having been touched by the workman, who watches the steam-driven machines, with crossed arms, until his composing stick is filled, when he removes it, fixes another, and withdraws the driving pin to place it behind another line of cast type. There can be no more doubt of the mathematical accuracy of type thus formed, than there is of the extraordinary economy of labour which results from its use. When the patent has expired, it is evident that this will become the mode of type manufacture of the future.

It is not only on the economy of labour and accuracy of production of type that we are indebted to Mr. Johnson. In the year 1854 he patented (Patent No. 817) the alloy, or series of alloys, which is now in general use. Mr. Johnson failed to substantiate his claim to be the first and sole inventor of this compound, but that he was the original introducer of it into public use is very generally admitted. By referring to the Founders’ price lists, it will be seen, in that year, that only one description of type is alluded to; and a vast number of analyses of type sold about that period by an eminent firm of founders, who claim to have been first in all improvements in the quality of their metal, show not more than two or three per cent. of tin was employed. But in 1856 their lists show that two kinds of type alloy are used, and an analysis of the type supplied to the Times newspaper in 1853, contained twenty-five per cent. of tin, which, by a strange coincidence, is exactly the proportions defined in Mr. Johnson’s patent. A contemporary recently said, concerning typefounding in London:—

The Metropolis, having been long recognised as the great literary centre of the kingdom, we naturally find those minor trades and occupation:, which are dependent upon letter-press printing well represented within its bounds. This is especially the case with type founding and the chief rivals indeed of the London firms engaged in this business, although they may have their works elsewhere, are constrained to maintain an establishment in Town, and to keep heavy stocks on hand, in order that they may retain a hold on the trade. In all printing-offices, and more especially jobbing printing-offices, a sudden demand for a few pounds of type of a particular size, or of a special fount, is constantly arising, and the founder who is on the spot, and who can supply these at once, commands an advantage over his competitors who may not be so favourably situated.

Type founding, like most other branches of manufacturing industry, has undergone important changes in later years from the introduction of automatic machinery. The Master Type Founders’ Association is essentially a conservative body, however, and these changes have been made so gradually and so imperceptibly that we question very much if a good workman could be found who could honestly say that he had lost a day’s employment from the introduction of machinery. Even now, in eve, large establishment, it is found necessary to return, to a partial extent, to the old-fashioned style of casting by hand; and the curious may thus see in actual operation the most modern and improved modes of moulding type as well as those that may have been in use since the time of Schceffer, the first of type founders, who flourished in the fifteenth century. This does not arise from the fact that the productive power of the machine is deficient, but because small quantities of odd sorts of types are being regularly called for, which are more conveniently produced by hand. The ordinary type-casting machine in use will enable a workman to produce four or five times as many types as he could cast by hand with the “lever mould,” and the “lever mould” in turn enables him to throw out at least a-third more than when working with the old-fashioned “ring-tailed mould.” The most advanced type-casting machine now working is a most ingenious labour, for not, only does it cast the type, but it also “breaks off,” “rubs,” and “grooves” it before it leaves the machine. “Rubbing” makes each side of the type perfectly flat and true, and is usually performed by youths, who receive, 2½d. per thousand. After being “rubbed,” the type is “set up” by another set of children, who also receive a halfpenny per thousand. In the machine we have spoken of, all these processes are performed automatically, and in an ordinary working day of ten hours it will turn out 30,000 types of that fount known as “Long Primer,” in which type leading articles are commonly set. This is considerably more than a type founder produces by the lever mould on an average in a week.

Type founders are either paid by “number” or by “the pound;” that is to say, if they are employed on small types they are paid so much per thousand, if on large “jobbing” types by the weight they may produce. As every “fount” and pattern of type is paid at different rates, the list of prices by which a type founder, wages are calculated is so elaborate and complicated that it would puzzle many a good accountant. The ordinary earnings of a type founder when well employed will range from 30s. to 35s. per week. The “dresser,” who examines the type and gives it the finishing touches before it is passed into the warehouse, is paid a fixed wage, which will average about 33s. weekly. So far as we can make out, the men and boys employed in this occupation enjoy average health. The heat from the furnaces and from the molten metal is not agreeable, and necessitates much attention to ventilation. The trade is in a great measure in the hands of a few large firms, however, and we are glad to say that the comfort and convenience of the workpeople in most of the establishments are fairly consulted. “Lead colic” is not unknown among the men; but if intemperance is avoided, and a due regard paid to cleanliness, type founding, need not be feared as an unhealthy business.

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