The Benton Vertical Pantographs

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1. Introduction

The vertical pantographs of Linn Boyd Benton may lay fair claim to being simultaneously the most famous and the most wrongly understood machines in the history of type-making. Almost every popular account of them in the 20th and 21st centuries contains errors; many such accounts consist of nothing but errors.

In the first section below I'll summarize what little we do know about these machines and their history, without at this point providing evidence. I'll go more fully into these matters (with evidence!) in the following sections.

In order fully to understand these discussions, it is necessary first to understand the technical processes involved in the making of matrices for typecasting. This required background includes not only those processes which are commonly described in the American literature of the 20th and 21st centuries (the German literature is more complete) but also those which were very important but which have been systematically ignored - especially patrix engraving for electroformed matrices.

2. Summary


Benton's pantographs were not the first used in the creation of matrices for typecasting in America; that honor goes to the Central Type Foundry pantograph, a machine originally of German manufacture imported in 1880, as operated by William A. Schraubstadter (from patterns by Gustave Schroeder) at the Central Type Foundry, St. Louis, in 1882. The faces cut at the Central at this time were, however, essentially monoline. Both Schraubstadter's brother Carl and Nicholas Werner (both of the Central) acknowledged that Benton was the first to cut specifically roman faces by machine (though they do not specify the faces cut).


We do not know why Benton undertook to build a pantograph. The story that he was involved in constructing a composing machine appears only in one of Bullen's accounts. Since so much of what Bullen wrote about Benton's machines is demonstrably fabricated (whether by Bullen or his sources is unknown), this story cannot be accepted. Neither is it true that in retooling his foundry's matrix inventory for his "Self Spacing" ( unit-set) types Benton faced a task insurmountable by earlier methods or that punch (or patrix) engravers were not to be had in America. It was no greater a job than that facing any foundry in bringing out new faces, and patrix and punch hand-engraving was an established profession.

(As a general observation, however, I will note that the more one researches this field the more it becomes apparent that pantographs were being applied at this time throughout industry. There is no need to presume any specific requirement of Benton's.)

We do not know when Benton begain working on his pantograph engraving machines. Since the patent record shows him to have been busy with unrelated work in 1882, and his first patent for a pantograph engraving machine was filed in February 1884, it is probably safe to guess an approximate date of 1883. (If indeed he had a functional machine in 1882 this might predate the Central machine, but their is no evidence for this.)

Earliest Verified Punch Cutting in Steel:

Benton filed a patent for a well-developed vertical-format pantograph engraving machine described, specifically, as a "punch-cutting machine" on February 29, 1884. This patent was issued December 22, 1885. A British patent was issued in 6 October 1885. In July of 1884 (after the filing of the patent but before its issuance) Benton, Waldo & Co. placed a trade note in The Inland Printer advertising the service of cutting punches in steel by machine.

Earliest Verified Patrix Cutting in Typemetal:

In 1887, Carl Schraubstadter of the Central Type Foundry made reference in an article in The Inland Printer to Benton having "lately cut Roman type on metal with his engraving machine". This is the earliest secure reference to Benton doing patrix engraving for matrix electroforming. However, Theo Rehak and Patricia Cost report that in the 20th century William Gregan, a matrix engraver for American Type Founders, spoke of these matters with Benton's son, Morris Fuller Benton. Gregan concluded that Benton was, from the first, engraving patrices in typemetal. While their is no surviving evidence for this, his opinion, given his position at ATF, carries significant weight.

The engraving of patrices in soft typemetal rather than punches in steel makes perfect sense, from a technical point of view. Patrix engraving, though now forgotten, was an important (perhaps even by this time dominant) process in type-making. Without a specific need for punches (as, for example, the composing machine companies such as the Mergenthaler Linotype Co. and the Lanston Monotype Machine Co. had) it would have been un-economical (and old-fashioned) to do anything else. Still, the 1884/5 patent refers only to "punch-cutting", never to patrix (pattern type) cutting. All that can be said for certain is that by 1884 Benton could cut punches in steel by machine and that by 1887 he was cutting patrices in typemetal. It is likely that he could do both in 1883, but we have no evidence.

One First Machine, Not Three:

From a technical point of view, there is very little difference between patrix and punch cutting. The same machine can be used for both - the differences would be in cutter geometry and cutting speed. The pantograph described in Benton's 1884/5 patent and the ones used for patrix and punch cutting later were vertical-format single-arm machines which traced around the outside of a right-reading relief working pattern and moved a workpiece around a stationary rotary cutting tool to cut a wrong-reading patrix or punch. (In his patent, Benton reserves the right to invert this and use a moving cutting tool and a stationary workpiece, but this does not appear to have been done with these machines.)

The claim of a succession of three machines described by Bullen (in his 1922 Inland Printer article on Benton) has no basis either in the evidence which survives or in the logic of the machines themselves. It is wrong and should be ignored. The account that Cost gives on p. 68 of her book on The Bentons is mired in Bullen's confusion, and further conflates this with Bullen's false story about the involvement of Dodge and the Mergenthaler company. In her otherwise excellent book, Cost was mislead by an unreliable source, and this account cannot be accepted.

No Mergenthaler/Dodge Prompting:

Bullen's story that P. T. Dodge of the Mergenthaler company prodded Benton into adapting his patrix engraving machine, against Benton's will, into punch-cutting is false. The "Blower" Linotype entered production in 1886, initially with electroformed matrices and later with matrices made using hand-cut punches. The earliest involvement of the Mergenthaler company with Benton occurred in the 1888/1889 timeframe. Yet in July 1884 Benton advertised the ability to cut punches in steel. The dates just don't line up, and the story cannot be accepted (no matter how often it is repeated).

Patrix/Punch Cutting (1880s/1890s):

In 1889, five years after their first trade note and two years after Carl Schraubstadter's article in The Inland Printer, Benton, Waldo and Co. began leasing machines. Early customers included not only the Mergenthaler company but also at least two electro-matrix companies.

Through the 1880s and 1890s, Benton pantograph engraving machines operating along the same general principles (tracing the outside of a relief pattern and moving a workpiece against a stationary rotary cutting tool) were being used to cut both patrices and punches. Benton was not at this time cutting matrices.

Non-Benton Developments in Parallel:

There were during this period other developments in industry, including the establishment of the first machine (vs. hand) based independent commercial matrix making establishment by Schroeder & Werner and the development by Robert Wiebking and Henry Hardinge of their pantograph engraving machines. (Wiebking became the best-known independent commercial punch and matrix engraver of the 20th century; he cut many of Goudy's early types, and punch-cutting versions of his machines formed the basis of the impressive output of R. Hunter Middleton and the Ludlow Typograph Company.)

Matrix Cutting (1899-1993):

The basic distinction in Benton's vertical-format pantographs is not between "first, second, and third" machines, as Bullen confuses the issue, but instead between the patrix and punch engraving machines from ca. 1883 and the matrix engraving machine patented in 1899.

This matrix engraving pantograph inverted the kinematics of the patrix/punch machines. It traced within the inside of a right-reading intaglio pattern and it moved a rotary cutting tool to cut a right-reading intaglio (of course) matrix from a stationary workpiece. This is the machine most often shown in 20th century literature of the American Type Founders company.

(ATF employed several different overall processes over the years for making matrices, and the details of some of these processes are lost. Many of the surviving mid-20th century working patterns, however, are rather clever: they consist not of a relief or intaglio plate, but rather of the raised outline of the face. If you trace along the outside of such a pattern, it is as if you were tracing around a relief pattern. If you trace along the inside, it is as if the pattern is intaglio.)

Not All Pantographs Are "Benton" Machines:

While it is common even today to refer to any pantograph employed in type-making as a "Benton" machine, this is rarely the case. While they were obviously important, they were much less widely used than is generally thought. In the 1890s, Benton, Waldo & Co. leased machines to several companies, including the (US) Mergenthaler and (US) Lanston Monotype companies. It has been claimed that at the formation of ATF one of the requirements imposed upon Benton was the recovery of these machines from lease. If indeed this occurred, it presents a historical problem. Benton's 1885 patent did not expire until 1902, yet during the 1890s both Mergenthaler and Monotype (and their British sister companies) were clearly using punch-cutting pantographs. In the first years of the 20th century, both companies switched to machines of their own manufacture (the English Linotype company used machines developed by Barr, the English Monotype company used machines developed by Pierpont; it is not yet clear which machines their US counterparts were using). But nothing is know for certain about the pantographs used by any composing machine manufacturer in the 1890s.

The Pierpont and Barr machines are both clearly derivative from the original Benton machine; so also were the machines used by the Stempel foundry (which had an early association with the Mergenthaler Linotype Co.) This was not always the case, however. The Wiebking machines represent a completely different development path, as did the first Central Type Foundry machine. The details of many of the dozens of pantographs used by various type foundries, composing machine manufactures, and specialized matrix manufacturers are simply not known. In general, it is almost certainly inaccurate to call a machine a "Benton" pantograph unless it is actually known to be a machine designed by Benton and manufactured either by Benton, Waldo & Co. or by the American Type Founders company.

Not All Benton Pantographs were Vertical:

In addition to his two vertical styles of machine, Benton designed quite different pantographs for reproducing drawings, cutting the wax stage of his working patterns, and for engraving large matrices (the "Ad-Cut" machine). There are thus no less than five distinct types of Benton pantographs.

Precision in Machines and History:

Linn Boyd Benton has become a figure of legend - a legend cultivated rather deliberately by ATF - and his machines have assumed the status of magical items. They are not. They are brilliantly conceived (although they had to overcome distortions inherent in the single-arm style of pantograph) and undoubtedly finely made. But they are just one of the many different styles and makes of pantographs employed both before and beyond Benton in the making of type. There is nothing magical about them. Indeed, they may not even be Benton's finest achievements. His 1899 "Opto-Mechanical" pantograph is cleverer by far. And in the long run his greatest achivement - now entirely lost - was in employing his machines to re-line and re-fit the entire ATF inheritance of type (as well as their many new types) into a single, reliable, comprehensive standard product line. Anyone who has struggled at the typecasting machine with the lining and fitting of type, as I have, must hold this achievement in awe. Benton was above all a precise man. To view his pantographs imprecisely is to do him a disservice.

3. Studies

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The Patrix & Punch Machine (from ca. 1883)


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The Matrix Machine (from ca. 1899)


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(Everything in the three sections below needs to be re-done, as it was written before I realized the extent of Bullen's misinformation.)

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Vertical Pantograph for Patrices (Before July 1884)

Benton's first vertical pantograph was designed and used for engraving patrices for use in electroforming matrices. Very little is actually known about it - not even the date of its creation.

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Vertical Pantograph for Patrices and Punches (By July 1884)

By July 1884 Benton had adapted his vertical pantograph for the cutting of punches in steel. Many questions remain about this machine, but it seems unlikely that it differed substantially from its patrix-engraving predecessor. This is the machine described in his 1885 patent and furnished to Mergenthaler Linotype and Lanston Monotype.

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Vertical Pantograph for Matrices (Circa 1899)

At a surprisingly late date, Benton adapted his machine to cut matrices directly. Although his 1885 patent did allow the kinematic inversion of the machine from its preferred form, the matrix-engraving versions seem to have adopted this as standard practice.

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