A Brief Summary of the Thompson Typecaster

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The Thompson Typecaster produces individual types suitable for hand composition. It is a semi-automatic machine. It holds a single matrix at a time, casting multiple types from it one at a time. Once a matrix for a character is set up in the machine, the machine can produce types continuously (although it should be monitored during operation, and although the types must be removed from the machine's delivery slide by hand and subsequently fonted manually). However, the process of changing from one matrix to another usually involves readjusting the machine and the exercise of considerable practical and aesthetic judgment. The types produced by it are finished; they have the jet broken off and the groove plowed bewteen their feet, and are trimmed on all four sides of the body. They require at most a light brushing-off of any slight remaining flashing.

When used with an appropriate matrix holder, it can accept not only its own matrices but also matrices from other machines, including various Monotype matrices, Ludlow matrices, Linotype matrices (sometimes with modifications), and foundry matrices. It can cast in a variety of typemetal alloys ranging from essentially foundry alloys to essentially Linotype alloys.

It is a relatively small machine: nominally 750 pounds (about 340 kg), with a nominal footprint of 27 by 30 inches (about 68 x 76 cm). It is water-cooled, and was available with either gas-heated or electrically-heated melting pots (a gasoline (petrol) burner was also available; some now run their machines on Liquified Petroleum Gas (commonly called propane, which, in the US, it mostly is)). It is a relatively simple and soundly logical machine.

Generally the Thompson is used to cast types, but it can also cast quads and spaces, and quotation quads. There is also an attachment for casting strip material. This is done using a fusion method, not using the continuous casting method of the Elrod. The "Lead, Slug, and Rule Equipment" to do this is apparently quite a scarce item. Thompson's US patent for it was No. 1,291,259 of 1919-01-14.

The original intended market for the Thompson was the printing shop which desired the ability to cast its own types, primarily to augment purchased type. With a Thompson and the right set of mats, a shop need never be out of sorts. Matrices were available for both sale and rental. In the early 20th century several machines attempted to address, or create, this market (including the Universal (Nuernberger-Rettig), the Bhisotype, and the Compositype). As it happened, most printers did not, in fact, wish to become typefounders, and so most of these machines fell out of use. Only the Thompson survived for a significant period of time.

These machines are often termed "sorts casters" because they may be used to cast individual sorts on an as-needed basis. Nothing, however, prevents a Thompson from casting entire fonts of type, and indeed at least one modern typefoundry ( Skyline Type Foundry) uses the Thompson exclusively.

The Thompson was developed in 1908 by John S. Thompson, better known for his "Machine Composition" column in The Inland Printer, his book { History of Composing Machines (1904) } (based on articles serialized earlier in the Inland Printer), and of course The Mechanism of the Linotype. This last volume went through many editions, and was later revised by Abel and Swift. In 2008 I purchased a new-old-stock copy of the Abel & Swift revision, meaning that in some sense the works of Thompson have been continuously in print, or at least available as new merchandise, for over a century.

The British and Colonial Printer and Stationer (vols. 82-83 (1918); scanned by Google Books but available only in "snippet" view at present) reported that the Universal Type-Making Machine Company, makers of the Universal or Nuernberger-Rettig typecaster, purchased the Thompson company (before its acquisition by Lanston Monotype (see below)). It is as yet unclear to me entirely what transpired with this corporate history, since the Universal Type-Making Machine Company's (Delaware) corporate charter was revoked in 1921 for failure to pay taxes for two years, yet the Thompson remained in production until whatever company was producing it was purchased by Lanston Monotype in 1929 (see below).

In 1929, the Lanston Monotype Machine Company bought the Thompson company and continued manufacturing the machine (which was of course a competitor to some of their own machines) through the early 1960s. The separate but affiliated English Monotype firm (The Monotype Corporation, Ltd.) also built the Thompson until February 1967 (it was replaced then by the Monotype Supercaster). { Huss. book The Development of Printer's Mechanical Typesetting Methods, p. 250 } The machines as produced by the American and the English Monotype companies differ from each other in some respects.


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