Identifying Metal Type

Distinctive Type Bodies

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1. Introduction

2. Cored Bodies


3. Externally Relieved Bodies


4. "Wing" Bodies


5. "Slanted Bodies


6. Beveled Shoulders

6.1. History

Prior to the early 19th century type founders typically planed down the Shoulders of their types at an angle. There were advantages to such beveled or angled Shoulders with the deeper impressions and softer, uncoated, papers then common.

I do not have any photographs of actual 18th (or earlier) century type, so cuts from authoritative 18th century works must instead suffice.

The image below (cropped from the full plate at left, with a detail view at right) is from Diderot and d'Alambert's Encyclopédie {Diderot 1762 & 1763} It shows type set up in the stick (with the nick on the "back" of the type, as is French practice) with beveled Shoulders. Indeed, the uppercase 'C' and 'A' have complex bevels to relieve nearly their entire Shoulder.

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(This is from Book 6 (which was the 7th volume) of Plates from the Encyclopédie, under the section "Imprimerie en Caracteres, Contenant Dix-Neuf Planches." The entire volume of Plates is online at the "Gallica" wesite of the Bibliothèque nationale de France (BnF); see the Notebook on Diderot & d'Alambert: Finding the Encyclopédie for information getting it. But the BnF digitization is a bit dark. Fortunately, this single plate was reprinted in Bruno, Leonard C. The tradition of technology: Landmarks of Western technology. (Washington, D.C. : Library of Congress, 1995, p. 222.) The version here is extracted from that plate. I could have scanned my copy (as a publication of the Library of Congress it is in the public domain), but since the L of C has a digital version online, I got lazy and used it. Here is a local copy of a PNG conversion of the original L of C grayscale TIFF: diderot-imprimerie-en-lettres-plate-1-us-loc-3c10399u.png )

In James Mosley's blog posting "Type Held in the Hand." (dated Jan 6, 2012 at: [The dates encoded in the URL does not quite match that in the text of the posting itself]), he shows two pen and wash sketches now held in the Bibliothèque de l'Arsenal in France which clearly show the planed shoulders of types.

The image below left is Fig. 6 from Plate XV of Fournier's Manuel Typographique of 1764. {Fournier 1764} It shows type tied up on the "slice" removed from the 18th century galley (a more complex affair than 20th century galleys). The planed (sloped) Shoulders of the types are clearly visible. The second, below right, is from Diderot and d'Alambert's Encyclopédie {Diderot 1762 & 1763} It shows two types, one as cast and another with planed shoulders.

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Here, from the same Plate in Diderot, are the type dressing plane toolbits used to plow the Groove (fig. 17), and the two Shoulders of the type (figs. 19 and 22). Fig. 21 shows a profile of a type with fully plowed shoulders.

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(Image from Fournier from the Google digitization of his Manuel Typographique. Images from the Encyclopédie from the University of Chicago's ARTFL project.)

The development of the first form of stereotyping, plaster stereotyping, around 1800 changed this. This process involved first making a plaster mold of the surface of a form of type. The deep angles spaces of the planed shoulders of then-conventional types presented a difficulty to this process; types with flat Shoulders were required.

In an episode well documented in the history of typefounding, it was the refusal of American typefounders to cast such flat Shouldered types that prompted David and George Bruce to set up their typefoundery (which became one of the largest in the country).

With the advent of paper flong based stereotyping techniques in the middle of the 19th century, and the abandonment of the more difficult plaster-based process, the need for flat Shouldered type disappeared. However, type founders did not return to planing the shoulders of type. Even in the 21st century, flat Shouldered type remains the "normal" form of type, and few now remember the earlier practice of planing the Shoulder. This is perhaps ironic, as tastes have now returned to a deeper impression for which planed (angled, beveled) Shoulders would be more suitable.

Still, in the 20th century there are instances of angled/beveled Shouldered types.

6.2. The Monotype Super Caster

Here is a type from a font of 14 point Bembo cast on a Super Caster by Mouldtype. It shows the flat bottom and square/rectangular Nick characteristic of this machine, as well as a beveled or sloped Shoulder.

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(Photograph by David Bolton, Alembic Press.)

7. References

{Diderot 1752 & 1763} Fortunately, the Encyclopédie is more accessible than Fournier. Still, the articles related to typefounding can be difficult to locate. See the Notebook on Diderot & d'Alembert on Typefounding for the relevant extracts, and also the Notebook on Diderot & d'Alambert: Finding the Encyclopédie for the work generally and for the section "Imprimerie en Caracters".

{Fournier 1764} Fournier [le jeune], Pierre Simon [aka Simon Pierre]. Manuel Typographique Tome I. Paris: Imprimé par l'Auteur, M.DCC.LXIV.

Volume one of Fournier, while the most important type founding text of its age, is unfortunately difficult for the modern reader to acquire. Harry Carter did an excellent translation into English in 1930, but this is out of print yet still in copyright ( Fournier on Typefounding: The Text [and plates] of the Manuel Typographique (1964-1768) Translated into English by Harry Carter. (London: The Soncino Press, 1930 [and 60 copies sold in the U.S. by Random House].) Carter's translation has been reissued twice, first as a single volume by Burt Franklin, NY (1973) and second as the third of three volumes by the Technische Hochschule Darmstadt in 1985 - but both reissues are now as scarce as the 1930 edition. Google Books has scanned the 1764 French edition, but as always they didn't unfold the plates during scanning, so the most important part of the volume remains nearly useless in their digitization. It has not yet been digitized by anyone else. See the Notebook of General Literature on Making Printing Matrices and Types for a local copy of the Google digitization.

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