Note on Patrices

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The letter from Jim Rimmer to Alex Widen concerning patrix cutting may require some additional explanation, as patrices are not necessarily familiar even to typecasters.

Where a matrix is a letterform mold for type, a "patrix" (plural: "patrices") is an object shaped like a type. It is very much like a traditional typefounder's punch, but typically it is made in a soft, easily workable metal rather than in hardenable steel. A patrix is used as an original from which a matrix is produced by electroforming. The matrix may then be used to cast type.

There are two conventional ways to produce patrices. Rimmer, though, is describing a third way.

The first traditional way to produce a patrix is to cut it by hand. This was done commonly in the 19th century, soon after electroforming was invented. The two advantages of cutting a patrix by hand rather than cutting a punch by hand are (a) it is easier to work in softer metal, and (b) typographic forms may be cut which need not take into account the movement of metal when a punch is struck/driven into a matrix blank. It is perhaps no surprise that some of the more elaborate typographic forms ever devised for metal type came about after the introduction of the patrix/electroforming method.

Rimmer hand-cut patrices for his first types (e.g., Juliana Old Style). See his essay "Engraving Type Designs in Lead." The Devil's Artisan. No. 15 (1984): 14-20.

The second traditional way to produce a patrix is to cut it by machine, using a pantograph engraver. Rimmer employed this method for (at least) his first attempt at cutting Cartier in metal. See his essay "The Cutting of Cartier in Metal." DA [Devil's Artisan], A Journal of the Printing Arts. No. 52 (Spring/Summer 2003): 15-20.

However, Alex Widen recalls that in the work which led to the letter here about patrices, Rimmer was not only producing patrices by a third method, but producing them for a most interesting reason. He was solving a problem in a brilliant fashion which Goudy had encountered and had solved by relying upon the Lanston Monotype engineering department.

The problem that both Rimmer and Goudy faced was this: In cutting a matrix, the cutter's geometry imposes a certain minimum angle on the type's beard. This angle means that the width of the type at the shoulder is always greater than at the face. This is true on all four sides of the type, though here we'll be concerned primarily with the left and right sides. Typically, the type's set width is at least the distance from "beard to beard" (the leftmost edge of the left beard to the rightmost edge of the right beard). At times, though, this can result in type the set of which is too wide.

It is possible to cast the type so that the set is less than the "beard to beard" distance. This results in a type in which the beard overhangs the type body (this isn't really a "kern," since the type's face is within the confines of the body; only the beard overhangs). Goudy, in Typologia, reproduces a drawing from Legros & Grant's Typographical Printing Surfaces (1916) to illustrate this. Here's that same drawing, taken in this case not from Goudy but from the original source:

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The type on the left has an overhanging beard. The type on the right is the same type with the beard "rubbed" off (on a stone or file). This rubbing does not affect the face.

However, type with an overhanging beard has two disadvantages. First, each type so cast must be dressed by hand; this is time-consuming and costly. Second, in some typecasting machines type with such an overhang will not cast or deliver correctly. In particular, the Thompson Type-Caster (one of the machines Rimmer used) cannot deliver type correctly if it has left or right overhanging beards. The Thompson will automatically trim top or bottom overhanging beards, but beards on the left or right will cause the type to jam on delivery. In order to cast such type on a Thompson, each type must be removed from the machine as it is cast, which is a difficult operation usually involving stopping the machine for each cast.

To solve this problem, Goudy asked the Lanston Monotype company to build for him special molds which would trim the beards on all four sides (see Typologia, pp. 118 & 122).

Rimmer did not have this option, so he devised an ingenious alternative. He cut the matrix and cast from it a single type, the body of which had the set width he desired. This type would have an overhanging beard. He then hand-dressed this type and used the dressed type as a patrix for electroforming a new matrix which would then produce type without an overhanging beard.

Thanks are due to Alex Widen for explaining Jim's method to me.


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