Making Matrices: Preface

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The machine has not killed good craftsmanship; the machine in the hands of the craftsman is merely a more intricate tool than any that was available to the earlier worker. - Goudy. Typologia.

Typecasting matrices are the core technology without which western civilization would still be at the level it was in 1450. Without matrices, no type. Without type, no printing. Without printing, nothing much else would have advanced. Yet the making of typecasting matrices has never been properly documented. All existing accounts are superficial, incomplete, or both.

When it comes to actually writing an attempt at a complete account, however, I feel a touch of sympathy for earlier writers. It's no wonder they oversimplified, because the subject is more complex than any ordinary reader will tolerate. It "suffers," in particular, from two issues:

First, in practice, no individual matrix maker (or organization) is going to use all of the methods available. The aptitude for hand punchcutting and the inclination to run an electroplating bath are distinct.

Yet at the same time aspects of each of the methods have application in many of the others. (For example, electroforming, which is a matrix making method in its own right, may be used in at least two stages in other matrix making processes.)

If Goudy, or Warde, or Middleton, or any of the earlier writers on the subject had actually attempted to cover it all, no editor would have accepted anything they might have written. Even Legros & Grant didn't cover it all, and never got to the level of detail required by the practical maker. The subject is too interlinked for simple presentation to the mildly curious, and for most readers it is just too overwhelmingly dull - unless, of course, you are not an average reader and actually want to make a matrix. The only advantage that I (as author) have, and that you (as reader) need fear, is that here I am both author and editor.

The way I'll structure it is this: I'll write a number of individual chapters which, if you were to put them together, would form a book. But since they add up to a book that would be too big to handle, and since I want to present them incrementally as I write them, I'll format them as a hierarchical series of web pages within my CircuitousRoot website. This has the advantage of allowing me to link, easily, full-resolution versions of the images.

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If you are looking for a high-level or semi-technical overview of matrix making, you should look elsewhere. This is a "let's examine every recorded detail" (and then try it in the workshop) account.

In classical history, there is a scholarly activity known as "doxography" which consists of trying to reconstruct lost texts from remarks about them and quotations from them by later writers. Understanding typographical matrix making is like that. This book, a doxographical work, is the summary of a 550 year failure of engineering documentation.

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This will also probably be a rather annoying book to read due to the limitations imposed by copyright law. In many cases, the best illustrations are still in copyright and I cannot reprint them here (and probably couldn't get permission to reprint them in a freely available work such as this even if I were to ask). So many of the chapters will consist of one reference after another to illustrations not literally present in the text - you'll have to go out, find the source (in print or online), acquire it (for free or for money, depending), and look up the picture. If you're really serious about making type, you'll need to do this anyway. If you're not, you should probably be reading a less detailed book.

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Throughout all of these discussions, I will, whenever it is appropriate, try to clarify two matters which typically are overlooked in the literature:

1. How is the lining and fitting of the characters determined? Who does it? When is it done? How is this information encoded into the production process?

2. What is the orientation (right-reading vs. wrong-reading) and depth (relief, intaglio, planographic) of the drawing or pattern at each stage?


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