If you start with Benton around 1883 and end with the demise of ATF in 1993, you have a business continuity of 110 years of machine-based type-making. If you include The Dale Guild, you're at 130 years as I write this in 2013, with no sign of stopping. There is much less continuity of technology, though. This is an attempt at a chronology of ATF's various methods, with pointers to further discussions (when enough is known to permit a further discussion).
Benton began using pantographic methods for engraving patrices sometime around 1883. See the CircuitousRoot Notebook on Benton's Vertical Pantograph for Patrices . While it is possible to deduce the form of the working pattern it would have used (relief right-reading, which produced a relief wrong-reading patrix), to the best of my knowledge nothing else is known about the working patterns he used or their manufacture.
By June 1884, Benton had announced in The Inland Printer that he had a machine for cutting punches in steel. (This was several years before Linotype's involvement; Bullen's often-repeated story about this is not true.) See the CircuitousRoot Notebook on Benton's Vertical Pantograph for Patrices and Punches. The move from engraving patrices to engraving punches would have been primarily a matter of different cutters and probably a different "feel" in the operation of the pantograph; it would not necessarily have required any modification to the pantograph or to the patterns it used. Again, to the best of my knowledge nothing is known about the working patterns used other than (by reverse engineering) their necessary form.
From the amalgamation of ATF in 1892 through 1899, Benton continued to use his pantographs for punch (and perhaps patrix?) cutting. I am aware of no information about his practices for working patterns during this period.
In 1899 Benton developed the second (or third, depending on how you count them) version of his pantograph and used it for cutting matrices directly. See the CircuitousRoot Notebook on Benton's Vertical Pantograph for Matrices. Rehak writes that at this time Benton developed a new method for making working patterns which involved a combination of machine and hand engraving methods for incising outlines in lead (later zinc) plates. See the chapter in the present book on ATF's Machine & Hand Engraved Working Patterns for further information. See also the chapter on Benton's 1899/1905 Optomechanical Pantograph for a discussion of a machine which might (or might not) have been used in this process, and (in the same chapter) the note on issues with the terms "delineating machine" and "Delineator" with Benton's pantographs .
There is much I do not understand about this method, and its description raises several technical questions. Other sources do not acknowledge this method; Legros & Grant believed that Benton employed a wax-plate method (see below) from his earliest work.
By 1905 (Rehak's date), and at very latest 1906 (when Benton himself described it), ATF had adopted a completely different method involving wax plates. In this method, a typemetal plate was covered in an even layer of wax. The pattern was drag engraved in this wax; in the wax, the pattern was intaglio and must have been wrong-reading. A thin copper shell was then electroformed from this wax, producing a right-reading pattern with a right-reading outline (only) of the letterform. This thin electroformed shell was then backed up with poured typemetal to produce a relatively rigid, durable pattern. See also the chapter on ATF's Wax Plate Pantograph.
Because this pattern was a raised (relief) outline, it could be used for both punch/patrix engraving (tracing around the outside of the outline) and direct matrix engraving (tracing and working within the inside). I know of several surviving ATF patterns in this style.
I have found no evidence concerning the origins of this method. If Benton developed it, he did not patent it. Variations on this method were widely adopted. The Monotype Corp. Ltd. (UK), for example, employed it with wax on glass plates. (They also produced a solid, not just outline, relief pattern).
Rehak ( Practical Typecasting, p. 134) indicates that this wax plate method was used until 1940. From 1941 through 1948 he describes an entirely different method (which is also the method documented in ATF's 1948 film Type Speaks!). In this method a modified Gorton 3-B (not 3-U) industrial pantograph was used to engrave working patterns directly in brass plates.
At some point the method changed again, to one involving the acid etching of (presumably relief) patterns on zinc plates onto which a resist had been applied using photographic methods. See the chapter on ATF's Acid-Etched Zinc Plates.
The Dale Guild, successors to the ATF engineering tradition, have since at least 1993 (the date of Rehak's Practical Typecasting) used a Deckel pantograph to "duplicate the ATF brass plate engraved pattern[s]" Rehak says that they use a Deckel "2G1," but I have been able to find no information about this machine. Since he says it was "the same device Goudy used" one may presume that it is a Taylor-Hobson system Deckel. (p. 135) See the chapter on The Dale Guild's Deckel Engraving.
In more recent work, The Dale Guild has begun using photopolymer patterns (e.g., for cutting Russell Maret's designs). See the chapter on The Dale Guild's Photopolymer Plates.
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