The Issue of Patrix Cutting in Soft Metal

image link-topic-sf0.jpg

These Notebooks, while filed as a part of the Making Printing Matrices and Types set of Notebooks, are also a part of the loose collection which constitutes A Heretic's Guide to Type. They are an argument for the position of its subject in the history of type-making - a position which has been suppressed to the point of disappearance in American histories of type.

For an index into all of the locations on CircuitousRoot where patrix cutting in soft metal is discussed, including more technical accounts, see ../ Patrix Cutting.

image broadside-divider-sf0.jpg

There are three major ways in which matrices for casting metal printing types are made:

Endless details and variations occur, of course, but in principle these are the major divisions of the field. Each method was of significant importance; the first (punchcutting) for the first 400 years of metal type and the other two (patrix engraving, direct matrix engraving) for the last 150.

In particular, the method of making matrices by electroforming from hand-cut or machine-cut patrices was of considerable importance. It permitted (I will argue) the development of most of the "fancy" types associated with 19th century "Artistic Printing," and even after these passed from popularity it dominated the production of matrices for casting display types through the first half of the 20th century. Yet it has been omitted from all standard histories of type-making in America. Reading almost any history of typemaking in America is much like looking at a photograph of a group of Soviet-era dignitaries from which some general who has fallen from favor has been airbrushed-out.

There are, I think, two reasons for this. First, the method was associated with the piracy of types, and thus not discussed by typefounders (it is just as easy to electroform a matrix from someone else's type as from a patrix you made yourself). Second, in the highbrow backlash against pantographic techniques in the first three decades of the 20th century (by the Rudolf and Paul Koch, Victor Hammer, and others) punchcutting emerged as the One True Way to make type in opposition to the machine. A technique as machine-based as matrix electroforming (using electricity, even!) inevitably became "collateral damage" in this fight. Interestingly, German texts from this period simply present it as one of the three basic methods of making matrices.

Aside: There is some controversy over the best name for these soft-metal patterns. There was never a standard term. "Pattern types" might be the most descriptive, but (especially in a digital age) it isn't as intuitive as one might think. The reason I use the term "patrix" is that in his own cutting of them it is the term Jim Rimmer used.

image broadside-divider-sf0.jpg

Arguments and Surveys

[click image to go to page]

image link-blank-sf0.jpg

The Myth of the Punchcutter

The romantic backlash against the pantograph in early 20th century writing on type has given the hand punchcutter a mythical status - a vanished practitioner of a lost art swept away by industrialization. This distorts the history of type in two ways: First, punchcutting by hand in steel is not a lost art. From the 1450s through the present day there have always been people practicing the craft of typographical punchcutting. Second, pitting the hand punchcutter against the machine leaves no room in the history of type for patrix cutting in soft metal. It erases from history one of the most important methods for the making of type from 1845 through the end of commercial typefounding.

[click image to go to page]

image link-blank-sf0.jpg

A Survey of the Errors

Instances old and new of the misunderstanding (or more commonly entire lack of recognition) of the role of patrix cutting and matrix electroforming in our understanding of type. Many of these define current popular knowledge.

[click image to go to page]

image link-to-survey-of-data-sf0.jpg

A Survey of the Data

Instances from the 19th century literature (with a very few from the 20th century, but only if based on sound hands-on knowledge) which refer to the engraving by hand or machine of patrices and the electroforming of matrices from them. These were systematically ignored by the writers of the 20th century who defined our present view in America of the making of type.

Click here to report an error of fact or if you are puzzled by the Peculiarities of this Website