(Updates from the Workshop)

Dr. David M. MacMillan

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(Pandemic update.)

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Things remain quiet and uneventful out here in the country.

The photograph above (with a book) was taken early this year, by an expert in social media (a teenager). Since then, well, I haven't had a haircut and there's been very little reason to shave. So (as you can see at left) I look a bit different now. (But I had a beard for 36 years, so in a way it feels like old times.)

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Photograph of DMM by TPK. Contrary to appearances, the photo at the top of this page was not taken in 1956 with a twin-lens reflex camera.

My grandfathers were a drop-forge operator and a blacksmith. My father started the family profession of computer programming while a graduate student at Columbia University in 1958. He was in the third programming class ever taught by IBM, in 1960. My mother took a Bachelor's degree in Mathematics from the University of Michigan, which was uncommon for a woman in the 1950s. I came along on the eve of the Cuban Missile Crisis, although I had very little to do with it.

I grew up in what we never called "silicon valley" back then. If I'd been smart and had wasted my youth playing arcade games, I could have been seriously rich. I went to the library instead.

My own undergraduate education resulted in a B.A. with a full double major in English & American Literature (with Highest Honors in the Major) and Computer & Information Science (meaning computer programming, not Library Science), with College Honors (Crown College) at the University of California at Santa Cruz in 1984. I went on to a doctorate in English & American Literature at the University of California at San Diego in 1992. I studied the poetry of George Oppen, pretended to understand poststructuralist Theory, and wrote a dissertation halfway between literature and programming.

All of this, during the first Mr. Bush's recession, left me unemployable. So I helped a friend start a small software company where I had a relatively diverse career over 20 years - but, by intent, never a job title. I retired in 2012.

We moved to rural Wisconsin in the early 2000s. It's nice here. My wife, Rollande Krandall, was a folk musician (voice, mandolin, ocarina) and jeweler (glass beadworking, anime & steampunk costume jewelry). We had 29 years together, but she died suddenly and unexpectedly in 2017.

I've always been interested in old machines, intricate mechanisms, and beautiful mechanical details. Stationary steam engines, 18th century scientific instruments, mechanical timekeepers, and all of the tools, machines, and techniques of the traditional machine shop. And books; always books.

In 2008 I acquired my first Linotype. In 2010, at the American Typecasting Fellowship Conference in Piqua, Ohio, I saw a pre-release showing of the film Making Faces about the late Canadian type-maker Jim Rimmer. I could see my life changing as I watched it; I knew that from that point on I must do everything that this brilliant man had done. He was the kind of person who felt that the first thing to do when making a book was to design a new typeface for it - and to cut it with his own hands and tools for hot metal composition. I never met him, but his influence on my life has been beyond reckoning.

What I realized when I took up metal type as an avocation was that I had always been trying to do something halfway between art and technology. Typefounding is the perfect field for this. The casting surface of a typographical matrix is as concise an intersection of art and technology as possible: Without art, it isn't worth doing. Without technology, it can't be done at all.

In every area of metal type making there are people who are vastly more skilled and certainly more artistic than I will ever be. It is my privilege to count many of them as my friends. But there is one area where my strange and varied background allows me to give back to my community in a way which is less common in this field: research and writing.

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See also Books which Ruined My Life.

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Frequently I have been accused (with justice) of coming with a reading list attached - meaning that I talk about books too much. More recently, a few people have asked about things that I have myself written. These are disappointingly few (or mercifully few, if you find them tedious).

My hobby website, www.CircuitousRoot.com, has at present well over 1500 web pages, and, yes, this is writing, but it doesn't really count. Most of these web pages are really just notebooks kept in a public place. They're sketchy and provisional, they're records of sources rather than well-reasoned arguments.

Most of my current work has to do with the history and technology of type-making machinery. But please be aware, if you have come across this while doing real academic research on type, that I have no official qualifications in this field. My doctorate was in a different area entirely. Note also that while the American Typecasting Fellowship (at the Conferences of which some of this work was presented) has been the heart of the preservation of the traditions of type-making for over 40 years, it is by intent just a gathering of friends and enthusiasts. Further, while its members are in fact the only people now qualified to review the contents of the ATF Newsletter, the Newsletter is not a peer-reviewed journal.

Here, then, are links and references to a few relatively recent works.

Making Printers' Type. Terra Alta, WV: Hill & Dale Private Press & Typefoundry, 2020.

I have the great honor of being a co-author of this book, along with R. Stanley Nelson (formerly of the Smithsonian), the late Stephen O. Saxe (type specimen collector and historian), and Richard L. Hopkins (founder of the American Typecasting Fellowship and author of the definitive history of Tolbert Lanston and the American Monotype firm). This book is the first truly comprehensive history in English of hand and machine type making methods. (There's less in Legros & Grant (1916) than one might at first think, and of course it predates many 20th century developments. Wilkes' Das Schriftgießen (1990) is comprehensive, but it is in German.)

MacMillan, Dr. David M. "Compositype: The Success of a Failed Machine." American Typecasting Fellowship Newsletter. No. 42 (January 2018): 29-33. [Edited for publication by Richard L. Hopkins.]

Here's a rather poor scan of this article (done by me, on a scanner which is on its last legs - Rich's printing is much better than it appears in this scan!): dmm-compositype-atfnl-42-roughscan.pdf (Note: The last page of this article promises a more detailed study online, complete with the references omitted from the article due to lack of space. Two years later, this still isn't online - and not a single person has asked me about it. Sigh.)

---. Workshop Notes on Electroforming Matrices (Dunker Method). Mineral Point, WI: The Typemakers' Society, Inc., 2020.

This is a booklet in an "advanced draft" form (useful, but not yet complete). Here it is in PDF form: wnelectrodunk.pdf . Here is the Drawing Portfolio which accompanies it: wnelectrodunkdwgs.pdf . I described this project in my Workshop Update for March 6, 2020: "Matrix Electroforming Case."

---. "The Pantograph Demythologized." Presentation at the 2018 American Typecasting Fellowship Conference hosted by M&H Type Foundry / Arion Press in San Francisco, California.

This was a topic that got away from itself (ok, got away from me). I found that in order to understand it I had to prepare far more material than could possibly be presented. Here's a link to both a long and a shorter version of the slides. In reality, I cut it down on the fly to a fraction of the shorter set. The Pantograph Demythologized.

---. "The Nuernberger-Rettig (aka 'Universal') Type-Maker." Presentation at the 2016 American Typecasting Fellowship Conference co-hosted by the Wells College Book Arts Center (Aurora, NY), the Press & Letterfoundry of Michael and Winifred Bixler (Skaneateles, NY), the Cary Graphic Arts Collection of the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Virgin Wood Type (Rochester, NY).

Here are the slides for this presentation (including an embarassing typographical error on the last slide): nr-atf-2016-rev06.pdf

---. "General Literature on Making Printing Matrices and Types." Web page.

---. "Typographical Punchcutting in Steel by Hand: A Survey of the Literature." Web page.

These are two examples of CircuitousRoot "Notebooks" which are perhaps more useful than some of the others. The first is a comprehensive annotated bibliography of general technical works on typemaking. The second is a similarly comprehensive annotated bibliography specifically on the ancient art of typographical punchcutting.

---. "Wiebking-Hardinge & Ludlow Pantographs: The Most Important Unknown Pantographs in America." Web Page.

Note, however, that I haven't updated this page in several years. Since then, two important events have occurred in this history. First, sadly, the Wiebking pantograph formerly owned by the late Jim Rimmer is now presumed lost in the catastrophic fire which destroyed the printer's museum in Vancouver where it was housed. Only three of these machines now survive. Second, I have acquired one of them: the pantograph formerly at John Johnson's Birdhouse Press. History never rests.

This is an example of a Notebook which goes deep but which does not attempt any overall argument. It's just an attempt to discover and marshal the data. I find that historical research on very obscure topics often is much like a "connect-the-dots" puzzle. Few individual dots are important (nobody really cares about the number of employees Wiebking reported to the State of Illinois' factory inspector in 1899), but if you connect enough dots together a real picture emerges.

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Typographical Punch

This last item isn't a piece of writing, but rather a thing. It's a typographical punch that I cut, from raw stock, in two days during Stan Nelson's 2016 week-long punchcutting class at the Wells College (Aurora, NY) Book Arts Center's summer program. The left view shows the face in a glancing light. The right view shows a "smoke proof" (made by blacking the punch face in a lamp flame and pressing it onto paper). For me, the significance of this punch isn't its quality as a typographical punch (it's terrible!) but rather the fact that I was able to make it at all.

The material is W-1 tool steel. Unfortunately, this punch cracked when we hardened it (this happens sometimes), so I cannot show you matrix, type and printing derived from it.

For reference, the face height of this punch is about 9.6 American printer's points (3.4 mm or 0.13 inches). I wasn't working to any specific size in this first attempt, and type body depends upon several factors (lining and depth of drive, particularly), but this might work out to something a little small for a 16 point face or about right for an 11 point titling face.