Beyond (and Before) Benton

image link-topic-sf0.jpg

1. Introduction

Please don't misunderstand me here - I admire Linn Boyd Benton as one of the finest engineers of his time. His pantograph engraving machines are marvels of design, and are certainly entirely his own creation. The central importance of their use in, and influence on, type making in the US and internationally is equally beyond question. But great success generates mythology, and Benton has become a figure of legend. This legend tends either to ignore or discount other pantograph engraving machines both before and after Benton's. This is unfortunate for several reasons:

Benton's first pantographic engraving machine was developed by at least 1884 (patented 1885) and was initially intended for the cutting of patrices in typemetal from which matrices might be electroformed. The method of electroforming from patrices, now generally ignored, forgotten, or devalued, was the mainstay of the display type industry in the 19th and 20th centuries. Soon after this, his machine began to be used for engraving punches. About fifteen years later, Benton adapted his machines to matrix engraving, and they became the primary means of matrix production at American Type Founders.

However, starting slightly before Benton's first machine and continuing to the present, over 30 distinct pantograph engraving machines, many entirely unrelated to Benton's , have been used to engrave patrices, punches, or matrices. The overwhelming majority of all metal type ever made was made via these other machines.

The study of pantograph engraving machines other than Benton's for typographical matrix production falls more or less naturally into four categories:

To this might be added a fifth category: machines not designed specifically for typographical engraving which have been used with success. The notion that the Benton machines (or machines derived from them) are the only machines capable of engraving a punch or a matrix is false. Historically, the most important instance of an adapted commercial machine was Goudy's use of an Engravers' and Printers' Machinery Co. (i.e., William S. Eaton) machine, a standard commercial engraver, for his own matrix engraving work. More recently, Jim Rimmer used an Ogata RS-260 standard commercial horizontal-format pantograph engraver with great success. Offizin Parnassia Vättis currently use a Michael Kampf machine, also a standard commercial horizontal-format pantograph engraver, for their new types (e.g., their recutting of Morris' Troy Type).

An obvious question might arise in the mind of the 21st century reader: why don't we know more about this? After all, graphic design schools teach that type is one of the pillars of civilization and that type design is an artistic calling of the highest order. But it was not always so. From Gutenberg to William Morris (approximately; Stanley Morison at the very latest), type-making was simply another industrial process. Type was (and still is, really) just another industrial product. Prior to Goudy, type designers weren't rock stars. For its first 450 years, type making was engineering; it is no accident that the best article on the subject prior to the 1930s appeared in The American Machinist (Kaup, 1909) . History is written by people who write, and engineers don't like writing very much.

2. Machines Predating Benton's

The first documented reference to a pantograph engraving machine by Benton is a brief notice in the July 1884 number of The Inland Printer in which Benton, Waldo & Co. note that they have a machine capable of cutting punches in steel. It is likely, from an analysis done by William Gregan based on conversations he held with Morris Fuller Benton, that Benton first employed his machine to engrave patrices for electroforming matrices. No evidence survives of the timing or development of any Benton pantograph before July 1884, but based on Benton's other activities during this period (developing his "self-spacing" type, patented Dec. 1883), and based on the date of his first patent (Mar. 1882, for a machine for casting printers leads) it is reasonable to assume that he was working on it in the 1883 timeframe.

Only one other pantograph engraving machine of which I am presently aware was at work by 1882, but it (the "Central" machine) was producing matrices by direct engraving for types offered for sale.

Benton did not revise his vertical pantographs for the direct engraving of matrices until a surprisingly late date, 1899. By that time there were a number of matrix engraving pantographs in service, and there had been at least two independent commercial matrix engraving firms.

2.1. The "Central" Machine (By 1882)

This machine doesn't have a name (yet). I'm referring to it as the "Central Type Foundry" or "Central" machine because its first successful work was done at that foundry. The primary CircuitousRoot Notebook on this machine is at ../../../../ Pantograph Engraving Machines -> Central Type Foundry Pantograph.

This machine was built in Germany (maker unknown) and imported in 1880 by the Cincinnati Type Foundry. It seems not to have been used effectively there. In 1882 it was sold to the Central Type Foundry.

It was used for the first direct machine engraving of typecasting matrices in the US (for Geometric) by William Schraubstadter at the Central Type Foundry in 1882. At least five faces were cut with it at Central before 1889 ( Geometric, Geometric Italic, Morning Glory, Scribner, and Type Writer). At that time, the engraver Gustav F. Schroder purchased the machine and, together with Nicholas J. Werner, left Central and set up as an independent matrix engraving firm. Between 1889 and 1891, they engraved at least nine faces for Central, the Boston Type Foundry, and Barnhart Brothers & Spindler. These included the first eight sizes of DeVinne. In 1891, Schroeder moved to California while Werner remained in St. Louis. This dissolved their partnership, and the history of the machine is unknown from this time on. However, both Schroeder and Werner (who was not trained as an engraver) continued to cut faces; it is likely that one or the other of them continued to use this machine.

(Werner confirms that the Central machine was used at this time and in this way in, e.g., his "Address" delivered circa 1931 to the St. Louis Club of Printing House Craftsmen.)

Near-contemporary accounts by Loy (who does not seem to have quite understood the machine) and Bullen (who certainly was prejudiced in favor of Benton) dismissed this machine. It is true that if you take a look at four of the five faces known to have been made by it, they're pretty plain (Geometric, Geometric Italic, Morning Glory, and Type Writer; Scribner is harder to evaluate as it is a deliberately wild face). Werner himself goes so far as to say that "It is but fair to state that the first Roman face engraved by machine was done on one invented by Mr. L. B. Benton, of Milwaukee, who was part owner of a small foundry in that city." ( "An Address" delivered circa 1931 to the St. Louis Club of Printing House Craftsmen). Yet by 1888/1889 this machine and a presumed derivative, the Schroeder-Boyer Pantograph, were being used to cut DeVinne - a typeface beyond question. In the end, though, whether or not this machine was producing sufficiently sophisticated type is secondary to the fact that it was producing type at all.

Very little is known about this machine itself, other than that it was a horizontal-format pantographic matrix engraver. Its influence, if any, on other pantograph engraving machines is unknown. Its importance lies in the fact that it was used for the first making of matrices by machine in America. It is also interesting, although not necessarily important, that it was a direct matrix engraving machine at a time when Benton ws still thinking in terms of a patrix engraving machine for electroformed matrices.

2.2. Wiebking (In Passing)

The pantograph engraving machines of Robert Wiebking and Henry Hardinge will be discussed in more detail below. They originated with machines made in Germany by 1880, but Wiebking and Hardinge did not develop them to the point where they were ready to set up in commercial matrix engraving until 1894.

2.3. Unknown German Machines

The fact that both the "Central" and the Wiebking machines originated in German strongly suggests that interesting things were happening there. I have, as yet, no idea what.

3. Independent Machines Contemporary with Benton's

3.1. Schroeder-Boyer (1888/9

Little is known about this machine. It isn't even clear if it was a matrix engraving machine or a pattern engraving machine. Developed by Gustav Schroeder for his partnership with Werner in matrix engraving in either 1888 or 1889.

The primary CircuitousRoot Notebook on this machine is at ../../../../ Pantograph Engraving Machines -> Schroeder-Boyer.

3.2. Wiebking

While the "Central" machine is important for its priority over all other typefounders' pantographs in America, the Wiebking machine was the most influential of the non-Benton machines. More precisely, its influence over the look of type in the Twentieth Century was as great as any machine; but because it was protected as a trade secrect it had no influence at all on the development of pantograph engravers.

The primary CircuitousRoot Notebook on this machine is at ../../../../ Pantograph Engraving Machines -> Wiebking.

It is probably incorrect to think of this as a single machine. Rather, it was almost certainly a series of machines improved over the years, and then produced in limited quantity for internal use by Wiebking and, later, the Ludlow Typograph Company. It originated with a machine which, like the "Central" machine, was made in Germany before 1880. (The relationship between these two machines, if any, is unknown.) This was brought to America by Herman Wiebking (father of Robert Wiebking, who was eleven years old at the time). While the machine at that stage worked, and while there is a report that type was cast by Marder, Luse from at least one matrix cut on it, it does not seem to have been sufficient for typographical matrix making at the time.

However, Robert Wiebking trained as a commercial engraver and worked at improving his father's machine. By 1894 (at the latest), he had collaborated with Henry H. Hardinge (co-founder of Hardinge Brothers, the machine-tool builders) to improve the machine to a workable state for matrix engraving. Wiebking provided commercial matrix engraving services using this machine (at first under his own name, and then incorprated as Wiebking and Harding until 1912 or 1914.

So by the mid-1890s a type designer or type foundry could simply go to Wiebking for commercial matrix engraving services. (as, e.g., Barnhart Brothers & Spindler did in 1897 for Topic [No. 5] (later renamed World Gothic Condensed). Benton did not modify his pantograph to cut matrices until 1899 { The Bentons , p. 71}.

Wiebking's work at this time included many of Goudy's early types (e.g., Kennerley) and Bruce Rogers' Centaur. These surely rank as two of the finest types ever cut. It is unsurprising, given this, that R. Hunter Middleton (the third most prolific metal type designer of the Twentieth Century compared achievements of Wiebking and his pantograph to those of the English hand punchcutter Edward Prince, who cut the types for William Morris' Kelmscott Press and the Doves Press which transformed fine printing.

Then a strange twist of fate did something else for Wiebking's machines and gave them a kind of influence and longevity that would have been alien to Morris and Cobden Sanderson (though perhaps not to Prince, who was well versed in commercial punchcutting). The newly formed Ludlow Typograph Company needed matrix making equipment for its machines, and they turned to Wiebking. Initially hesitant, Wiebking provided them with a machine and training on it, and also worked himself on contract to Ludlow as a matrix engraver. This means that his machines, and their derivatives at Ludlow, were responsible for the great bulk of newspaper display advertising in the hot metal era. The same machine which gave us Kennerley and Centaur also gave us practically every grocery store ad from 1925 through 1975.

Because of Wiebking's retiring nature and the secrecy of his shop, little is known about the technical details of these machines. I am certain that at least one survives, and suspect that another does. I've seen partial photographs of one. It is quite beautiful. It also has an unusual acoustic device on it, the details of which I do not understand, for sensing the engagement of the cutter.

3.3. Ballou

This machine was built by George F. Ballou and purchased by Barnhart Brothers & Spindler in 1895. It is illustrated in Legros & Grant's Typographical Printing Surfaces (1916) , p. 236 and Plate XII, without any commentary providing real technical information. (Although their comments are interesting insofar as they argue that a matrix engraver is substantially easier to build than a punch engraver.)

[click image to view larger]
image link-to-legros-grant-1916-plate-012-1200grey-fig-211-ballou-matrix-engraving-machine-sf0.jpg

I do not know if this machine was successful at BB&S; the fact that they soon after turned to the Dedrick machine in-house and contracting to Wiebking suggests that it was not. Still, it is another pantograph doing matrix engraving before Benton modified his for that task.

The primary CircuitousRoot Notebook on this machine is at ../../../../ Pantograph Engraving Machines -> Ballou.

3.4. Dedrick

This machine was designed by Nicholas Dedrick and built at or for Barnhart Brothers & Spindler It was therefore the second pantograph engraver used at that foundry (after the Ballou). It was used there in 1896 or 1897, which puts it after the "Central", (first) Benton, Wiebking, and Ballou machines. As it was a machine able to cut either punches or matrices, however, it predates Benton in matrix cutting.

[click image to view larger]
image link-to-us-0645164-sf0.jpg

It would appear also that one copy of this machine was sold to the Peignot typefoundry in France in 1901. While there may have been some earlier exchange of pantograph engraver information between, for example, the American and English Linotype companies, this would seem to be the first (and indeed a very rare) sale of an American pantograph to a European typefoundry.

The sale of a machine would seem to indicate that it was at least reasonably successful, but I have no direct accounts of the use or success of this machine at BB&S. They did, at the same period also do business with Wiebking.

The primary CircuitousRoot Notebook on this machine is at ../../../../ Pantograph Engraving Machines -> Dedrick.

3.5. Inland

The primary CircuitousRoot Notebook on this machine is at ../../../../ Pantograph Engraving Machines -> Inland.

3.6. Schokmiller

This machine, built in St. Louis by 1906, was in use at Stephenson, Blake for several decades.

The primary CircuitousRoot Notebook on this machine is at ../../../../ Pantograph Engraving Machines -> Schokmiller.

4. Machines Derived From Benton's

4.1. Barr (Linotype & Machinery, Ltd.)

See ../../../../ Pantograph Engraving Machines -> Barr [UK].

4.2. Pierpont (Monotype UK)

See ../../../../ Pantograph Engraving Machines -> Pierpont [UK, Monotype].

4.3. Lewis

See ../../../../ Pantograph Engraving Machines -> Lewis (Keystone Type Foundry) [US].

4.4. Grant-Legros

See ../../../../ Pantograph Engraving Machines -> Grant-Legros [UK].

5. Later Machines Developed Independently

5.1. Gorton

In addition their standard industrial engraving pantographs, Gorton offered both equipment to use with them adapted specifically for matrix engraving and, in two cases, entire models (the 3-G and 3-K) intended primarily for matrix engraving .

Gorton No. 1-A Matrix Engraving Machine (basically Gorton Tool No. 237-1, Matrix Cutter Head, applied to a Gorton 1-A).

Gorton No. 1-G Matrix Engraving Machine (basically Gorton Tool No. 236-1, Matrix Cutter Head, applied to a Gorton 1-A).

Gorton No. 3-G Matrix Engraving Machine, successor to the 1-G.

Gorton No. 3-K Precision Matrix Machine.

6. Machines Adapted Successfully

6.1. Eaton / Engravers' and Printers' Machinery Co.

The various commercial pantographs with which William S. Eaton was involved were not intended primarily for matrix engraving work, but rather for general commercial engraving (e.g., watch cases, jewelry, printing plates). One style of them, however, is notable because it was the machine adopted by Frederic W. Goudy to engraving his matrices. The primary CircuitousRoot Notebook on this machine is at ../../../../ Pantograph Engraving Machines -> Eaton and Related [US].

6.2. Michael Kampf

[NOT DONE; Offizin Parnassia Vättis still use a Kampf pantograph for matrix engraving]

6.3. Ogata

Much more recently, the late Jim Rimmer used an Ogata RS-260 commercial pantograph engraver (made in 1973) with great success in matrix engraving.

7. Why the Midwest?

As a resident of Wisconsin and owner of five pantographs (of one form or another; none rare), I cannot resist a lighthearted coda: why is it that the US "midwest" seems to have been the typographical pantograph engraving machine center of the world near the turn of the 20th century?

The first successful machine ( the "Central" machine) was in St. Louis by way of Cincinnati. It led to the Schroeder-Boyer machine, also in St. Louis. These were followed by the Inland and Schokmiller pantographs, exported from St. Louis to Germany and England, respectively. Barnhart Brothers & Spindler of Chicago used first the Ballou and then the Dedrick. Dedrick himself lived in Chicago and in Manitowoc, Wisconsin. The best known of all typographical pantographs, those of Benton, began in Milwaukee. The finest and most influential of the non-Benton machines, those of Wiebking, were refined and used in Chicago. Of the American commercial pantographs, the best known and the one most used typographically was the Gorton, of Racine, Wisconsin. The Barr, Pierpont, and Grant-Legros machines all trace their lineage back through Benton and thus Milwaukee.

The only non-Midwestern machine to have any serious influence on type-making was Eaton's and this was only because Goudy couldn't get a machine from one of the matrix manufacturers or typefoundries. (Ok, so I'm cheating a bit here. The Kampf is of course German. Many of the pantographs used throughout the Twentieth Century in Germany look a lot like it, and it remains in use today. The Lewis was from Philadelphia, but it was a fairly minor machine.)

So almost all of the typographical pantograph engraving machine development in this period happened along a 460 mile arc from St. Louis through Chicago, Racine, Milwaukee and up to Manitowoc on the Wisconsin coast. (When you realize that at the time the world's greatest concentration of pantograph engravers for wood type was at the Hamilton plant in Two Rivers, Wisconsin, seven miles away, things get eerie.)

I don't know why things developed here as they did, but it is pleasant to be located in the home of pantographic type-making.

About the images

Select Resolution: 0 [other resolutions temporarily disabled due to lack of disk space]