TYPE & TYPEFACES
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NOTES ON WOOD TYPE posted: 12/29/155, updated 2/29/16
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“FOUNDRY” and “FOUNDRY TYPE” posted: 9/23/16
“FOUNDRY” and “FOUNDRY TYPE”
In professional typographic usage, “foundry” can have either of two senses. Context will normally indicate which is meant. (Hopefully it will, anyway.)
In the wider typographic sense, a foundry is any manufacturer of type in any form, including metal, digital, film, and, sometimes at least, even wood.
In the narrower sense, “foundry type” is type cast specifically for handsetting, and only that type which is cast on a Barth or similar typecasting machine (in the 20th century), or the Bruce pivotal casters or similar machine used in the 1800s. (Perhaps type cast in hand molds, as it was before the Bruce machines came in, would be considered foundry type as well, but there’s not enough of it in use for this question to be of much practical relevance.) The term “foundry type” is used to distinguish type cast by these methods from type cast on Monotype machines.
Most discussions of the relative merits of foundry type and Monotype concentrate on the hardness of the metal. There’s a lot more to it than that. Also, as Theo Rehak and others have pointed out, the distinction isn’t quite as clear-cut as it may seem.
The distinction is important in type shops because foundry type is superior to Monotype when the type is to be set by hand, and especially when it is to be re-used over the long term. Foundry type is cast with harder metal and the casting is of better quality, so that the type would last longer and wear better. Foundry type also has unique patterns of nicks to distinguish each font, which makes accurate handsetting much easier, especially in a shop where many people of varying levels of experience are using many fonts. (Things are much simpler in a very small shop where one or two people are using mainly a few fonts that they know well and keep always in good order.)
The distinction between foundry type and Monotype remains important today. But the quality of type cast on any machine depended to a significant extent on the quality of metal used, the skill of the operator, how well the machine was maintained, and probably also on the way the machine was set up for a given run. More importantly, “Monotype” covers a number of significantly different machines.
Some of these “Monotype” machines, particularly the Thompson caster, approached foundry type in quality: they could cast better and with harder metal than could many other machines. Even the standard Monotype Composition Caster, which is the least of the Monotypes from a handset perspective, produced type from which a very great deal of very fine work was printed. In fact, many, quite possibly most, of the genuinely fine letterpress books of the twentieth century were set with Monotype Composition Casters. But that type was not meant for handsetting, or for re-use. It was melted down after each use, and used for new castings.
On the other hand, ATF, associated with “foundry type” in the strict sense, cast a lot of its larger type on Thompson machines made and sold by Monotype (or by the earlier Thompson company). This was display type, used in small quantities, so the advantages of true foundry type were less important. The lack of nicks was not critical, since the type was larger, less of it was used, and speed of setting was not a primary consideration. Durability was less of a factor because a given display font would usually not see the heavy use that a text font would, and was in any case more resistant to wear because the details weren’t as tiny and fragile. (When a display face was to be heavily used, a good type shop might prefer true foundry-cast type if it were available for the desired face. But in practice, in the twentieth century, it probably often wasn’t, so they just replaced the Monotype type a bit more often than they would have liked.)
And, of course, new type from a Composition Caster is better than worn-out type from a Barth. You can still today have the text of your book set in fresh new type from a Composition Caster. From that type, you can produce mouth-wateringly good printing. There’s very little new foundry type available. (And you may not be able to spare a month to set your book by hand.)
By the same token, however, foundry type, when you have it, should be used and conserved much more carefully than Monotype, since it is superior for certain uses and since foundry type can’t be replaced (and there may be no Monotype equivalent available). This is especially true of text sizes of foundry type, since the nicks are a major aid to text setting, and their lack is sorely missed when setting text with Monotype type.
Foundry type, therefore, should not be used by beginning typesetters or printers, who are more likely to smash it on press, or distribute it into the wrong case or the wrong letter boxes, or simply abandon it to be lost in galleys. It should also not be used for the deeply debossed “sock” impressions wanted in many of the smaller letterpress items produced today. This is what customers often want, and fine and distinctive results can be obtained with a “sock” impression. But this sort of printing wears type quickly, and should be produced from polymer plates or Monotype Composition Caster type—that is, from type that can be replaced. (Display type from other Monotype machines may also be replaceable—but not always.)
Keep in mind that a “sock” impression was not a part of fine printing until recently. In earlier periods, you could get fired for doing that to type, and the real test of expertise was in balancing ink, paper, and press set-up to get a “kiss” impression, which requires much more skill— and can be used for pieces printed on both sides of a sheet. Note that what was called a “sock” impression, in older commercial printing, was not necessarily deeply, or even visibly, debossed. It meant that the type bit into the paper just enough to aid the impression. Back then, visibly debossed type was a sign of schlock printing.
For these reasons, people in shops with metal type should be aware of the distinction between foundry type, in the strict sense, and Monotype—or at any rate, between foundry type and type from a Monotype Composition Caster. You should know which of your fonts are foundry type (in the strict sense), and which are from Monotype machines. (The specimen books of twentieth-century metal shops often note whether a given font is foundry or monotype. They kept track of that for their own use, and their higher-end customers often wanted that information too.)
For most practical purposes, telling foundry type from Monotype is actually quite simple. Just look at the nicks. If there is more than one nick in a piece of type, it’s foundry type. Note that the secondary nicks may be so shallow that they are only visible from the front. If there’s a single nick (or no nick), it’s Monotype. Some Monotype machines, at least for larger type sizes, produced type that had no nick, but was hollow, or had big indentations on two sides.
(The nick business doesn’t apply to spaces, which are meant for use with any font of a given size and only have single nicks.)
As for distinguishing between type from Monotype Composition Casters and that from other Monotype machines, there’s some grey area, but the distinction is far less critical, especially for today’s shops. The Composition Caster normally produced type 14-point or smaller. So if it is has one nick and is 14-point or smaller, I’d say it’s most likely Composition Caster type.
Other Monotype machines could produce type in both text sizes and display sizes. I’m looking into the different kinds of Monotype machines, their different capabilities, and how their products can be told apart. In the not-too-distant future, I hope to post some useful information on this, in the Type Technology section of this site.
Knowledge of the casting technology and the various machines can be relevant to identifying type, since different machines produced different ranges of faces and sizes. It can also be relevant to the likely quality of the type, since some of the Monotype machines (the Thompson and OA machines, the latter also called “Orphan Annies” or “Display Casters”) could produce higher-quality type, while others (the Giant Caster and Super Caster) produced type from softer metal, of casting quality comparable to that of the Composition Caster. All of this can help you determine the best uses for the type in your shop, and make the best use of your typographic resources and your type budget.
The distinction between “typesetting machines” and “typecasting machines” is also worth mentioning here, to give adequate technological background to casting questions.
“Typecasting machines,” in the strictest sense, produce only “sorts”: individual pieces of type that must be assembled by hand later. They do not have the practical capability of assembling letters in any particular order so as to compose texts.
“Typesetting machines,” on the other hand, are always machines that are intended for the production of typeset texts, especially and typically books and other text-size matter. Unlike typecasting machines, typesetting machines have the ability to assemble in order, and cast (or otherwise embody), whatever letters are required for the text.
For further information on the various typecasting and typesetting machines, see the Type Technology section of this site.
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