Monotype by Jules Henri Lengrand. From Wikipedia
Just to get it out of the way first: I am not referring to a “monotype”, a unique print made from a plate onto which an image is painted, paper being squeezed directly against it to transfer the image, usually in a printing press. The printing of that first impression tends to remove almost all of the ink, but inferior second (and even beyond) prints, often called ghost prints can be made. Monotyping was invented in the 1640s by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione, an Italian painter and etcher.
I’m talking about the Monotype typesetting machine patented by Tolbert Lanston in 1885. Lanston was born in Troy, Ohio, and worked initially at the government pensions office developing an adding machine. His brother was a printer, and this connection sparked Lanston’s insight into the potential gain from automating the hand-setting process. Unlike Linotype which sets a complete line at a time, Monotype makes type in individual characters of varying width. A Monotype system comprises a keyboard and a casting machine which includes a mould carrying a matrix case. The keyboard operator types out the text creating a punched paper tape perforated to indicate characters and spacing, which is calculated automatically as the line is filled. The completed ribbon is moved to the caster, which “reads” the perforations and casts the individual characters and spaces one after the other, line by line. The lines are collected on a metal tray called a galley, which when full is removed and proofed. Hence “galley proof”. The idea of a punched card, which we tend to associate with the early computer industry, dates in fact from about 1825 when it was first used to control looms, getting a final improvement around 1800 in the Jacquard loom.
A single piece of Monotype type: a thistle sort
The Monotype keyboard is laid out in QWERTY configuration like a typewriter or computer keyboard. Linotype keyboards had the ETAOIN SHRDLU layout, which is based on grouping the most frequently used characters together. I wonder if French or German Linotypes had their own keyboard arrangement based on different character frequency: probably.
Monotype is more versatile than Linotype and thus better suited to complex setting such as mathematical equations and chemical formulae. Special symbols are easily incorporated into the matrix cases that held the type fonts. However it is slower and thus more expensive than Linotype, and thus lost out in the mass market. Monotype was more successful in Britain than in America, and was always attentive to its “fine printing” potential. They always had a typographic advisor on staff: notably Stanley Morison, designer of Times Roman. Monotype operations still survive, but mainly serving the de luxe book market. It’s more work-a-day competitor the Linotype has to all intents and purposes disappeared.
Here’s a bit more about Monotype from the website Garamond, and even more from British Letterpress.
The photos below were taken last month at M & H (Mackenzie & Harris), now owned by, and occupying the same premises as Arion Press in the Presidio in San Francisco. M & H is the last remaining type foundry in USA, casting many fonts in many different typefaces which are supplied to printers around the world. This is how things operated for much of the history of print: most printers would not cast their own type: that was the job of a type foundry. The tour Arion/M & H offer on Thursdays is well worth going to. I have posted about it before with a video here.
A Monotype caster
The Hell box: old type waiting to go into the furnace to be melted down for reuse