Photo: Gloucester Typesetting

A galley of type coming from the caster. Photo: Gloucester Typesetting

I can’t get over the amazing simplicity of the idea behind the back-to-front typesetting operation of a Monotype caster.

Obviously your keyboard operator is going to start at the very beginning. (We all know it’s a very good place to start). After the individual pieces of type have been cast and deposited in order, the line ends up back-to-front in a galley. (It has to be back-to-front so that when it’s printed it’ll be right-way-round.) In hand setting the operator has to insert spaces to fill the line out to the full measure, the line length; a Linotype machine responds to the operator’s activation of the spacebands. The Monotype sums up the total of all the characters it has set in the line, figures out what space remains to fill the line by allowing for spaces to be inserted between words, and records that spacing value on the punched tape at the end of every line. After keyboarding the punched tape is run backwards through the typecaster, so that the first piece of information the machine gets is the amount of space which it needs to leave between each word in that line. This means of course that the book is actually set from the end to the beginning. It’s one of those inventions which seem mere common sense once they’ve been found, but actually require wild imagination.

Gloucester Typesetting has a beautiful page which makes the whole process clear.