“Mr. William F. Hill one of the early employees of Mr White after his move from Hartford watch maker a superior workman and an ingenious mechanic, conceived a method of making copper type by what may be called ‘swedging’ or pressing by steel dies the face upon the body.” This convoluted sentence comes from History of Typefounding in the United States by David Bruce. Mr Bruce was not a writer: he was the inventor of the first effective typecasting machine in America.

Swedging is defined as shaping metal using a hammer or other force. (Colloquially it can also mean leaving a restaurant or shop without paying. The OED asserts this usage derives from U.S. nautical slang, which sense  appears to have evolved from a meaning of doubling back and going around an object.)

The Oxford English Dictionary sends us to the noun “swage”, which it defines as “A tool for bending cold metal (or moulding potter’s clay) to the required shape; also a die or stamp for shaping metal on an anvil, in a press, etc.”. Swage also means “an ornamental grooving, moulding, border, or mount on a candlestick, basin, or other vessel”, or more remotely “the excrement of the otter”.

I suppose this means swedging copper type would involve just bashing a bit of metal till you’ve formed the shape of a character. I guess such a procedure wouldn’t seem too crazy in a world where the idea of melting the metal and pouring it into a mould was restricted to a one-off hand casting routine. However, hammering a bit of copper would seem to be a slower alternative. I wonder if what Mr Bruce is actually referring to is the making of a mould: swedging a bit of copper might well be a description of just such a punchcutting process.

One of the early problems with mechanized type founding was a tendency for title air bubbles to form in the metal. This made the types lighter, but lead to their collapsing when pressure was applied to them in the printing press. David Bruce’s typecasting machines No. 1 (1838) and especially No. 2 (1843) overcame this and many other problems. His machine and versions of it remained the workhorses of typecasting for a hundred and fifty years.