The Wooden Press is Replaced by Iron Hand Presses
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Joseph Moxon

Much information about type founding was preserved by Joseph Moxon who published a series of works on the mechanical arts (blacksmithing, carpentry, etc) in his Mechanick Exercises, Vol. 2, 1683.

Included therein was Mechanick Exercises in the Whole Art of Printing describing the complete process of letter design, punch cutting, foundry processes and printing.

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The process of surface printing, (ink on metal surface to paper) was the primary means for printing books for most of printing history. In the 21st century only fine book presses using metal type (or polymer plates on a type-high carrier).

In the letterpress era the properly equipped print shop would own large quantities of type sorted into drawers or type cases. Two sets of cases were used for each font—one for capitals, italic or small caps, fractions and lesser used characters and the other for figures, points, spaces, ligatures and lower case characters. During type setting the caps case was positioned above the lowercase—the configuration supplied the names upper case and lower case.

There were many type case configurations, some combined both the upper and lower into one double case. Today the most common typecase used in fine press bookshops is the California case. See a full description of it on Briar Press site.

The final steps of placing the type onto the press type bed and locking up the form in position is called make ready.
Watch a Boxcar video of make ready.

The Stanhope Press

Gutenberg and his descendants used wooden presses but in 1800, CHARLES MAHON, (Earl Stanhope) (1753–1816) introduced the first hand press with an iron frame. Capable of printing 480 pages per hour it was stronger and allowed for a larger impression. Through a combination of levers Stanhope's model used 90% less force and held up longer than a wooden press. You can read about the Stanhope press in more detail at British letterpress.

We just had to put this picture of the Stanhope in as it appeared on page 364 of Practical printing: A handbook of the art of typography by John Southward. In 1884 Southward sums up the printing world of his day, "There are several varieties of presses in use at the present day. There is the old wooden press, still to be found in some small offices in London and the country. There are also the iron Stanhope press, the Britannia, the Imperial, and one or two others; but in the best offices there are hardly used nor worth pulling proofs upon. Practically there are only two presses in actual use, the Columbian and the Albion."

Mechanic George Clymer (1754–1834) of Philadelphia designed the elaborate Columbia press (above) incorporating levers and counterweights. Although the press name and its decorative eagles broadcast the homeland of the inventor, the American market was slow to accept the press and Clymer needed to go to Europe for actual production. 2


Press improvements continued in the form of the Albion Press (1824) by Hopkinson of Hopkinson and Cope. It worked with a simpler toggle action.

Cylinder and Steam Powered Presses

women pressmen4 Women in the pressroom, not as rare as you might think.

koenig steam pressKoening's steam press

Women in the Pressroom

Just because graphic design survey books haven't bothered to report on women in the press room (or for that matter in graphic design prior to the late 1800's) doesn't mean they weren't there. Despite the party line that that printing was strictly a "man's occupation" there is much evidence to the contrary.

Women printers were, however, mostly given the tedious and mind-numbing tasks or those that held no promise for advancement. In the press shop that meant feeding sheets onto and taking them off of the press. In the type foundry women were either "rubbers" who completed the final finish on type or packagers of type. Many women set type. In the 18th century there were training schools devoted to teaching women to type set. It was only when the printer's unions were formed that women were boxed out of type and printing.

While it looks tame and safe in the illustration (above), there were presses in which hands and fingers could be pinched or lost, and presses at which a woman had to stand for back breaking hours on end to feed the paper into the press.


Cylinders & Steam Power

Two ideas altered the design of the printing press radically: use of steam power for running the machinery, and second the replacement of the printing flatbed with the rotary motion of cylinders.

German printer Friedrich Koenig (1774–1833) worked on a series of steam operated presses in England. His 1814 model (above right) was purchased by The Times of London, assuring commercial success for Koenig's backers. The printers at newspaper were not so enthusiastic, realizing that the new machine would put many of them out of work. Violence was averted when management promised to find employment for any displaced employees.

Koenig, who faced legal and financial obstacles in England, returned to Germany where he designed the first "perfecting" press—one that printed both sides of the sheet in one pass. 3


bullock 1865

Bullock's Perfecting Web Press 4

Rotary bed presses

The steam powered rotary printing press, invented in 1843 in the United States by Richard M. Hoe, allowed millions of copies of a page in a single day. Mass production of printed works flourished after the transition to rolled paper as continuous feed allowed the presses to run at a much faster pace. 3

The Perfecting Web Press 1865

Philadelphia's William Bullock developed the first press that allowed for continuous large rolls of paper to be automatically fed through the rollers and to be printed simultaneously on both sides—eliminating the laborious task of hand feeding.

The press also folded the paper and featured a sharp serrated knife to automatically cut the printed sheets. The press could print up to 12,000 sheets an hour; later improvements raised the speed to up to 30,000 sheets an hour. 4

Advances in Type Casting : Letters, Syllables and Entire Lines


stanhopelogotypes linotype

Stereotype, 1725

Firmin Didot invented the process of stereotyping, making a cast of a prepared page, including all of the individual letterpress characters, complete with spaces. That mold could be used to cast many more reproductions of that page.

This meant that the same page could be printed on presses elsewhere or simultaneously in the same shop. Didot's invention revolutionized the book trade by lowering the price of production.


Above images courtesy of Philadelphia Free Library Theatre Collection and Rare Book Department.

The Stereotype Process

"The face of the type set up in the form was first rubbed with fine oil, in order to prevent the adhesion of the plaster of Paris mold to the form. The type was plastered over with liquid gypsum (9 parts of plaster with 7 parts of water) to the thickness of about one-half of one inch, so that a level cake was formed on the surface of the types. As soon as the plaster hardened the case was separated from the types and showed a complete hollow or mold-like representation of the faces of the types and everything else on the page.

The cake was put into an oven and baked, like a piece of pottery. Next, it was laid on a square iron pan, having a lid of the same metal, with holes at the corners. The pan was then immersed in a pot of molten metal and being allowed to fill up by means of the holes, it was at length taken out and put aside to cool. On opening the pan, the metal had run into the mold side of the cake, and formed a thin plate all over, exhibiting the perfect appearance of the faces of the types on which the gypsum was plastered. These plates were about one-sixth of one inch thick, and were printed in the same manner as printing from types. Then the set-up types were of no further use, and were redistributed." 5


Casting Partial Words

Henry Johnson, a compositor of London was granted a patent for logography in 1783. Johnson's innovation was to cast the most used words and syllables together (for example "and' or "be") to speed the work of the compositor.

The combined letters claimed to have been found of greatest value were: be, corn, con, ent, ion, in, for, ge, ing, Id, me, the, and, th, ve, al, re, os.
Image source, 5


Monotype/ Casting Letters input from a keyboard.

In 1887 Tolbert Lanston (1844-1914) patented the Monotype typesetter, which produced individual characters. Individual letters were cast 'on the fly' in order as dictated by a pre-punched ribbon. This eliminating the need to pick cold type by hand. The product of a monotype caster was more durable than linotype and, because the letters were individual, could be reused.

See a monotype keypunch machine. The object above is a monotype matrix for casting the individual characters of a complete font.

Linotype film
Monotype and Linotype on youtube

Casting a Line of Type

In 1886 the Linotype was invented by German born but American raised Ottmar Mergenthaler. It enabled one machine operator to do the work of ten hand compositors by automating the selection, use and replacement of sorts, with a keyboard as input.

The Linotype produces a solid "line of type." It was used for generations by newspapers and general printers. A one-person machine: the operator sits in front with the copy to be set near the keyboard. The machine is adjusted for the required point size and line length and the type metal heated to about 550 F.


Pressed keys trigger a mechanism that releases the matrices—brass pieces in which the characters or dies are stamped. (above) The matrices travel from the magazine channels on a miniature conveyor belt, into the assembler box—the composing stick of the Linotype. The final result was one full line of type. Unable to be reused, the type was returned to molten metal for new casting.6

Mechanization of Punchcutting


woman typesetter

The End of Punchcutting 1884

American typeface designer Linn Boyd Benton created the Benton Pantograph, an engraving machine capable not only of scaling font design patterns to a variety of sizes, but also condensing, extending and slanting the design.

The introduction of this machine meant that one could create a punch without the extensive training that traditional punchcutting required. Out with the punchcutter also meant out with the critical eye of the artist letter cutter.


The process begins with a tracing of a letter design which is translated into a brass master. All surplus brass is routed away from the relief matrice. (above)

The brass matrice is placed into the pantograph machine and traced with one arm of the device while a cutting tool on another arm engraves the letter at the required size.


In an interview by Mark Solsburg, Mathew Carter spoke of the repercussions of the pantograph. “A Milwaukee engineer named Linn Boyd Benton put the first 'nail in the coffin' of local foundries in 1884 when he invented a pantographic punchcutter, a router-like engraving machine for cutting the steel punches for type. That was the most important technical development in typography since Gutenberg's invention of variable-width type molds in the 15th century.”

Mathematically, the pantograph works in affine transformation which is the fundamental geometric operation of most systems of digital typography today, including PostScript.

Above, a woman typecaster demonstrates a foot operated keyboard apparatus.

Suggested Reading for graphic design insomniacs, History of Composing Machines, John Thompson, 1904.
Click here to skip to Cold Type (Phototype)
New Technology for Introducing Tone and Delicacy into Illustrations

john depol

engraving diderot


Wood Engraving

The art of wood carving was advanced into wood engraving near the end of the 18th century. Englishman Thomas Bewick (1753-1828) a printmaker-poet, popularized a technique in which extremely hard boxwood was cut across the grain, allowing for more fine detail than the normal practice of cutting along the grain. In addition to the fine detail these wooden blocks lasted longer than copper plates because relief printing uses less pressure than copper plate requires high pressure.

Bewick also created a new style he termed "white-line engraving.," Previously wood was cut away to reveal black lines, however Bewick would gouge out white lines from a black field.Bewick

Bewick's A
General History of Quadrupeds, 1790 7

John DePol, American master wood engraver


Intaglio, an Italian word for engraving, describes any printmaking process by which ink is transferred to paper from below the surface. Ink is forced into engraved lines, or tones, and then the surface of the plate is wiped clean. The press is constructed to deliver a rolling pressure to drive the paper into the lines to lift out the ink. A drawback of intaglio is that it is could not be printed on the same press as metal type.

intaglioThe intaglio press consists of a bed that travels between two steel rollers.

This artistic process preceded the more commercially viable 19th century rotogravure, a method that allow ed the use of a very fine screened image. The method of image photo transfer onto carbon tissue covered with light-sensitive gelatin was discovered, and was the beginning of rotogravure

In gravure printing, the image is engraved onto a cylinder for use on a rotary printing press. Once a staple of newspaper photo features, the rotogravure process is still used for commercial printing of magazines, postcards, and corrugated (cardboard) product packaging. 9

Types of Engraving

Consists of lines incised into a metal plate with a sharpened tool. The depth and width of he line affect the how the plate will hold ink. German Martin Schöngauer (1448-1491) was one of the first to practice this method. The high point of engraved illustration was during the 15th/ 16th centuries with Albrecht Durer and Lucas de Leyden .

This method achieves a recessed line by an acid bath etch. First a metal plate (copper, zinc or steel)is coated with an acid resisting medium, or ground, of wax. The plate surface is then blackened with smoke to create a dark surface that reveals any drawn lines. The plate sits in an acid bath with etches lines into the surface.aquatint

Another acid based technique on copper or zinc plates. Aquatint uses powdered rosin which is acid resistant in the ground to create a tonal effect. The tonal variation is controlled by the level of acid exposure over large areas, and thus the image is shaped by large sections at a time.

Mezzotint, begins with a plate surface that is evenly indented so that it will carry a fairly dark tone of ink, then smoothing areas to make them carry less ink and thus print a lighter shade. 11


Copper Plate Engraving

Copperplate script was prevalent in the 19th century, but was used as early as in the 16th century in Europe. As a result, the term "copperplate" is mostly used to refer to any old-fashioned, tidy handwriting. This style of calligraphy is different from that produced by angled nibs in that the thickness of the stroke is determined by the pressure applied when writing, instead of nib angle in relation to the writing surface. All copperplate forms (minuscule, majuscules, numbers, and punctuation) are written at a letter slant of 55 degrees from the horizontal.

Copper plate engraving allowed 17th century writing masters, including Jan van de Velde, Maria Strick and Ester Inglis to publish their instructional calligraphy books. Their creative style and innovative letter design influenced commercial metal letter design. The name copperplate is attached to a number of digital fonts.



Advances in Paper Making
hollander beater endlesspaper
click here for larger version

Hollander Beater, 1680

The Hollander beater, a Dutch invention from the mid-seventeenth century, was designed to use windmill power to replace the heavy water wheel powered stampers that had been the standard in the papermaking trade.

Rags and water were placed in an oblong tub fitted with a partition that ran along the center of its length. When power was applied the beater roll turned and pulled the rags beneath it where they were caught between the bars on the roll and the bed plate; another set of bars mounted permanently in the bottom of the tub. The rags circulated continuously around the tub as the bar to bar shearing action cut the rags into smaller pieces, the smaller pieces into individual threads, and the threads into fibers. Eventually the roll was lowered to shorten the fiber and fibrillate its surfaces, softening and plasticizing it at the same time.

Less beating, whether in the Hollander or in the stampers, gave a more opaque, softer and weaker sheet while more beating gave a less opaque, harder, crisper, and stronger sheet. 12

Continuous Paper Rolls

Nicholas Louis Robert (1761-1828) invented a process to produce continuous rolls of paper. Robert, previously a artilleryman in the French army, worked for a time as a proof reader in the French printing house of Pierre Francois Didot. He moved to the paper mill of Leger Didot and there he was allowed to experiment with his attempts at making continuous rolls of paper.

The image above is an overhead view of a drawing for Robert's 1801 patent application. (Click here to see if larger) Essentially a conveyer belt of wire carried the paper pulp from the vat to a take up roll.

"...without machine-made paper the prodigious 19th century growth of cheap printed materials and the resultant dissemination of knowledge an information would not have taken place. The availably of paper in endless rolls made possible the invention of high-speed rotary printing which today accounts for the bulks of all printer products the most commonest being books, newspapers magazines and packaging materials." 13



Paper from Wood

For centuries paper was made from rags and cotton but as the demand for paper grew it outstripped the raw material reserves.

Charles Fenerty (1821-1892) of Halifax made the first paper from wood pulp (newsprint) in 1838. Part of his process was based upon his observations of wasps who built nests He neglected to patent his invention and others did patent papermaking processes based on wood fiber.

A German weaver Friedrich Gottlob Keller (1816-1895) , also invented a groundwood process of papermaking in the 1840s. He did copyright his process.

The introduction of wood pulp paper to books meant cheaper but less durable products. The process of pulping wood included the use of harsh chemical acids which caused the paper to discolor and become brittle and breakable in a rather short time.



Moxon images From Philadelphia Free Library collection

Image Link

Koenig: His First Powered Printing Machines 1803–1808.

A Short History of the Printing Press and of Improvements in Printing Machinery from the Time of Gutenberg up to the Present Day, Robert Hoe, 1902

Adams, Thomas, Typographiia: or a Printer's Instructor: a brief sketch of the origin, rise and progress of the Typographic Art, L. Johnson and Co, Philadelphia, 1857. p.266


The Bewick Society, Technical Background.

Image from Five Decades of the Burin, The Wood Engravings of John DePol. by David R. Godine and The University of Delaware Library, 2004.

Warren Chappel, A Short History of the Printed Word, Hartley & Marks, Vancouver, B.C. 1970, p.133.

Head of Christ / The Sudarium (Veil) of Saint Veronica (detail), Claude Mellan, National Gallery of Scotland, Link

Copper Plate Engraving, The Illustrated Magazine of Art, Vol. 3, No. 13, 185), p 26-32.

European Papermaking Techniques 1300-1800, University of Iowa Library. Link

Nicolas Louis Robert and his Endless Wire Papermaking Machine, Leonard B. Schlosser, Bird & Bull Press, Newtown, PA 2000.

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