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The Work of the Type Founder

Type Founder

What Was A Type Founder, And What Did He Do?

“We shall see nothing of Streatham while we are in town; Mrs. Hill is to lye in of a daughter. Mrs. Blackstone is to be with her. Mrs. Heathcote and Miss Biggare just leaving her. The latter writes me word that Miss Blackford is married, but I have never seen it in the papers, and one may as well be single if the wedding is not to be in print.”
Jane Austen to Anna Austen-Knight, 1814

The first part of the type founder’s business is to prepare the metal, which is a composition of lead and regulus of antimony, melted together in a furnace. In larger foundries this metal is cast into bars of twenty pounds each, which are delivered to the workmen as occasions may require; this is a laborious and unwholesome part o the business, owing to the fumes which are thrown off. Fifteen hundred weight of this metal is cast in a day, and the type founders usually cast as much at one casting as will last six months.

We now come to the letter-cutter; that is, to him who cuts the moulds in which the letters are cast; and he much be provided with vices, hammers, files, gravers, and gauges of various kinds. He then prepares steel punches, on the face of which he draws or marks the exact shape of the letter, and with the pointed gravers and sculptors he digs out the steel between the strokes or marks which he made on the face of the punch, leaving the marks standing. Having shaped the inside strokes of the letter, he deepens the hollows with the same tools; for, if a letter be not deep in proportion to its width, it will, when used at press, print black, and be good for nothing. He then works the outside with files till it is fit for the matrice.

A matrice is a piece of brass or copper about an inch and a half long, and thick in proportion to the size of the letter it is to contain. In this metal is sunk the face of the letter intended to be case, by striking the letter-punch. After this the sides and face of the matrice must be cleared, with files, of all bunchings made by sinking the punch.

When the metal and other things are properly prepared, the matrice is fastened to the end of the mould, which the caster holds in his left hand, while he pours the metal in with his right. By a sudden jerk of the hand, the metal runs into the cavity of the matrice and takes the figure or impression. The mould consists of an under and upper half, of which the latter is taken off as soon as the letter is cast, and the caster throws the letter upon a sheet of paper, laid for the purpose on a bench or table, and he is then ready to cast another letter as before.

When the casters have made a certain number of types, which are made much longer than they are wanted, boys come and break away the jets, or extra lengths from the types; the jets they cast into the pot, and the types are carried to the man who is represented sitting at his work in the plate, who polishes their broadsides. This is a very dexterous operation; for the man, in turning up the tupes, does it so quickly, by a mere touch of the fingers of the left hand, as not to require the least perceptible intermission in the motion of the right hand upon the stone.

The caster represented in the plate is seen in the act of pouring the metal into the mould. He takes it up with a small ladle from the pan, which is constantly kept over the fire in a sort of stove under the brick-work. The iron plate on the right hand of the caster is to defend him from the heat of the fire, and the screen between the two workmen is to prevent the man sitting from being injured by the metal, which is apt to fly about by the operation of casting. On the table near the newly cast types, are several blocks of metal, with which the caster replenishes his pan as he makes the letters.

A type founder will cast upwards of 3000 letters in a day; and the perfection of letters thus cast, consists in their being all straight and square; of the same height, and evenly lined, without sloping one way or the other.

What is called a found or font of letter, is a quantity of each kind cast by the letter-founder and properly sorted. A complete font includes, besides the running letters, all the single letters, double letters, points, commas, lines borders, head and tail pieces, and numerical characters.

Letter-founders have a kind of list by which they regulate their founts: this is absolutely necessary, as some letters are much more frequently used than others, of course the cells containing these should be better stored than those of the letters which do not so often recur. Thus a fount does not contain an equal number of a and b, or of e and z. In a fount contacting a hundred thousand characters, the a should have five thousand, the c three thousand, the e eleven thousand, the i six thousand, and the other letters in proportion.

Printers order their founts either by the hundred weight or by the sheet. If they order a fount of five hundred, they mean that the whole shall weigh 500 lb.; but if they demand a fount of ten sheets, it is understood that with this fount they shall be able to compose ten sheets, or twenty forms, without being obliged to distribute. The type founder reckons 120 lb to a sheet, but this varies with the nature of the letter.

From The Book of Trades or Library of  the Useful Arts, Part I The First American Edition;  1807

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The Regency Engraver


The Engraver – During the Regency, and age before the dawn of photography and color printing presses, engravings, made from copper plates were one of the only ways of transferring an image to the printed page.

Anne … in walking up Milsom Street had the good fortune to meet with the Admiral. He was standing by himself, at a printshop window, with his hands behind him, in earnest contemplation of some print, and she not only might have passed him unseen, but was obliged to touch as well as address him before she could catch his notice. When he did perceive and acknowledge her, however, it was done with all his usual frankness and good humour. “Ha! is it you? Thank you, thank you. This is treating me like a friend. Here I am, you see, staring at a picture. I can never get by this shop without stopping. But what a thing here is, by way of a boat. Do look at it. Did you ever see the like? What queer fellows your fine painters must be, to think that any body would venture their lives in such a shapeless old cockleshell as that. And yet here are two gentlemen stuck up in it mightily at their ease, and looking about them at the rocks and mountains, as if they were not to be upset the next moment, which they certainly must be. I wonder where that boat was built!”

Rudolph Ackerman is, perhaps, one of the most famous of the Regency Engravers, but there were many such establishments during the Regency, happy to oblige the public with a copy of the latest political cartoon or famous portrait. Fashion plates of the time were another popular use of the art, and had to be hand coloured in each journal or magazine they appeared in. The following piece, reprinted from The Book of Trades (1806) gives a glimpse into the art of the engraver:

Engraving on copper is employed in representing different subjects, as portraits, historical pieces, landscapes, &c. either after paintings, or after designs made for the purpose. It is performed either with the graver, the dry point, or with aquafortis.

The tools necessary for engraving in the first method are gravers, a scraper, burnisher, an oil-stone, a sand-bag, an oil rubber, and some good charcoal.

The gravers are instruments of ternpercd steel, fitted into a wooden handle. They are either square, or in the lozenge form; the first is used in cutting very broad strokes, and the other other for fainter and more delicate lines.

The scraper is a three-edged tool for scraping off the bur raised by the grave. Burnishers are for rubbing down lines that may be cut too deep, or for taking out any scratches or defects in the copper; they are made of hard steel, well rounded and polished. The oil-stone is for sharpening the gravers, and the oil-rubber and charcoal are for polishing the plate when necessary. The sand-bag or cushion is for laying the plate upon, for the conveniency of turning it round in any direction : this is principally used by writing-engravers.

Having the copper, tools, and drawing ready, the first thing is to lay the on the plate : for this purpose,the plate is to be covered over with a, thin skin of virgin wax ; and the drawing or picture is to be copied on paper Avitha black-lead pencil, or any matter that is free from gum : this paper is to- be laid upon the plate with its penciled side upon the wax, and pressed all over so completely, that when the paper is withdrawn the impression may remain upon the waxed plate then with a sharp-pointed tool trace the design through the wax on to the copper. The plate is now to be warmed, and the wax cleaned off; after which the engraving is to be finished by means of the gravers.

Plates such as this one from Ackerman’s Repository show the fine detail and skill of the engraver’s art.

The dry-point or needle, so called because not used till the ground is taken off the plate, is principally employed in the extremely light parts of water, sky, drapery, &c.

Etching is a method of engraving on copper, in which the lines or strokes, instead of being cut with a tool or graver, are corroded in with aquafortis or nitrous acid, and it is thus performed : the copper-plate is first warmed, and then thinly covered with varnish ; it is then to be blackened over with the smoke of a wax candle.

The ground being now laid, and suffered to cool, the next operation is to transfer the design to the plate. For this purpose, the drawing must be traced on oiled paper, with pen and ink, having some ox’s gall mixed with it. Another piece of white paper must be rubbed with flake-white, and laid on the varnished copper, with the white white side next the plate : upon this is to be put the traced oil paper, and fastened with a piece of bordering wax to the copper.

When this is done, all the lines in the tracing must be gone over with a blunt etching needle, by which means the lines will be transferred to the ground •when the papers are taken away.

The plate is now prepared for drawing through the lines which have been marked upon the ground. For this, etching points or needles are employed, leaning hard or lightly according to the degree of strength required in the lines.

Kate Greenaway’s charming prints of Regency life were engraved by firm of Edmund Evans.

A margin or border of wax is now to be formed all round the plate, to hold the aquafortis when it is poured on; where it is to be left till the operation is completed. The biting-in of the plate, as it is called, is the most uncertain part of the process, and nothing- but experience can enable a person to know when the plate is sufficiently bit.

When the acid has been on long enough to bite the lines that are to be the faintest, the aquafortis is poured off, the plate washed and dried,* and those lines that are to be made deeper must be stopped with turpentine varnish, mixed with a little lampblack, and laid on with a camel’s-hair pencil; and when thoroughly dry, the aquafortis may be poured on again, to bite the other lines that are required to be deeper.

When the biting-in is finished, the bordering wax and ground are to be taken off, the plate cleaned, and an impression taken upon paper by a copper-plate printer; which impression is called a proof.

In almost all engravings on copper that are executed in the stroke manner, etching and graving are combined; the plate being generally begun by etching, and finished with the graver. Landscapes, architecture, and machinery, are subjects that receive most assistance from the art of etching; it is not so applicable to portraits and historical designs.

The screen that is suspended before the window is to keep off’ the glare of light, which would be mischievous to the engraver’s business. The screen consists of four laths joined at their ends, and covered on both sides with silver-paper. The art of engraving is ascribed to a M3 goldsmith at Florence, who, having placed a sheet of oiled paper under a plate of silver that was engraved, and on which by accident he had laid a heavy weight, was surprised to find a complete impression of the plate on the paper.

From The Book of Trades or Library of  the Useful Arts, Part II, Illustrated with Twenty-Four Copper-Plates. The Third Edition; London; 1806