F&M College Library

History of the Book - Machine Press Period, 1800-1950

This guide is designed to provide a broad overview of printing technologies during the machine press period.

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Mechanical Compostion and Print Type

The selection of a specific style of type for a particular use; or the arrangement of composed type for the purpose of aiding the reader's understanding of the text. The 19th and 20th centuries saw an explosion in typeface designs, materials, and manufacturing techniques. New families of sans serif and decorative fonts flooded the market, producing a renaissance in typography and design. To promote the variety of new typefaces and sizes, early type specimen sheets gave way to larger type catalogues produced by manufactures such as Stephenson, Blake and Company, and the American Type Founders Company.
1728 William Caslon Type Specimen Sheet

1908 Stephenson, Blake and Company Specimen Book
1923 American Type Founders Company Catalogue

Families of Type


The Mechanization of Typesetting

Until the late 19th century, the hand setting of type had changed very little since the dawn of printing.  Mechanical typesetting began in the late 1880s with the invention of the Monotype and Linotype machines.  Both machines combined a typewriter-like keyboard with a hot-metal type casting unit.  These machines were capable of composing and casting type directly from a set of brass matrixes.  In the case of the Monotype machine, individual letters of type were cast from a pre-selected matrix case (representing a specific point size and font.)  The Linotype machine composed and cast a larger "slug", or single line of type, again from a set of pre-selected matrixes.  Both machines created increases in speed and efficiency, allowing operators to set type faster, create fresh type for every job, and avoid the time-consuming task of redistribution.

Monotype Keyboard in operation (12:50 sec)

Monotype Caster in operation (14:09 sec)

History of Printing - Linotype & Baltimore Museum of Industry (5:29 sec)

International Printing Museum Tour: The Linotype & the Typesetting Race (35:45 sec)

Linotype - The Film (trailer) (2:11 sec) 
DVD of complete Linotype film available at Shadek-Fackenthal Library - DVD 4378


Printing Plates - Stereotype and Electrotype

Stereotype printing plates were first created in the late 18th century, and were created by making an impression of a set forme of type using plaster of Paris.  Stereotype metal was then poured into the mould (or matrix), creating a new plate of the entire forme.  Stereotyping reduced wear and tear on loose type, and allowed a printer to store the accurate setting of a popular work for subsequent printings.  By the 1850s, papier mache or flong was being substituted for plaster on a regular basis.   A decade later, curved flong moulds were perfected to create plates for the cylinders of high speed rotary presses.

Electrotyping is the creation of a duplicate printing plate using the electro-deposition of copper onto a mould.  Similar to the process of stereotyping, electrotyping uses a wax mould instead of plaster or papier mache.  The wax mould is then dusted with graphite to make it electrically conductive.  The mould is then placed in a charged bath of electrolyte and copper.  After several hours, a copper "skin" is formed, creating the face of the new plate.  The thin copper skin is then removed from the mould, and backed with cast lead.  While slower and more expensive than stereotyping, electrotype plates were stronger, and longer lasting.