Identifying Type Castings

By Fred Williams
Editor-Publisher, Type & Press
Published Summer 1983

There is little doubt that real foundry type is superior in alignment, fit, hardness and durability over other materials.

Foundry type is made from an alloy, usually composed of approximately 60.5% lead, 25% antimony, 12% tin and 2.5% copper. The later ingredient is added to increase the durability of the type. Foundry type, with copper, melts at 1980º Fahrenheit.

Lead alone would be too soft for casting type. Tin is added to give it body and toughness as well as providing a smooth face that accepts the ink and prints clearly. Antimony imparts durability to type, being the hardest metal used in the formula. Unlike other metals, it expands as it solidifies, filling every hairline of the mold. This results in every letter being sharp and well defined.

But with the demise of many type foundries plus soaring costs, Monotype faces are now being used by printers in their search for the perfect print.

Standard Monotype formulas usually consist of: 77% lead, 7% tin and 16% antimony. Monotype metal melts at 700º.

Pin marks were the end product of a device in the type caster needed to free the newly cast type from the mold. Early casters produced marks not much larger than 3/32" which were forced deeply into the still soft metal. The look of a slight angling during the exit might be caused by displacement of the metal due to it still being soft.

As improvements in the casting process were made, need of the pin was eliminated. An enlarged imitation pin mark then appeared. This "pin mark" as we know it is normally round and was placed on the side of the cast type. A few square pin marks will be found on British and Continental types. Cincinnati, BB&S and Dickinson used a lozenge pin mark on their larger sizes. (See pin mark locations at bottom of this article.)

Thompson type casters are capable of producing pin marks and produce type with a ploughed center foot instead of their normal position on one side.

When buying type a check of the foot will usually indicate whether it is hard foundry, Monotype or Thompson cast material.

Referring to accompanying illustrations (below): (8) groove in center indicating hard foundry. Thompson's normal groove position is shown (9). Mono castings characteristically have no groove (10) being smooth with "pock" marks where the hot metal enters the mold. The composition caster normally casts up to 12 point type. The Type and Rule caster (11) casts from 14 to 36 point, with a faint line dividing the bottom. A portion of the bottom will be free of pockmarks. The Giant caster makes cored body type from 24 point and up, with the divided bottom as in (12).

MacKenzie & Harris and Baltotypes, 14 point, and up, show center grooved Thompson castings.

Old founders often cast their names and point size into the pin marks of the larger sizes of type. Space limitations on the smaller sizes did not allow a full name identification, so using a design, they replaced the information in the larger marks, continuing to identify their products.

(Many thanks to Herb Harnish of Fort Wayne, Ind. for his kind permission to reprint portions of his research on typecasting.)

1. Common; 2. Weidermann's old caster also S/B, ENgland; 3. ATF oddball; 4-6.Mostly Mono, nick either side; 7. COntinental Hard Foundry nicked as 4-6.