The Monotype Story

By Fred Williams
Editor-Publisher, Type & Press
Published Spring 1984

The Linotype, on the market first, became better known than the Monotype. But the Mono is the most successful machine to deliver keyboarded single types in justified lines and can produce type composition equal to or superior than hand-set type. It can set intricate tabular work as easily as it can straight matter.

Private printers, alarmed over the demise of most commercial type foundries, are becoming interested in the fascinating Monotype machine. A number of typographers have installed casting machines and keyboards to insure themselves of an uninterrupted supply of elegant metal type designs. Other printers have set-up small foundries to furnish custom-cast fonts of classic alphabets for fastidious printers. Both casting operations try to maintain the highest standards of typography that are only possible when using single types.

Hopefully the following article will solve some of the mysteries of the Monotype system.

The Monotype and the Linotype are two of the most marvelous machines ever contrived by man. They chug, rattle and clank and their end product —justified lines of fresh, new, beautiful type —is similar. But their way of operation is as different as night & day.

Because of its speed, the Lino became popular with newspapers and small job shops. The Monotype reigned supreme in trade plants setting intricate tabular and fine book composition. Medium sized print shops often were equipped with both systems.

The Linotype is a line-caster or slug-caster. Using brass matrices stored in a 90-channel magazine, it has a unique 90 - button keyboard. Keyboarding causes mats to drop by gravity into an assembler. Expandable, wedge —shaped space bands separate the words. When line is full, it is "sent in" by the operator to the casting position in front of a mold which is backed up by the pot mouthpiece. The space bands are driven up, justifying the line. The pot then rocks forward against the mold, which is secured against the matrices. A plunger injects molten lead into the mold and against the characters embossed on the mats. A solid slug of the entire line is cast and the slug is trimmed on the bottom and sides before it is delivered to the stick. Mats are returned to their proper channels in the magazine.

The Monotype system uses two separate units-a keyboard and a typecaster. The keyboard has the same layout as a standard typewriter, except that instead of using only one set of keys, it has a double keybank with five sets of alphabets, or a total of 276 keys. The extra keys are for small caps, italic, bold face, ligatures, extra characters and to contol the space-sizing mechanism.

When a key is struck by a Mono operator, one or two holes are punched in a 4-inch wide paper ribbon roll. At the same time, the width (set) of that letter is recorded on a counter scale above the keyboard. If the key hit is a justifying space, in addition to the automatic counting of its minimum set, a pointer is ralsed one step in front of a computer scale, which at the end of the line, will indicate the spacing necessary to fill out the line. With each succeeding key stroke, the ribbon advances forward and the width of each character is added to the total.

As the line nears the end, a signal notifies the operator. He then glances momentarily at the scale, before which the space pointer has been rising, automatically indicating with the pointer which of the two justifying keys are to' be depressed to accurately space and justify the line. These numbered keys are struck just as they are read on the scale. The upper number refers to the upper justifying keys on the keyboard. Each upper row key adds 0.0075 to th justifying spaces and the lower row, 0.0005.

Monotype mats, made of brass, are .2" square. An embossed mold of the character to be cast, is on the lower end. The upper side is bored with a cone-hole in which a centering pin seats. Matrices are held in a 225-capacity matrix case, 15 x 15. The sides of the matrices are slotted to fit between teeth in a comb. This case movds right or left in a horizontal plane above the mold as directed by the perforations in the paper ribbon. The set-width of each character is controlled by the wedges which move with the mat case. Matrix position is not fixed in the case and within limits, pi or special matrices may be substituted.

The type is cast with a jet attached to the center of the foot. As the matrix lifts clear of the cast piece of type, the cross block of the mold cuts off this jet and throws it back into the metal pot. Lastly, the type is pushed out of the mold into the type carrier, delivering it to the type channel. As the line is completed, it is advanced to a galley. The ribbon perforation positions the matrix and adjusts the mold for the next character to be cast.

Tolbert Lanston, inventor of the Monotype, was born in Troy, Ohio in 1844. After serving in the Civil War, he worked in Washington for the government. In 1883 he began experimenting & building a device to set and cast type, based on perforations on a cylinder which controlled weaving and tabular machine operations. His theory was, that if a keyboard could be used to punch perforations in a roll of ribbon (paper), corresponding to the casting position of an individual matrix, the perforated ribbon roll could then be fed into a casting machine, controlling typecasting and typesetting.

A coal merchant, Maury Dove, invested capital in the invention and became first president of the firm. The original system used 196 matrices, actuated into cold metal. This machine was not a success. Then John S. Bancroft, a gifted engineer joined the project and enlarged the mat case to hold 225 (15 x 15) mats. Compressed air was added to operate the keys.

Patents were secured and the Lanston Monotype Co. was organized and production started. Keyboards were priced at $300, casters $2750 or both for $3000. In 1877 British rights were sold for $1,000,000 to a group which formed the Monotype Company, Ltd. This sum enabled the Lanston Co. to move from Washington to Philadelphia, where they built their factory. By 1911 over 3000 Monotypea were operating in the U.S. and over 830 different type fonts were offered.

IiN 1920, Frederic W. Goudy became art director of Monotype. Some of the many type faces he designed for the firm included: Kennerley, Goudy Modern, Garamont, Goudy Text, Village, Deepdene, Goudy Old Style, Californian, Lombardic Capitals, Goudy open, Italian Old Style, Goudy Cursive, Goudy Thirty, Hadriano, Stonecut and others.

By 1922 over 10,000 Monotypes had been sold and the Lanston Mono matrix library had been expanded to include 2,000 fonts.

In 1929 the Lanston company purchased the Thompson Type Machine Company of Chicago, which had built the Thompson caster since 1908. Manufacture of this foundry caster continued, under the trade name MonotypeThompson caster.

Modern Monotype machines are divided into three varieties. The Giant Caster, which casts leads, slugs, rule and individual type characters from 18-72 points, the Type & Rule Caster, which makes strip material and type up to 36 point & the Composition Machine which can set and cast composition from 5 to 18 pt. (to 24 pt. on English comp. machines). It consists of a keyboard and a caster. The Monotype has a number of unusual features including the capability to automatically space and justify type lines which can be made up in the same manner as foundry type. It also can quad out and center lines on any measure. The Mono makes leader and tariff forms simple to set. It can set measures up to 60 picas. Two complete fonts plus a small cap font may be included in a single matrix case. Subsequently more than 3000 faces and sizes were cut by the Lanston company.

Other advantages of the Mono include: Type lines may be composed and justified from three to four times faster than by hand. Any ribbon may be saved indefinitely and run again for a repeat of the job. New type is made for each job. Dead type may be remelted or distributed into cases for later hand composition. Corrections may be made by hand at the case. Because Mono metal is composed of more tin and antimony, it is harder and longer wearing than Lino metal.

Keyboarding is a function completely separate from casting. In its heyday it was not uncommon for one casting machine to handle the output of two or three keyboard operators.

British and American Monotype matrices are different, but special English mats have been made for U. S. consumption. British Monos are available here and numerous English designs are available to American printers such as: Romulus, Lutetia, Fabritius, Sabon, Times Roman, Bembo, Spectrum, Grotesque and others.

The English firm, Monotype International, is still in business, manufacturing parts, supplies & matrices.

With the coming of the computer just around the corner, the Lanston Co. endeavored to meet the challenge. In the early 1960s
they discontinued manufacture of the Monotype -Thompson Caster. Around 1964 they introduced the Monomatic. This highly sophisticated machine made case position and set width independent of each other and made assignment of set widths for keyboard purposes as easy as moving a plastic pin from hole A to hole B. The machine carried an 18 x 18 mat case and could accommodate eight full alphabets with figures-and all sorts of pi characters to a much greater extent than older model casting machines.

But the stampede to photocomp could not be halted and the Lanston Co., already in financial trouble, soon folded with a gem of a machine out before an indifferent public.

The floundering company was acquired by the American Type Founders about 1969. Some Lanston equipment and mats were moved to ATF's Elizabeth, N.J. foundry and used a few years. In 1975 they resold most of the Mono equipment to Hartzell Machine Works, Inc. of Twin Oaks, Pennsylvania.

This company, since 1937, had been providing precision machine work for Monotype and, related typecasting equipment. But eight years later, due to insufficient mat sales the Hartzell Machine Company announced that it would quit manufacturing all matrices. It was reported that their mat library consisted of over 63,000 3x3" and 5.5x5.5" brass alphabet patterns, 338,000 .2x.2 steel punches, 300,000 mathematical cut cards, 350,000 completed matrices and over 20 specialized machines.

Letterpress printers were apprehensive that all might be lost. Luckily, Mackenzie & Harris, San Francisco typefounders, acquired the entire matrix making department and moved it to their plant last year, Apparently, a steady supply of Monotype mats now seems assured for commercial and private foundries.

Shocked by the rapid disappearance of the tools, equipment and skills of hot type casting, a few professional and private castermen formed the American Typecasting Fellowship. Their first meet took place in 1978 at Richard Hopkins' Hill & Dale Typefoundry at Terra Alta, W.Va., to preserve the craft of typefounding.

(Ye Ed wishes to thank Richard L. Hopkins for proofreading and help with this article.)