printing Thoughts on lettering

Monotype Composition caster and keyboard – Part 1

Of all the advances made in typography during the last century none surely rates more important than the Monotype Composition caster and keyboard. Okay, I declare an interest. In the 1990s I owned one of these  machines and on it cast the type for the private press books I printed under the Beeches Press imprint.

Nevertheless, this machine, or machines (there is also the Super Caster, which casts display faces), revolutionised the printing industry (in tandem with the Linotype). Not only that but Monotype, the company, initiated what can only be described as a revolution in best practice in the design of and revival of type faces. (Another story – this happened largely due to Stanley Morison.)

Those who have only known computer-setting may be at a loss to fathom how this machine, illustrated above, worked using nothing more than compressed air, the molten lead when injected into the mould cooled by water. It is a marvel of engineering, of exact engineering, for the tolerances are so fine that should anything be out of alignment the thing won’t work. And yet it is a machine whose moving parts can be understood by any mechanic – nothing is hidden – and it can be disassembled fairly easily. That’s why Monotype became so successful throughout the world, with machines, possibly, still in use somewhere out there – from China to Turkey, from New Zealand to Sri Lanka. (PS – if anyone knows of one for sale please do let me know! Also I have a reasonable library of Monotype manuals and instruction manuals – if anyone needs to know something please let me know.)

The illustrations shown above and below are taken from a tiny booklet (95mm by 115mm) called ‘The Pocket Picture-Book of ‘Monotype’ composing and casting machines” [undated]. Click to enlarge – back arrow to return to this page.

By John Pitt

Artist and Creative

One reply on “Monotype Composition caster and keyboard – Part 1”

At college in the 60’s Montype was the goliath of graphic design, a generous and benign monster whose arms embraced every font from Bodoni to Univers. Indeed I have a catalogue with removeble sheets and we would plunder these faces for ever more variety, not knowing anything of their history, except Gill this and that of course. It is amazing how this giant was felled within a few short years and now everyone who can type can become a graphic designer of sorts. I remember trying to design an uncial face but my heart wasn’t in it and I gave up.

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