History of Lettering typography

Monotype Composition Caster and Keyboard – part 2

[If you missed Part 1 please follow this link.]

Came across these photos  in a book called Printing To-day by John C Tarr (OUP, 1945). The book is part of a magnificently titled ‘The Pageant of Progress’ series put out by OUP – remember this was the end of the war and all seemed possible.Other books in the series include – Iron and Steel To-day; Warships To-day; Military Science To-day; and the one I most would like to get hold of The Police and Crime Detection To-day.

Anyhow, John Carr discusses where printing has come to at the end of the war, and illustrates the text with numerous goodies (some others I will share in the future). But  these images most beautifully show the Monotype.


Thoughts on lettering

Eric Gill – the end of the affair

I am tired of Eric. Today I chanced upon the Eric Gill Society. I suppose I should not have been surprised. There are many who hold Eric in high esteem. Who are in awe of the ‘master’. I was.

Look. We can bury our heads in the sand and be in denial for as long as we like. The fact is that had Eric Gill lived today he would have been imprisoned for, at the very least, child abuse.

The facts are – his sculpture is of a type; his illustrations are erotic but so are many others by others; his lettering will last, but only because he was championed by the Monotype Corporation.

Dear Eric – thanks for your time. It is now time to move on. Goodbye.

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.

alphabet Brand design Elements of Lettering eric gill History of Lettering lettering Thoughts on lettering typography

UHU glue, Futura and Kabel

UHU Glue is one of the most distinctive brands around, simple use of black on yellow, strong typeface that underscores the strength of the product. Futura dates back to 1927, designed by German printer Paul Renner during a period when designers were looking at ways to create a geometric sans-serif. It may owe its genesis to work by Edward Johnston and his famous alphabet for London Underground

On launch Futura was criticised as being ‘block letters for block heads’ but over 80 years later it still looks good. According to Alexander Lawson, author of Anatomy of a Typeface (Hamish Hamilton, 1990), for whom I am indebted for the basis of this article, ‘the type became enormously successful and instigated a sans-serif renaissance that quickly spread from Europe to the US’.

It inspired other designers, among them Rudolf Koch who designed Kabel, made public also in 1927. Lawson notes that in the lowercase the ‘e reaches back to the VEnetian period in its retention of the slanted crossbar’ while in the uppercase ‘several letters are unique in having slanted stroke endings’.

As an end note Gill Sans was launched in 1928 by Monotype in the UK but, writes Lawson, ‘the American Monotype firm refused to offer the Gill type for the American market’, which is how Futura became so widely used there.


Some Monotype stuff

Here’s a couple of images from Monotype to whet the appetite.

Thoughts on lettering

About me

My name is John Pitt. I live on the eastern seaboard of Australia in a tiny town called Terranora. I am British by birth and learnt lettercarving in the UK from a number of masters.

I have been a lettercarver, on and off, for about 20 years and been commissioned by architects, public institutions and individuals. But there is always something new to learn, to discover.

I also write.

Years ago I ran a private press, The Beeches Press, and published a few books letterpress, using a Monotype keyboard and caster and a Western proofing press.

None of them remain in print!