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MMD > Archives > December 1997 > 1997.12.07 > 16Prev  Next


Linotype Composing Machine
By Robbie Rhodes

Matthew Caulfield wrote to me:

> When I went to work for the U.S. Library of Congress (LC) back in
> 1962 the U.S. Government Printing Office had a branch at LC which
> printed the library catalog cards we sold throughout the world.
>
> Those Linotypes were mechanical marvels.  One guy set Hebrew on one of
> them, without knowing any Hebrew!  They are all gone now, replaced by
> computer-driven photo-optical composition.  Of course LC doesn't print
> cards any longer, because there no market for them.  Every library
> worth anything is on-line.

Jody wrote to Jack Conway:

> You have a working Linotype machine ???   In my earliest memory of my
> father taking me to work, they had a Linotype machine in the art
> department.  I remember taking home my name, set in lead.  I had no
> idea at the time how amazing those machines are.  I've never seen one
> since.

and Jack replied:

> Hi Jody,  Yes, I have a working Linotype machine in the garage. I
> teach Graphic Arts (Printing) at the middle school level. I set the
> names of each of the 200 kids on the Linotype and give them the slug.
> They use it to make a rubber stamp, to print a set of 100 noteheads,
> and to stamp their name in gold foil on a set of three pencils.

The Merganthaler Linotype machine, with it's "clickety-clack" of
dropping matrices and the pot of hot molten lead, was just as impressive
as the printing press at the newspaper production plant, and it left
vivid memories with those who saw them.  A competing, similar machine
was made by Intertype.  Both companies now provide services and software
for computer-generated newspaper text composition.

The Linotype keyboard was quite different from the typewriter keyboard,
with its placement of keys especially designed for speedy type-setting.
Sometimes when a Linotype operator found he'd made an error in the line
of type ("Lin'-o'-type" -- get it?!  ;)  he would -- in great disgust --
finish the slug and eject it to the cooling tray by running his finger
down the keys, spelling "eatoin shrdlu".  This became the name
of the "composing room gremlin" blamed for all mistakes !

QRS Word Rolls, for a brief period in the early '20s, featured words
printed on the paper using rubber stamps glued to a large cylinder.
I imagine that it was soon replaced with the less-expensive stencil
belt.  Could the Linotype create slugs with a typeface of 1/4-inch
height?  (Approx. 24 point, I guess.)

Jack, what type-composing methods were used to create the labels on the
music rolls and their boxes?

Robbie Rhodes


(Message sent Mon 8 Dec 1997, 06:54:49 GMT, from time zone GMT-0800.)

Key Words in Subject:  Composing, Linotype, Machine

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