METAL type, although its use survives in the arcane craft of hand printing, has long vanished from the technology of making texts for widespread reading. One of the paradoxes that have accompanied this process lies in the fact that as this has happened-and partly as a consequence--readers, who were once largely ignorant of the ways in which their text was made and even of the names of common typefaces, have now become far better informed. The names Times New Roman and Garamond and Helvetica, and their sizes in points, are familiar on computer screens. In 2007 Helvetica, the movie, won an audience far beyond the specialist world of professional designers, something that not long ago would have been unimaginable. My object here is to present a brief record of what survives of the materials that were created for this obsolete technology, some of which bear the original form of designs that are perpetuated in familiar digital fonts.
Typographical hardware was durable. Garamond's steel punches for his Greek, cut in about 1540, survive in good condition, and so do the copper matrices for many of his roman and italic types and those of his contemporaries, which were circulated in many countries as multiple strikes from the original punches, and which in some cases survived in use for the next two centuries. Some matrices in the collection made by the Enschede type-foundry in Haarlem derive from punches that were cut in the 1490s. Types can be cast from these early matrices today that are identical in their face to the originals used by printers five hundred years ago. But the trade secrets of the makers of type were often jealously guarded and only reluctantly passed on. It is notorious that when Joseph Jackson, a skilled and intelligent apprentice to William Caslon and his son, made a punch on his own initiative and showed it to his employers, they--or most likely, the son, a jealous and less talented figure--hit him and threatened to send him to jail if he did it again.' Since the processes involved in making type were rarely written down or passed on completely, there is a danger that much knowledge will be lost along with the everyday habits of the punchcutters and typefounders, and our appreciation of exactly what the makers of type did will suffer for this loss. Moreover, if we no longer possess their knowledge and their skills, it will be all the more difficult to judge what we should preserve from the materials that have survived.
The reasons why the use of metal types faded away are varied, but the process, once it began, was inexorable. An important part of the market for type for setting by hand was severely reduced at the end of the nineteenth century by the introduction of the Linotype and other keyboard-driven systems for casting whole texts in metal and recycling the slug or type after printing, and not reusing it. "The Lino is ruining us," wrote one British founder to another. It also seemed likely quite early in the twentieth century that, despite the technical difficulties that would have to be overcome, other means of placing words on paper than the use of metal type cast in relief would be developed sooner or later, since such methods, once perfected, would offer great economic advantages. Indeed, according to some forecasts, metal type would be obsolete by 1940. Early in the twentieth century photogravure and offset lithography already offered alternative technologies for printing text and images together. All that was needed was a means of generating the text without the use of relief metal, and that was achieved by the 1950s.
But what then happened was--so far as I am aware--completely beyond any forecast that was made at that time. Filmsetting or photocomposition, based on familiar photographic processes, was done with proprietary commercial systems, some of which were developed and marketed by old-established names among the typefoundries and composing machine makers like Berthold and Linotype, and this seemed to ensure their survival as companies. But filmsetting was only a brief episode, which came rapidly to a close. In early photo-composing devices, correction was done by resetting and cutting and splicing the film. This was clumsy and inefficient, and in later systems the text was captured on magnetic tape and edited via computer screens. Not long after digital typesetting was introduced, the "device-independent" page-description language PostScript enabled all the processes, from typesetting to page makeup and the integration of images to be performed with a small, affordable personal computer with a graphical user interface. A defining moment is the scene in January 1984-it can be found on YouTube-when Steve Jobs showed a digital font on the screen of the little Apple Macintosh to the cheers of an incredulous and delighted audience in San Francisco. Type had been caught up in the process, the future scale of which was still hardly apprehended, by which texts, like images, and music, and all forms of information, would be stored in digital form and accessed in multiple ways, including of course the Internet.
The present list began as a part of a project initiated during the 1980s and which is still in progress: a biographical "dictionary of punchcutters; which consists of notes on the life and work of all the known makers of typographical punches. There are nearly five hundred names in it. As an appendix to the dictionary, I added a note of what I called "the materials of typefounding; namely a summary catalogue of the major surviving collections of historical punches and matrices, and also of related documents like type specimens and type drawings, and the archives of typefoundries. Keeping this up to date caused me more trouble than any other section of my text, because it needed constant revision, as the collections changed hands within what was left of the commercial typefounding industry, or migrated into the hands of institutions, or were simply dispersed irretrievably, as in the case of the remaining materials and equipment of the American Typefounders' Company in New Jersey, which in lgg3 were put up for sale at short notice at an auction at which collectors and scrap dealers struggled for lots under a blazing August sun.
If the situation has stabilized to some extent, that is only because the makers and sellers of type are now mostly out of business and there are no more materials in their hands. The danger to what survives is no less real and in some ways it is far more insidious. During the last five years the existence of some major institutional collections has come under a real threat, and it is one that has not been resolved. I do not intend to examine the present crisis in minute detail. (1a) The main reason for publishing this list is to give some idea what remains of these materials, and where, so far as is known, they are to be found. But in this introductory note it seems useful to refer to one or two current cases; to offer a summary of some of the ways in which something can perhaps still be done to avert the disaster of the widespread destruction of these relics of letterpress printing; and to suggest why this is worth doing.
First of all, it should be said why so many collections survive virtually intact, since their sheer quantity and bulk is a part of the problem that faces us. It is partly a matter of the inertia of institutions. The seventeenth-century punches and matrices of the roman and italic types of the University Press at Oxford were preserved during a century or so when typefounding had ceased there and when they were so out of fashion that it seemed evident that there was no conceivable likelihood that they would ever be reused. Eventually, of course, the "Fell types" were indeed recast and used for printing (as they still are, occasionally), but the old matrices had been kept because the University Press, like the University, tended to keep things. Some books that had been printed there and had turned out to be slow sellers were still available and could be bought from stock a century or two later.
So we must acknowledge the role of the stable institutions, who have been willing to preserve materials simply for the sake of preservation. Here are a couple of examples from Italy. When Bonaparte needed Arabic type for urgent political purposes to serve his expedition in Egypt, he seized punches and matrices from the Biblioteca Mediceo-Laurenziana in Florence that had preserved the Arabic and other non-Latin types cut by Robert Granjon two hundred years earlier for the Medici missionary press in Rome. (2) Some matrices that were made on this occasion with the original punches were kept by the Imprimerie nationale in Paris (who still have them), but the library got most of the materials back and has kept them safely ever since. Bodoni's punches and matrices were bought in 1840 by the state of Parma for permanent preservation in the Biblioteca Palatina as a memorial to their creator, and when during the early twentieth century Giovanni Mardersteig wished to print from Bodoni's types, a commercial typefoundry in Florence found no difficulty in casting from these matrices, like any others, and they are still in good order. During the summer of 2007 some types were cast from Bodoni's matrices, in one of his own moulds, in the Museo Bodoniano in the Biblioteca Palatina. Both of these collections are still kept carefully and seem to be under no threat, save that of being overlooked.
One famous institution above all can be cited as an example of how the problem of preservation can not only be managed but turned to advantage. The renowned sixteenth-century printing office of Christopher Plantin and his descendants declined gently during the following centuries. It remained profitable enough to survive, but not so ambitious that it felt the need to install new power-driven printing machinery nor to move from its original building. When it drifted into inactivity, it became a museum in 1876, with the support of the civic authorities of Antwerp. Under the intelligent curatorship of Max Rooses, the first director, the collection was put in order and listed. But it was not until the 1950s that its full typographical significance began to become evident. A project set in train by the energy and persuasive power of Stanley Morison led to the sorting of the original punches and matrices that Plantin had assembled, and their attribution with the help of the carefully preserved inventories to their original punchcutters, among whom were Claude Garamont, Robert Granjon, Pierre Haultin and Hendrik van den Keere. (1b) As a result many types, the work of these major artists, have been identified in the sixteenth-century and later printing of many European countries, and major progress was made in an area of the history of the book that was almost wholly unknown to Updike when he began to write his monumental work.
In 2005 the Plantin-Moretus Museum, with its library and archives and its historical printing materials, was added to the World Heritage List of UNESCO, as a site forming part of the "cultural and natural heritage with outstanding universal value:' If I have made the process seem easy and free from problems, that does some injustice to those who have looked after the collection and made some sensible decisions. Like that of the Biblioteca Palatina in Parma, the building of the Plantin-Moretus Museum was damaged by bombing during the Second World War. (And, in an episode that is less well known, some of the collections were attacked from the air as they were moved in an anonymous convoy of trucks to a location outside the city. A carefully-maintained appearance of undisturbed tranquility and safety can be delusive.) One of the additions made in the course of repairs to the building in Antwerp was a workshop in which casting of type and printing from it was possible, something that has been of lasting benefit to the study of the collections. All the same, the very popularity of the museum has in its turn brought with it some of the problems that are familiar to other historic structures, so that the treads of the original wooden main staircase have recently had to be wholly renewed.
If the Plantin-Moretus Museum, like the Biblioteca Mediceo Laurenziana and the Museo Bodoniano, are examples of institutional stability, commercial businesses are obviously more vulnerable to changes of technology and the fluctuation of their markets. In 1806, in wartime, with a change of fashion dictating the use of new designs of type, the Enschede printing office destroyed something like half of its old punches and matrices, which represented the surviving stock of the great sixteenth- and seventeenth-century Dutch typefoundries, to the great regret of later members of the family, especially Charles Enschede, who wrote a history of typefounding in the Low Countries. In the 1980s, when the current printing operation of Enschede, specializing in banknotes and a range of security printing, was moved from the centre of Haarlem to new buildings outside the town, and all typefounding had ceased, it acted with a greater sense of historical responsibility. The typefounding materials and other historic artefacts were installed in a museum under the administration of a professional curator.
I will only touch on the bigger crises that I referred to, and yet they need to be kept in view because they are current, and we do not know how they will end. In a sense, all of us who have any concern with the history of books and other printed matter will be responsible for the fate of the materials that survive so precariously.
The locations that especially concern me are London and Paris. Events in Paris were made public by an active support group which made sure that there was ample online material, including stories from the media that give a detailed picture of events, month by month. (1c) The Imprimerie nationale began to "rationalize" its sites in 2003, and sold its building and site in central Paris in 2005. Production of printed matter moved mostly to an existing factory at Douai. The matter that was not resolved until a very late date indeed was what would become of the skilled "craft" operations, namely printing from engraved and etched copper plates (using an eighteenth-century press), direct lithography from the stone (with a massive machine made by Voirin in about 1870), letterpress printing with the proprietary handset types, and above all, because it is a unique survival, the "Cabinet des poincons," which is not only a store of many thousands of historic punches but also the working place of a professional punchcutter, Madame Nelly Gable, who uniquely in the world has learned her skill, like her predecessors, from those who were there before her, in an unbroken tradition. (1d) Late in 2005, to the relief of all concerned, these operations, with their equipment and staff, were transferred to industrial premises that were leased for the purpose at Ivry-sur-Seine, a few miles to the south east of Paris, where they form the "Atelier du livre," more fully the "Atelier du livre d'art et de festampe," and where they are intended to continue the tradition of fine printing established at the Imprimerie nationale in 1800 under Arthur Christian, who had the "Garamont" and "Grandjean" types recast from original matrices. May they flourish, and above all, may they receive our vigilant support.
The story of some the materials that are held in institutions in London is unresolved, so although they cannot be left out of this survey, the briefest of notes will have to do here. At one level, albeit a rather low one, it is encouraging. Many materials that might have been lost, and indeed were in earlier decades, were preserved. (Think of the …