The Real Time Machine

Does linotype have a future?

This isn’t a question that we consider everyday. Having the rare experience in my generation of using the linotype does leave me wondering:

So does it have a future?

At the Baltimore Museum of Industry, the keyboard clicked in staccatos, the elevator rose up and down, and tens of other movements danced together produced an iron mold.

Linotype. From Baltimore Museum of Industry. Photographed by Jeeyeon Sohn.

Linotype. From Baltimore Museum of Industry. Photographed by Jeeyeon Sohn.

Linotype demonstration. From Baltimore Museum of Industry. Photographed by Jeeyeon Sohn.

Linotype demonstration. From Baltimore Museum of Industry. Photographed by Jeeyeon Sohn.

After the molds are created, the lines were coated with ink and printed. During this step, it was important to minimize the movement of paper to insure clear printing. Despite few extraneous steps and frequent letter jamming, its finished product was truly “neat”. It was a complex and time-consuming, yet a worthwhile process.

Demonstration of proof printing. From Baltimore Museum of Industry. Photographed by Jeeyeon Sohn.

Demonstration of proof printing. From Baltimore Museum of Industry. Photographed by Jeeyeon Sohn.

Final product. From Baltimore Museum of Industry. Photographed by Jeeyeon Sohn.

Final product. From Baltimore Museum of Industry. Photographed by Jeeyeon Sohn.

In a generation where time is money, linotype may not be everyone’s first choice. Its limited variation in fonts limits graphic designers stylistically, and the same job can be achieved with a regular printer in seconds. Therefore, it is unlikely that linotype will be consistently used, especially in the future. However, I do believe that linotype should and will be preserved. The process is what makes it unique and important. Of course, it is not ideal for mass production or commercial use, but it is an excellent vehicle for history. It is the history. With the interest in past objects decreasing and the interest for progress and advancement increasing, it is even more important to preserve linotype—perhaps not as a technological resource, but as a form of art.

Other links:

Baltimore Museum of Industry

History of Linotype: Video

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