The Future of Type

Working with handset type at MICA, I gained a new appreciation for the hard work and craftsmanship of those who set type by hand. I was constantly knocking over and dropping type- I do not have the smallest fingers, but I’m sure the mostly male typesetters of the past had even more of a natural handicap in that department. When I learned about the linotype machine at the Baltimore Museum Industry, I felt that I was almost experiencing the same sense of amazement that printers felt when the linotype was first introduced. Working on the machine was a huge relief for me. Sure, the linotype is a huge, complex machine, and sure, it takes experience and skill to operate it well, but at least I felt like I was making progress on the linotype. Hand setting type was an uphill battle- it felt like every letter I added lost me three previous letters.

Linotype must have been an incredible new technology for those working in and consuming printed type. However, I still see it as an extension of hand set type. As I understand it, the linotype machine was essentially a mechanization of the human typesetters job, with the added bonus of not having to carry around huge boxes of lead type or worry about dropping these tiny pieces of type and ruining a line. It was an amazing advance, but like almost every invention, it owed a great debt to the inventions that preceded it.

I think that anyone who chose to take this class believes that physical type should have a future. However, the linotype machine is large and complicated, and the artists that are trying to revive the use of physical type are unlikely to have the mechanical background necessary for the upkeep of these aging machines. It’s understandable that many artists starting out in printing and physical type chose instead to use individual pieces of lead type. Hand setting feels more like a craft to many people, and it requires less investment in engineering. Though I may prefer linotype to hand setting, the people who are devoting their life’s work to type seem to have different ideas.

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