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Adventures in Letterpress, Part 3: A Living Dinosaur

In the world of fast, fast, and digital everything, Michael Babcock is keeping the superior quality of old world printing alive.

operates out of an inconspicuous house in the Stonybrook neighborhood of JP. You won't hear these presses running. They're designed to print practically forever, and they raise only the slightest clatter with machinery that is reminiscent of steamboats, locomotives and the industrial beauty of the Victorian era.

The interrobang is a punctuation mark indicating a combined sense of question and incredulity. Created in 1962, it is an elegant and precise solution for expressing one of modern life's most common sentiments and frequently used phrases, "what the f..." It is literally the combination of the question mark and the exclamation point. It is rarely used, although stymied writers who aren't familiar with the mark will use the exclamation point and the question mark in sequence?!  And often in multiples???!!!  

Check out parts and on interrobang press.

MoonBeamWatcher October 14, 2011 at 12:04 AM
ahhhhh, yes da interbang! Was included with the type font "Americana" Youth or people, interested in 'the way it used to be' can visit "Old Sturbridge Village" to view 'movable type' and letterpress. Probably one of the most complex machines ever built was the Linotype or Intertype machines. (Linotype was like Kleanex, when describing 'Hot metal, type-setting machines!') The 'old Brookline Chronicle Citizen' was located across from Alan Buick in a 1800's Old Victorian with about 3 Linotypes in what would be the 'Front Parlor' today. After page assembley asbestos mats would be made and sent to the Dedham Transcript for conversion to press plates (Lead cast cylinders, from mats) to install on the printing press to print the Chronical Citizen and many other daily and weekly newspapers.
Michael October 14, 2011 at 12:50 PM
The interrobang I'm pulling the proof of for Jim is a 24pt Americana Bold 'bang hand cast by a gentleman for me from a matrix he grew by electrodeposition. Hand casting is a tricky skill to master, so none of the sorts cast are really usable, but fun to have anyway. As regards the Linotype, Thomas Edison called it the "eighth wonder of the world" for the complexity of the multiple systems involved. Storage, assembly, casting, distribution. All in one machine. It more or less successfully solved a problem many inventors strove to overcome, the creation of a fresh typographic printing surface with minimal effort, in minimal time. The inventor, former watchmaker Ottmar Megenthaler went insane later in life. As industrial a process as "stereotyping" was, asbestos wasn't an ingredient in the formula for making "flongs" as far as I'm aware. A simple paper mache mix was all that was required, as stereotype metal (type metal in general) has a low enough melt point (eutectic) that the material for making the mat needn't be fireproof. cheers, mjb
Michael October 14, 2011 at 12:50 PM
Schell Printing on Washington Street down by me had a Lino they scrapped out around 10 years ago. I still operate 2 Lino's with a friend and associate in Allston and have a significant collection of matrices. One of the machines is a rare Model 31 "Two-in-One" which can cast faces up to 42pt. The run of the mill Lino- and Intertype only cast up to 14pt. You can browse that at http://linotypesetting.com and jump off to pics on Flickr.
MoonBeamWatcher October 14, 2011 at 03:58 PM
"We" had a Linotype in the entrance of the Herald, but some young buck didn't want to pay to keep it dusted . . . so it was probably scrapped. Most of the machines at both the Globe and Herald were shipped to Australia who fought LONG and Hard to keep modern technology from reducing the work force. "THEY" had a scheme that required a 'permit' to introduce 'cold type'. Cost predicated on the reduction of the work force. Early retirement, retraining or advanced school for others. Thus, 'Hot Metal' ruled long after the composing room at the Herald was reduced from 250 good paying craftsman to a combined work farce of 35 after "Cold Type" and (lost key-strokes) and pagination was introduced. Seems just like 'yesterday' I sat with a sports editor on Saturday afternoons while he got football scores (short wave) and I updated the sports pages . . . or when 'we' ran the Elrod out the window of the 5th floor on Congress St., and the "D"man nearly deposited a load in his britches when he came back from his liquid lunch.
James LaFond-Lewis October 14, 2011 at 06:32 PM
What is an Elrod? And what did the "D" man do?
Michael October 14, 2011 at 06:51 PM
"Ran" the Elrod out the window? As in, cast, and dropped strip material down onto the sidewalk below? Jim, an Elrod is a specialized caster used to create leads & slugs (non-printing inter-linear spacing) as well as various type high (printing) rule. It casts as a continuous feed so that in the least, the type high rule has a perfect face, and the 1pt leads don't break apart. More finicky old machines... http://www.printingmuseums.com/museum/gallery/renact01/msc0201b.htm
MoonBeamWatcher October 14, 2011 at 07:00 PM
The "D-MAN" would distribute foundry type. When slow and no composition to be done, compositors would help. The D man would routinely bring a lc, B, P, Q, D to "comps" who he suspected didn't know the difference and returned the "q" to the "b" box in the CA Job case and so forth. The Elrod was a machine used to make the spacing material ie: 2pt, 3pt, 6, 12, 18 and 24pt. (cut off at about 3ft lengths) 1 point spacing material was normally purchased from a foundary like Acme North East, ATF, or other 'Type Supply Houses' as it was not used that much and Elrod set up was cost prohibative as the temperature was critical to make 1pt material, thus very time consuming. Most medium sized shops had their own smelter to make pigs for the type setting machines. Lino, Ludlow or Intertype Machines. (Intertype was excellent for Legal work as it cast individual letters which could be corrected with a bodkin and sorts installed using a tweezer.) From time to time when a large mountain of linotype was to be smelted into pigs, a sample was sent out to determine the average composition of the metal. The essey would be returned with small pigs to put in smelter to bring metal back to normal balance of "lead, tin and antimoney.'
Michael October 14, 2011 at 07:00 PM
Britain, and Oz have long had a greater sense of value in craft, and handi-works. It's no surprise that fought hard against the change. Doesn't hurt that they have a, ahem, Socialist undercurrent, and that labor has always been strong. America, for better or worse, cares less for the individual, than the individual dollar. We've lost a great deal of real value as a consequence.
MoonBeamWatcher October 14, 2011 at 07:02 PM
Check that! IT WAS NOT INTERTYPE, BUT MonoTYPE that cast individual letters!
Michael October 14, 2011 at 07:05 PM
So the D-man worked the dead bank? D is for Dis'?

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