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Initial ABOUT the beginning of the eighteenth century, a certain Van der Meyer, of Antwerp, made the next step towards a definite improvement in typography, the first that had been attempted since the invention of printing from movable, cast-metal type.Van der Meyer prepared the composed pages of the Bible by soldering together the bottom of the type in the form. This was the first "stereotype," a term derived from two Greek words meaning literally "solidtype."

    This method met one requirement. It prevented the "pi-ing" of the type, but it had the disadvantage of holding in comparative idleness a large and costly mass of type useless for any other purpose, and it was not generally practiced.

    This was followed in 1730, by William Ged, a goldsmith of Edinburgh, who is credited with casting printing plates in plaster-of-paris molds for the University of Cambridge Bible. These plates, however, were destroyed by jealous printers and thrown aside, resulting in the process being abandoned for many years.

    In the meantime, several other improvements along this line were undergoing experiment. Firmin Didot, (1764-1836), a printer of Paris, cast type of a hard [p.18] alloy, and when his book-pages were composed, made an impression of them on a sheet of soft lead, thus forming a mold. Molten metal was then poured into a shallow tray, and just as this was on the point of solidifying, but still plastic, the lead-mold of the book-page was pressed on the soft metal in the tray. This process called Polytypage, was but partly successful; it could be used only for small pages, and the plates were too often defective. A process similar to this is what Lambinet thought the printers of the latter half of the fifteenth century might have used as one of the probable methods to cast their metal types.

    These and other experiments, however, were leading to the real stereotyping process which developed later. Early in the nineteenth century, Earl Stanhope, of England, re-introduced Ged's stereotyping process with many improvements.

    One or more pages of type were locked in a chase, the surface of the type being oiled to prevent the subsequent mold from sticking. The mold was made by pouring a semi-fluid composition of plaster-of-paris mixed with a little fine salt to make the plaster settle solidly. While the plaster was still soft, it was carefully pressed down and rolled smooth on top to give a uniform thickness to the mold and to expel any air there might be in the plaster. When the plaster became solid, it formed a perfect matrix of the type pages.

    The moisture in those early plaster molds was expelled by baking them in an oven for three or four hours. A later method for drying was practiced by suspending the mold directly over the metal-pots or to float them on the surface of the molten metal. By this [p.19] means the drying could be accomplished in a half-hour or so.

Pouring Lead into Lold    In the process of casting, several of these plaster molds were placed side by side face downward in a special casting-pan. The pan was one and three-quarters or two inches deep, and a lid on the pan screwed down on the back of the molds. By means of a crane the casting pan with its molds was then lowered into the pot of molten metal which ran into the pan at the corners and sides. The mold was allowed to remain ten minutes or so in the metal-pot, or until the face of the inverted mold was entirely filled with the metal.

    A later method of casting from a plaster mold was to place it in a frame with a smooth, flat plate opposite the face of the mold and to enclose the open space at one end and on the two sides. The casting space thus formed was then turned with the open end up and metal was poured in with a ladle, in a manner similar to the method still employed for casting job-work stereotypes. The distance between the flat plate and the mold was adjusted to make a stereotype plate of the required thickness.

    After the removal and cooling of the casting pan, the plates were freed from the plaster and the surplus metal cut off. Only one cast could be made, as the mold was usually destroyed in removing the cast. The stereotype was then sent to the finishing department, where the [p.20] face was cleaned and examined for defective letters, then trimmed on the sides and planed off uniformly on the back to the desired thickness, in the same manner as a stereotype is treated today. A defective letter could be mortised out of the plate and a good type inserted in its place. In cases where a whole line or other part was imperfect, another mold was made of as much of the form as was necessary and the new cast inserted and soldered to the plate.

    There were many and varied experiments made in the earlier development of this idea of producing a duplicate printing form in a single piece. That such a process was highly desirable was universally recognized, and the conviction that some practicable and economical method was feasible was a continual incentive which gradually led to better results.

Stereotyping In America Logo

Initial AStereotyping in the USLTHOUGH credit is given to John Watts, an Englishman then working in America, for making the first stereotype plates here, the real introduction of the process to the United States was by David Bruce. This was in 1813. Bruce had learned the printer's trade in Edinburgh and later came to America, where after a few years he was joined by his brother George in establishing the firm of D. & G. Bruce, printers. Hearing of the new process of stereotyping in England, he went over there to learn about it. He could get very little information about the process there, but came back with some practical ideas which he proceeded to carry out. Bruce and his brother also began type-founding about this time, and abandoned the business of printing. Later they gave up the work of stereotyping.

    The first book stereotyped in the United States was the New Testament, in 1814. Bibles and school books were the first works to be stereotyped; then came other books which were demanded in many editions, such as the works of popular authors.

Papier Mache Matrix Logo

Initial THE papier-mache (literally, mashed paper matrix was first successfully used casting stereotypes for book pages France in 1848. Charles Craske, an engraver of New York, introduced the method into the stereotype trade of the United States in 1850, and in 1854 he stereotyped a page of the "New York Herald" and later made stereotypes for other New York newspapers.

    The modern wet stereotype "flong," in common use today, consists of several layers of special paper pasted together to form a thick sheet. The base is a sheet of special soft stock similar to firm blotting-paper, such as is used between leaves of small blank books. Three or four sheets of strong, white tissue are next added, each sheet except the last being uniformly covered with the paste. The pasting must be done with great care so as to cover the entire surface of each sheet and at the same time to press out all air bubbles. The sheets must then be pressed smoothly but not squeezed so hard as to force the paste out and must be kept moist until used. In newspaper syndicate plants, the "flong" is made automatically by a specially devised machine into which the various kinds of paper used are fed from rolls, the pasting and cutting into sheets being mechanical.

    In molding a papier-mache matrix, the moist "flong" is laid on the original molding form to be duplicated, the molding form being in place on the table of the molding press. The "flong" is covered with several blankets of thick felt and the table of the molding press [p.24] is then automatically moved under a powerful roller which squeezes the moist flong down into the form. At the end of its travel the table is automatically brought back again under the rollers to the to the position from which it started. The speed of the roller and the table is synchronized to obviate any possibility of the mat becoming wrinkled by sliding.

    The molded matrix and the pattern with the blanket still on it is then transferred to the drying press, in which under a hot platten it is again squeezed and allowed to remain for a few minutes until the moisture is completely expelled from the molded flong. The drying press is kept at a high temperature, usually by steam heat.

    The matrix thus dried out to a thick, flexible cardboard is then ready for the casting of the stereotype, which is done by pouring molten stereotype metal against the face of the matrix placed in a casting-box designed for this purpose. A successive number of stereotypes can be cast for the same mat before it is injured by the hot metal. For job-work stereotyping the casting-box is flat, and the molten metal is either poured by hand or automatically pumped in the casting-box.

    After the stereotype is cast it is flattened, rough shaved, smooth shaved, bevelled or blocked on wood; the wood base trimmed and then planed type-high for printing press use.

    The large daily papers cast the full-page stereotype from which the paper is printed in an automatic casting machine which forms a curved plate, trimmed and bevelled, to fit the cylinder of the press.

    Stereotyping was for many years the chief means of making plates for books and also for commercial printing. [p.25] It has several advantages. The first, obviously, is the advantage which it shares with several other methods of providing a solid printing plate made by molding from an original form of type or engraving. Its peculiar advantage, however, is that it is the quickest method of producing a duplicate plate from an original.

    In comparison with electrotyping, however, it has two distinct disadvantages. One is that it is not adapted for reproducing the fine lines of engravings and type faces. In addition it is comparatively shallow and does not possess a sharp, clean printing face. The other dis-advantage is that a stereotype is relatively soft and quickly worn.

    Stereotypes have been made more durable, to withstand the wear of printing, by the deposition of a film of harder metal – copper or nickel – on the face of the plate after it has been cast. This, however, is not satisfactory, as it involves not only another operation, but also makes an already shallow printing plate that much shallower and increases the probability of it printing "dirty," which is one of the chief objections to the stereotype in itself. This practice is not recommended.

From: From Xylographs To Lead Molds AD 1440, AD 192, by H. C. Forster, publ. The Rapid Electrotype Company (1921) pages 17-25.
OCR then hand editted from book Digitized by Google. (source)

See also:

Today in Science History, event description for first press-run of the New York Tribune with curved stereotype plates on 31 Aug 1861.