20.03.2012 cătălina zlotea
In previous articles we spoke about relief printing and manual typesetting, the procedure which, due to its highly meticulous nature, considerably prolonged the duration of the printing process.

Chronologically speaking, it is now time for us to discuss - concisely and without too much technical detail - the game-changing invention of mechanical typesetting, also known as hot type.

To recap briefly, one of the main problems facing typesetters, besides placing the letters one by one into the composing stick as a mirror image, was the returning of the type to the type case after printing. What was needed was a machine that would both perform the typesetting and then replace the type again at the end.


Mechanical typesetting was invented in 1886. Independently and almost at the same time, two different systems of typesetting were invented around the end of the 19th century: one performed letter by letter, the other line by line. There were many machines that used these systems, but when we talk of mechanical typesetting, the battle was between Linotype and Monotype.



The Linotype
machine, as the name suggests, would set lines of text and not individual letters. The typesetter was thus transformed into a keyboard operator. When he or she depresses one of 90 buttons, the corresponding letter matrix was released from its channel, and after an entire line had been set, it was cast as a single piece – in English this is called a slug, in German a Nacktschnecke, and in Romanian I presume it to be called a melc, the Romanian for snail (If anyone is able to confirm this I will be very grateful). After casting a line (containing precisely 65 characters), the matrices were returned to the magazine where they were stored.


When I decided to write this series of articles, I also began researching how best to translate the technical terms into Romanian – and this was no simple task. Every time I discover a new word I believe corresponds to an English term, I double check in DEX (the Romanian dictionary complied by the Romanian Academy) to ensure the accuracy of the translation. It was in this way that I found out that the Linotype machine was called the Linotip machine in Romanian, and from what I can tell, this name was used as a common noun, along the lines of adidași (sports shoes), xerox (photocopier), etc., and, at the same time, as a synonym for hot type. DEX also tells me that this word comes “from the French term Linotype”, something which could not be further from the truth. The linotype machine was in fact invented in the United States, in 1886, by a watchmaker who had emigrated from Germany, and it was first used at the printing works of the New York Tribune. The name derives from the fact that the text is assembled into lines (lino) of characters (type). I’m curious to know what, as the Romanian Academy claims, this word has to do with the French language.

More pictures and videos with Linotype machine go to our Archive - GF VIDEO / GF PHOTO

Previous articles on Typography History: Movable Type / Letterpress Printing (part I) / Letterpress Printing (part II)



cătălina zloteais a graphic designer specialized in the field of publication design and typography. She has a BA in Graphic Design from the University of Arts in Bucharest and a BA in Advertising from the University of Bucharest, Faculty of Journalism and Communication. In September 2010, she finished the MA Book Design at the University of Reading, Department of Typography and Graphic Communication.
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