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More on optical scaling

My last post (4/23) explained that some digital type designers today are interested in the way Morris Benton’s fonts, and indeed all the metal types produced by the American Type Foundry in the early 1900s, were optically scaled. Optical scaling was easily accomplished at ATF by adjusting certain settings on Linn Boyd Benton’s matrix engraving machine. Linn Boyd Benton explained in an essay he wrote in about 1906:

The adjustments are such that the operator is enabled to engrave the letter proportionately more extended or condensed, and lighter or heavier in face, than the pattern. All these variations are necessary for the production of a properly graded modern series containing the usual sizes. In fact, on account of the laws of optics, which cannot be gone into here, only one size of a series is cut in absolutely exact proportion to the patterns.

The illustration of optical scaling reproduced below was made in 1989 by ATF’s successor, the Kingsley/ATF Type Corporation. At the time, Kingsley/ATF was embarking on a program of digitizing typefaces, including the optical scaling characteristics of the original metal types. Ultimately, the company went bankrupt in the early 1990s, but that’s another story.

The illustration uses the capital M from Morris Benton’s Wedding Text, designed in about 1901. In the earlier “metal type” days at ATF, the set of Wedding Text patterns, one image for each letter (these particular patterns, by the way, are now part of RIT’s Benton Collection), were used to produce matrices for every type size. According to the handwritten “daybook” of general engraving machine settings for cutting the matrices for 228 ATF typefaces, no size of Wedding Text was cut exactly proportional to the pattern. Instead, the matrices for each type size were either condensed or expanded in relation to the pattern. (In most other typefaces, one size, usually somewhere in the middle of the range of sizes for that face, was “normal,” i.e., the letters were cut exactly proportional to the images on the patterns, not condensed or expanded.)

To generate this illustration, Kingsley/ATF photographically enlarged these three sizes of a Wedding Text capital M to a uniform height, so that customers could then easily compare them. Notice that the smaller the size, the more expanded the character. This is necessary simply for legibility, although in the days of metal type mechanical parameters also dictated that smaller sizes be expanded.

In addition to the expansion or condensation of the letter, the “set width” of letters in different sizes also had to be adjusted for good optical scaling. The set width is the total amount of horizontal space (width) on a piece of metal type. In order for the eye to be able to read very small type, more white space is needed around each letter, so the type needs to be relatively wide.

Kingsley/ATF produced the following illustration, also in 1989, to show its customers this aspect of optical scaling. Because enlarging this sample will perhaps also distort it, I’ve left it at its original size; I apologize for the very small 6-point example. But hopefully it is understandable. I’ve re-typed the Kingsley/ATF caption to this illustration below it in case the original caption is too small to decipher.

Kingsley/ATF’s original caption: “Notice the difference between a true 6-point type enlarged to 24 points and a true 24-point type. The true sizes were created using Optical Scaling. Typeface: Wedding Text”

More later …

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Two additional comments from “Kentop” came in about optical scaling. See directly below:

from kentop@cox.net       2018/02/09      at 6:58 a.m. and  7:02 a.m.

  1. The digitization project by Kingsley/ATF was centered in Tucson Arizona. I was the first free lance graphic artist recruited by Henry and Limell Schneicker, who had invested heavily in Kingsley back then. Henry was a brilliant coder who spent much of his time making optical scaling work on a computer. His wife, Limell ran the front office. In addition to them, they hired a programmer named Peter Jens Alfke, who produced the alpha ware that I had to create fonts with that became ATF Type Designer 1. Peter went on to work for Apple and was responsible for creating post-it notes in releases of their system software. The very first font I had to draw was Bernhard fashion. It was, in Henry’s words, a “single stroke” font. Almost at the end of creating this font, Adobe announced that they would not support single stroke fonts. If you are familiar with Adobe Illustrator, a single stroke font is one using a single Bezier curve for each letter whose only editable parameter was the stroke. Adobe was right to abandon it. So, we started on Benton’s wedding text. State of the art at that time consisted of “large” 24″ greyscale monitors hooked to Mac IIxc’s. The alpha ware digitizing software that eventually became Type Designer was stable enough to allow us to create the first ATF fonts for computers. The “bug list” for the program grew exponentially every day and I managed to work around the problems in the program until Jens literally rewrote the program overnight to keep it working. At one point, the revision had to abandon the format used to save all my work, and I had to literally start from scratch. My modus operandi was to use a flat bed scanner and scan in 120mm film negatives of the original matrices for each font and use them as templates to draw the bezier curves using the fewest points possible. The negatives had quality problems so that a lot of it was guess work. In the case of Wedding Text, We were able to get the original drawings of the font by Benton himself. These came on a long roll of paper about 1 foot tall. It was my job to create all the characters needed for a modern computer font. Benton didn’t draw many characters beyond the alphabet and numbers for Wedding Text. I replicated his style of creating characters on a long roll in pencil and filled in all the “missing” characters like @ and >< and others Benton never bothered with. When I moved onto Thompson Quillscript, I was amazed by a character he drew called an interrobang. It was the first time I encountered the punctuation mark and it was drawn in Tommy Thompson’s own hand! Subsequent fonts we produced all had an interrobang character after that. Kingsley ATF may seem like nothing more than an footnote in a book about ATF. But we were a bunch of dedicated people trying to do justice to the fonts created by designers we considered true giants in their field.
  2. One more thing, Henry Schneiker sold his optical scaling algorithms and software to Adobe. If you see examples of optical scaling using wedding text, those are my wireframes, based on Benton’s original drawings.

 

The invention of coated paper

The other day I noticed that I needed to add a footnote to my book about the Bentons, in order to substantiate the fact that Theodore Low De Vinne commissioned the S. D. Warren Paper Company to make a coated paper for his printing press. This came up because I wanted to show several examples of De Vinne’s propensity to act as a catalyst in a new venture or invention. (In about 1893 or 1894 De Vinne asked the American Type Founders Company, and Linn Boyd Benton in particular, to help him design and cut a new typeface for his Century magazine, because he was not satisfied with the types he was using.) I found the reference in Eugene Ettenberg’s Type for Books and Advertising (1947) and added it to the text. But I couldn’t stop thinking about it, so I dug a little deeper.

In 2005, David R. Godine published a book by Irene Tichenor entitled No Art Without Craft: The Life of Theodore Low De Vinne, Printer. Tichenor writes that “Charles M. Gage, the actual inventor, made it clear that he had invented paper coated on both sides in Massachusetts in late 1874 or early 1875 at the specific request of De Vinne … who needed it for a catalogue with colored wood-engraved illustrations.” (page 114; Tichenor’s book is on Google Books.)

De Vinne’s desire and subsequent request to Charles Gage profoundly affected the future of the printing industry. Who doesn’t handle several if not tens or even hundreds of coated printed pages every day? Apparently De Vinne later decided that he didn’t like the paper at all, and “although he had been a pioneer in the use of dry paper to meet the exigencies of speed, he admitted to a ‘returning kindliness for damp paper.'”

The advent of coated paper in the 1870s came out of one person’s idea, desire, and drive. No doubt it would have been invented later on if De Vinne hadn’t pursued it at that time. But that desire, at that time, unpredictably brought forth something that quickly changed the direction of the paper industry, the printing industry, and even the way we are presented with information today. It reminds me of chaos theory. And it reminds me of the Bentons, too.

I go on at some length in my book about the other pantographic engraving machines that were being used to engrave matrices (not very successfully) at the same time that it was dawning on Linn Boyd Benton that the best way to produce his new ‘self-spacing type’ would be with a pantographic machine that cut the models for electrotyping matrices. (This was around 1882.) Ultimately it was Benton who succeeded in building a machine that could do the job easily and well, which in turn (within a matter of just a few years) enabled another machine, the Linotype, to become viable, and to gradually replace most of the foundry type in the world with machine-set type– in effect, eroding the business that Linn Boyd Benton’s machine was invented for! Without Benton’s ambition, Ottmar Mergenthaler’s Linotype machine might have never been successful, and we might have taken a completely different route to where we are today, or to somewhere else we can’t imagine.

Mergenthaler too had a lot of desire, an almost manic drive to make something that would work. His story takes up many pages in my book about the Bentons.

When I started revising the Benton manuscript a few years ago, I thought that the process would take maybe three to five months. How wrong I was. At the moment I’ve put on the brakes, and now am trying strictly to clean up the loose ends and finish the illustrations. But it is fascinating to think about all the other stories that pop up.

More later …

The No. 55 Benton matrix engraver

The famous Benton matrix engraving machine.

Linn Boyd Benton’s No. 55 matrix engraver, as described in the American Machinist for December 16, 1909, consists of “two housings between which swings a long pendulum or arm … delicately suspended in a compound yoke by means of gimbal screws which gives it a toggle-joint effect.”


At the Dale Type Foundry last Saturday, the No. 55 was in the middle of a job. The grease around the machine’s cutting tool (which spins like a dentist’s drill at a speed of 8,000 to 10,000 revolutions per minute) seemed ready to splash onto the empty cutting platform (the matrix jig had been removed), and had even spilled over into the bowl of the yoke above the pendulum arm. “Wow,” I thought. “This machine is really being used. It really works.”

The empty cutting platform.

The empty cutting platform.

I visited the Dale Type Foundry on a Saturday, which was great because no one was working and it was quiet enough to talk to Theo Rehak about the machines. Here were the inventions I had been thinking about for years. I went around the foundry announcing to my son Roger what they were. “Here is a stereotyping set-up; this is a fitting machine; there’s the horizontal Benton engraving machine.” Even though I had visited ATF in 1984 and taken photographs of a row of matrix engravers at that time, last Saturday was completely different. I held a follower in my own hand and traced around the outline of a 16-point Tory Text “H,” designed by Frederic Goudy in 1935. That’s a complicated letter!

I held a “quill” assembly (they hold the cutting tools), and then looked at the point of its cutting tool through the foundry’s Louis Pasteur-type measuring microscope from the 1890s (all cast iron). The measuring microscope magnifies the point of a cutting tool so that you can tell whether it needs to be re-ground.

“Across the center of the face or lens of the microscope, is arranged a fine scale [ruled] in [increments of] 0.0005 of an inch,” the American Machinist explained. This is about half the thickness of a cigarette paper. A cutting tool looks like a heavy nail under this microscope, and so the cutting tools can easily be gauged by eye—the 0.080-inch tool covers 160 lines on the scale, and the 0.001-inch tool covers two lines. The point of the cutting tool we looked at covered seven lines.

More later …