Wednesday, December 30, 2015

The Case of the Disappearing Type

Our recent posts about scrambling around to find enough letters of type to finish some pages of the forthcoming Lord Dunsany edition seemed like a good time to talk more about the rarity and history of the type we use at Pegana Press.

The ornate types we've been using for the current run of books has an interesting history of  revival and subsequent disappearance.  The very tools and machines made to cast the type has been sold, used, and lost in the last 20 years.

The ATF Foundry was the preeminent producer of type in the United States for about 100 years.  As their work declined in the 1990's, one of the employees began buying up the Barth casting machines, as well as the molds, mats, and matrices from which specific typefaces were poured and cast from.  The Barth casters were important in that they were the best of the casting machines and could make harder, sharper type than any of the other machines currently used by anyone then or today;  the mats and matrices were vitally important as they preserved the original designs for the typefaces as the craftsmen had intended them.

Eventually that employee started the Dale Guild Foundry and began casting new type in the mid 1990's. They began a relationship with NA Graphics in Colorado to sell their type which is where I discovered them. Slowly over time, I bought more and more of the type as I began to print entire pages with it.

The Goudy Franciscan was a Font Frederic W. Goudy redisigned from another earlier design of his Aries font, and sold by Goudy in 1932 to William Grabhorn, an eminent San Francisco printer, who used it for several distinctive and award-winning books.

The beautiful cursive font Civilite is believed to be the first original cursive cut in  type in 1552 and designed by Robert Granjon.  The "modern" adaptation Pegana Press uses was designed by Morris Benton in 1922 and first produced by the ATF Foundry in 1923.

Dale Guild Foundry, in the meantime, was unfortunately slowly dissolving as a business and eventually in 2013 the Barth Casters and other casting molds were separated and sold throughout  different parts of the world. So the foundry cast the last of this type years ago and these fonts are unlikely to ever again be cast with this quality in the original designs.  Almost all of the type has been purchased long ago, (there was not much made)  and is now unavailable.

So the Goudy Franciscan, Friar, and Civilite types we use are now on their way to extinction and I'll have to retire them when it becomes too worn to use. As I do test prints for each page, I examine them with a magnifying glass and replace any worn letters one at a time to get the best print possible.  Tedious and delicate work but essential to achieve our very best effort.

Our books are appreciated for the rarity of the material we've collected and published over the years and their hand printed and bound qualities.  They are also living histories of the dreams and designs of long passed artisans who etched into metal these symbols that mean so much to us .

Sunday, December 13, 2015


An interesting and frustrating development for a typesetter is when you're going along setting a page from a story, and suddenly you run out of a particular letter.

It happened to Mike just this week, so now he's waiting to finish setting the page until more  t s arrive in the mail.

Last year, this same problem cropped up with the capital  F s when Mike was setting A Tale of Roscommon, one of the Lord Dunsany stories in Lost Tales volume 3.
Lord Dunsany, Lost Tales volume 3 from Pegana Press 2014

I think it was a pretty close thing with the capital  O s in this story as well.  As you can see in this photo, the character names are Mickey O'Finn, Father O'Groman, and Jimmy Flynn.  When the author really gets going in the story, The F s and O s start to pile up on a single page, as the characters interact.

It's just these little things that pop up in the printing world that keep you on your toes.  Something you would never even think about unless you spend your days typesetting little pieces of metal type, one letter and space at a time.

I know I never did.

Hope you're having a good week end.  I'm off to glue titles on more copies of The Golden Key.  Thanks for checking in on our blog.