The Museum of Printing, North Andover, Massachusetts

800 Massachusetts Avenue · North Andover, Massachusetts 01845

Museum Collection

Composing Room

The process of typesetting is called composition in the trade. Traditional composition has been called hot metal composition, which in some usage includes hand composition of foundry type since that was also cast once. For much of the history of printing, composition was hand composition of hand-cast type. Only in the 20th century were practical methods of machine setting invented, which leveraged on previous advances in machine casting of type.

Hot Metal Composition: Machine Composition

The workhorse for book-work machine typesetting was the Lanston Monotype. It cast individual sorts as needed and assembled them at an assigned width. Once the page was “worked off,” the type could be melted to be cast anew, or it could be distributed into cases for hand composition or correcting of typographic errors matter set in the same face.
The original hot-metal composing machine for newspaper operations. In contrast to the Monotype, it cast whole lines at once. Typographic errors required the resetting and recasting of the entire line, and sometimes adjacent lines if the spacing was changed too much by the correction.
Linotype Teletypesetter
The Linotype was adapted to remote setting using transmission of wire-service copy with the Teletypesetter papr tape keyboard and printer.
All Purpose Linotype
Merganthaler Linotype’s solution to the headline composition problem was the “APL,” a machine which would cast headline lines from hand-composed matrices. It had larger matrices than the largest regular Linotype, and with the Ludlow conversion composing sticks (2+), it could cast from Ludlow matrices.
lntertype (3)
Intertype was a clone of the Linotype, made to be able to interchange fonts and some parts, made by the Intertype Corporation.
Linograph (1)
Linograph Model 1, with 5 magazines, 12 fonts of mats
The Ludlow was the main machine for headline composition. A compositor assembled matrices for one line of headline or display by hand on a “Ludlow composing stick.” Ludlow type is cast type-high like all other type, but it is not cast to the full point-size to that height; to save metal and expedite cooling (and thus cycling), all sizes are cast on a 12-pt slug, with massive cantilevers (far too solid to call kerns) hanging over the top & bottom, which are supported on high spacing slugs. The high spacing slugs were cast on Elrod casters, which could also cast low spaces; an Elrod in good condition could cast one-point leads.
The Unitype foundry-type typesetter set foundry type (harder than the normal hot-metal composing machines could cast on the fly). It requires specially cast foundry type that was notched for machine sorting (not unlike Linotype matrices). 10pt., with font.
General support equipment
A well equipped hot-metal composing room had a wide variety of specialized tools (in addition to a general machinery-shop for repairs!).

Hot Metal Composition: Hand composition

Hand type

Make-up and Correction

After basic composition, type must be assembled into galleys for first proof and then “imposed” pages and multiple-page forms in preparation for printing. The table upon which the type is organized into one or multi-page forms is called the imposing stone, and often is made of marble. Later industrial models are precision steel. Marble and steel are preferred to ensure flatness and levelness of the surface when a form is prepared for the press. Forms are stored temporarily and long-term tied with page-cord (strong fine waxed string) on a galley in a galley rack. Forms that are going to or from the press for proofs or corrections will be stored in chases that fit the press, which are stored on edge in special racks and (in larger sizes) wheeled about on special “trucks” or dollies.
Small shops might take the galley proof with a brayer and plane and the page and final proofs on the production press, but larger shops installed presses especially adapted to quickly taking one or a few proofs for the author, editor, and proofreader.
For large (or repeated) runs of books or newspapers, neither hot-metal machine-composition type nor hand-composed foundry type is ideal. Having large quantities of type metal in standing forms is expensive inventory; also both kinds of type wear (machine comp wears faster than the harder foundry, but the wear on foundry is capital depreciation). In addition, only one press can print the result of one composition; to have multiple presses running hand comp would require multiple settings (and multiple errors and proofings). The solution to this problem is the stereotype (or in French, the cliché), by which each multi-page form, in a special chase, is cast into a solid thin metal plate, which may be printed either upon patent bases on standard presses or on rotary presses built for stereo plates. Multiple plates can thus be made from one setting (hence stereo); and once the plates are made, the type can be distributed or melted for reuse. Mats taken from the type form can be expressed to remote sites for casting, allowing coordinated advertising and syndicated copy without resetting.

Cold Composition

All means of composition not using cast metal type is cold composition. The typewriter was sneeringly called Cold Metal in some times and places (although you now hear it used for hand composers working at the case!) as well as Strike-on Comp; the various Zip-a-Tone/Letraset products have been called Rub-on Comp. In the middle of the Offset revolution, they were the low-end competitors to pulling reproduction proofs from metal type to produce camera ready art.
The primary replacement for Hot Metal were the phototype compositor machines. Here the photographic negative replaces the impress matrix casting new metal. Most were running-text machines as with most hot-metal. Most shops continued to handset headlines at the case or at the Ludlow to pull repro proofs, but the CG Headliner filled the niche of the Ludlow.
Phototypesetting computer
This computer accepted key-to-disk and key-to-tape input as well as OCR reading of typewritten input. The computer handled hyphenation and justification.
Composing Typewriters
Derogatorily called “Strike-on” composition, the composing typewriter was used for camera-ready copy in the quick-print business, in academic publishing, and small weeklies, where cost and turn-around were the driving factors. The best were capable of proportional spacing, justification, and handling multiple fonts. The familiar IBM Executive and Selectric can be considered to be in the low-end of this family; the IBM Composing Selectric was a computer-driven, auto-justifying, high-end system.

Photography & Plate-Making

Gallery Cameras
In the cold-type/offset world, plate-making is a photo-mechanical process, and that requires cameras big enough to make full-page size negatives.
Darkroom equipment
The gallery camera required a darkroom to develop the negatives and to expose and develop the offset plates.
Later, smaller cameras included built-in, semi-automatic darkrooms.
Digital Type
The Museum has recently acquired a couple of Macintosh Plus’s, initiating coverage of the new era in composition. Donations of a matching LaserWriter+, older Macs, or software to match would be most appreciated. Donations of current or intervening or prior digital type hardware and software would also be appreciated.


Letterpress presses (49 total)
Iron Hand Presses (6)
Platen Job Presses
Tabletop (14)
Floor model platens
Hand Fed (14)
Automatic Feed Platens (5)
Cylinder Presses (10 total)
Hand Fed (3)
Automatic Fed (6)
Web Fed (1)
(Roll-feed is called a web of paper.) Goss Sextuple Straight-line curved stereo news press 1922, 62″ web, 22′ cutoff, 3- deck. 30 long, 12′ wide, 12′ tall. 45 tons: with automatic ink system, spare rollers and spare parts (3½ tons), with saddles for thin plate operation.
Offset (lithographic) presses (1)
The Museum will be interested in donations of Offset equipment. Davidson 10×15 sheet-feed offset-litho press.
Engraving Presses
*Mead “cannonball” steel engraving press *King copperplate engraving press 12 w. cylinder, 4′ diam. wheel; *DeMain, Kelton, and King copperplate engraving presses, 16 w. cylinder, 5′ diam. wheel.
Speedy Gravure 6 Web single color, used in bandage packaging. Really small! Donated many years ago in situ, a Speedy Gravure 6 web press manufactured by the Champlain Gravure Company was moved into the Friends storage site several years ago. A larger gravure cylinder for a decorative border has been recently acquired.
Office Duplicators


Paper Cutters
(Hand powered unless specified)

Support Apparatus

Display Materials
Materials Handling

Click on a picture to enlarge it.

Type-slanting_x200 Mergenthaler letter drawing Unitype typesetter Elektron linecaster Compuwriter IV phototype fonts Washington press