How Are Books Made in 1950? Video of Linotype Machine in Action

By Xah Lee. Date: . Last updated: .

A fantastic video.

《Pictorial Webster's: Inspiration to Completion》 (2009) by John Carrera

All my life, i've been interested in symbols. I recall when is was 15 in 1980s, in the back of big dictionaries, there's a appendix of list of symbols and their names, grouped into category of fields. For example, punctuations and printer's symbols † ¶ © ® ™ ☙, Astronomy ☿ ♀ ♁ ⊕ ♂ ♃ ♄ ♅ ⛢ ♆, Math ∑ ∞ ∫ π ∈ ℝ², geometry ∡ ∥ ⦜, chemistry, and there's also Accent Marks {café crème grâce naïve façade}, ….

In the past 20 years, the interest has expanded into typesetting, Font, TeX, syntax and notation systems, ….

These are all related. Symbols are needed for written communication, and in math and comp lang, they are tied to notation and syntax. When printed, it relates to printing technologies, typesetting, font. In our digital publishing era, most of these have moved to the desktop computer with associated new techs, such as Keyboards, input systems, Unicode, math notation software systems.

For a collection of articles, see:

linotype machine  model 6  1965
linotype machine, model 6, 1965. 2400×2356 〔photo by Clemens PFEIFFER, Vienna. image source

The linotype machine (/ˈlaɪnətaɪp/ LYN-ə-typ) is a “line casting” machine used in printing. Along with letterpress printing, linotype was the industry standard for newspapers, magazines and posters from the late 19th century to the 1960s and 70s, when it was largely replaced by offset lithography printing and computer typesetting. The name of the machine comes from the fact that it produces an entire line of metal type at once, hence a line-o'-type, a significant improvement over the previous industry standard, i.e., manual, letter-by-letter typesetting using a composing stick and drawers of letters.

The linotype machine operator enters text on a 90-character keyboard. The machine assembles matrices, which are molds for the letter forms, in a line. The assembled line is then cast as a single piece, called a slug, of type metal in a process known as “hot metal” typesetting. The matrices are then returned to the type magazine from which they came, to be reused later. This allows much faster typesetting and composition than original hand composition in which operators place down one pre-cast metal letter, punctuation mark or space at a time.

The machine revolutionized typesetting and with it especially newspaper publishing, making it possible for a relatively small number of operators to set type for many pages on a daily basis. Before Mergenthaler's invention of the linotype in 1884, no daily newspaper in the world had more than eight pages.[1]

Have heard of Linotype machine many times in the 1990s when i was reading about TeX 〔The TeX Pestilence (Why TeX/LaTeX Sucks) 〕, but never had any idea what it looks like or how it works. This video showed the machine at work, also, it showed many printer technologies as a craftsmanship. Including classic technologies of book binding, making the page stack curved, printing decoration on book page edges, creating leather book cover, embossed letters on the leather cover, cutting finger holes on page edges (a semicicle-wedge-shaped “hole” for each letter A, B, etc cut into page edges). (Much of these are no longer practiced, but can be seen in older thick dictionaries). Fantastic video. (thanks to meowcats for mention)

pictorial websters book Full leather with emboss
“Pictorial Websters”. Buy at amazon

The one that sells on Amazon is a mass produced version at $20. The one shown in picture above is a delux version manually crafted as shown in the video. It sells for few k. Here's a quote from the author's comment at vimeo:

The deluxe copy shown in the video is from an edition of 26 is $4600, but there is also the regular run of 100 books (doesn't have fingertabs) in $3200 binding, $2600, and $1800, and now from Chronicle Books a very splendid $35 version. Chronicle has a contest on their website where you can WIN the deluxe in the photo!

The company “Quercus Press”, has a site with much more info: http://www.quercuspress.com/websterbindinggallery.htm.