October 6

Under this date in 1868 The Printer’s Register, a British periodical, published the following note:

“A Buffalo American Exchange says:—There is no typefoundry in the world superior—either in beauty or durability of its wares—to the famous Johnson Foundry of Philadelphia, now worthily carried on by Messrs. MacKellar, Smiths & Jordan, the successors of the lamented L. Johnson. The old Bruce foundry in New York and the White foundry in the same city (the latter now carried on by Messrs. Farmer, Little & Co.), although not up to the Philadelphia concern in variety of styles, are equal to any in the world in point of excellence in the cut, finish, and durability of their types. The Buffalo typefoundry, also, although not so extensive as either of these we have named ahead of it, makes a variety of types quite sufficient for the use of any newspaper, and of a quality inferior to none in all essential points. We can speak of the durability of its manufactures from long experience. As to their beauty and variety, for the purpose named, we may appeal to the appearance of the Commercial Advertiser and the Courier, of Buffalo, both of which concerns always buy their newspaper type of friend Lyman. Long experience with type of French, English, Scotch, and American manufacture, warrants us in denying the inferiority of the home article.”

To which, in some high dudgeon, The Printer’s Register added its own editorial comment:

“We insert the above in order to make the following statement. The founts of type used in printing the Manchester Guardian, the Leading Provincial Daily Journal in England, have been in daily use since January 1st, 1867, and have yielded twenty-five millions of impressions worked wholly from the type, whilst the condition of the founts at the present time are such, they will not require to be renewed for at least another twelve-month. We challenge any of our American friends to a similar test of durability, and shall be glad to elicit from them the largest number of impressions American hard metal type is capable of giving. The Manchester Guardian founts were cast in the Patent Hard Metal of the Type Founding Company, whose foundry is at 31, Red Lion-square, and both European and American printers are invited to inspect their manufacture.”

One hundred years later, the controversy is still not resolved. The durability of type is the total of a number of variables, not the least of which is the comparative skill of the pressman who prints the type. Modern foundry type is composed of certain percentages of lead, tin, antimony, and copper, the exact mixture of which is in the category of a trade secret. In the 1860’s the mixture was not very different, although iron and steel were sometimes used. Ringwalt lists the formula for a 17th century English alloy: twenty-five pounds of lead mixed with three pounds of iron stub-nails and antimony produced twenty-eight pounds of type metal.

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