Editor's note

Print relic

linotype-le-figaro.jpg

I spotted this Linotype machine on display in the Paris lobby of Le Figaro, the second-largest national newspaper in France. There's also a Linotype in the lobby museum of the Los Angeles Times — and probably in many other newspaper buildings around the world.

I'm still traveling and will start to catch up with posting later this week. Meanwhile, here's what Wikipedia says about the venerable Linotype:

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. [Really?]

Also this from later in the article. If the ink and cigar smoke in the air, the drinking and the stress didn't kill old timey newspaper people, having all that molten lead around might.

The casting material is an alloy of lead (85%), antimony (11%), and tin (4%), and produces a one-piece casting slug capable of 300,000 impressions before the casting begins to develop deformities and imperfections, and the type must be cast again.


The continuous heating of the molten alloy causes the tin and antimony in the mixture to rise to the top and oxidize along with other impurities into a substance called "dross" which has to be skimmed off. Excessive dross formation leads to the alloy softening as the proportion of lead increases. The mixture must then be assayed and tin and antimony added back (in the form of a specially proportioned alloy) to restore the original strength and properties of the alloy. In the later years of Linotype casting, it also became more and more evident that employee exposure to the elements of the alloy caused health risks. Lead easily evaporates from the molten mixture and enters the respiratory tract, and both lead and antimony have a tendency to be absorbed through the skin. Many operators and proof readers handled the slugs bare-handed.


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Print relic


 

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