Metal: Schwitters’ “script” i

Stephan Kurz's picture

Hi everyone,
I’ve got a tricky question especially for those familiar with metal typesetting: How would you think the “i”s in the figure below were printed?


I’ve already got some ideas especially on the ones with separate strokes, but I’d rather not bias your opinions.
The samples date from the years 1922 to 1924 [exception: I don’t know about the origin of the middle and right sample in the upper row as these are scans I found from the web] and they are taken from the works of Kurt Schwitters.*

* Of course, this is copyrighted material. I consider uploading the above picture a quotation for solely scientific purposes and I am willing to remove it on request.

Kristian M's picture

Probably a customized cliché made out of lead – since photopolymer wasn’t invented at that time.

Don McCahill's picture

The bottom example really shows how it was done. Note that the N does not join ... it is done with three pieces of rule, abutting. Thus I suspect that the dot is a bullet character built into the line above. It would be interesting to see what arrangement of furniture pieces was used to make those slanted rules sit as they do.

The top example is more likely a logotype cast in one piece. The thin strokes of the N make me fairly certain it would be cast metal, and not a wood type block.

Stephan Kurz's picture

Kristian, Don (Don: it’s an i, not an N! ;-)), thanks so far. Both of your guesses go into the same direction that I thought possible. The cliché or other type of “done in one piece” seems to be done differently in the two examples, though: I agree that the thin strokes could probably be cast metal, but in the lower right example ("1924") the left upstroke is not as smooth and the bottom of the stem looks curved or even carved (by hand?):


Then again in the other examples, there are different types of rules: some are angled on one (or both) ends, others aren’t. E.g. in the lower left example, there might have been used two different kinds of rule: the left one (first upstroke) being angled ~60° on the lower end, ~30° on the upper end, and the right one (second upstroke) twice ~45°. I haven’t worked with lead composition that much, and of course I don’t have any idea about the actual usage of leaden rules (in Germany of the 1920s). If a typesetter had to do such a figure and did not want to produce any kind of cliché, would he or she start filing the rules or were there special rules (for creating frames, I would think 45° were a pretty good start…) designated for such jobs normally available in printshops?
I am inclined to ask the same question about the (bolder) central part of the two examples at the right in the first row (only, they are angled like "//" instead of "/\\").
And, one more question: Do you think that the different "i"s in the first two lower examples are actually "i"s from a sansserif face with rules to the left and right or are they more likely to be constructed from a rule plus some kind of dot or bullet character?
Quite a lot of more tricky questions, I would appreciate your answers!

Stephan Kurz's picture

[Don] It would be interesting to see what arrangement of furniture pieces was used to make those slanted rules sit as they do.
Maybe something like this way?

bieler's picture

Stephen

In most of these illustrations the combinations of existent cast material would have been constructed using a printers' saw (or similar device), which would allow one to either cut away material or undercut (the body only) as in kerning. Fairly routine letterpress practices. None of these look like they would have required a special lockup as you speculate.

Gerald
The Bieler Press
http://BielerPress.blogspot.com

Stephan Kurz's picture

Gerald,
thank you for your comment, that is exactly the kind of information I am looking for because I don't have any real working experience in a letterpress environment.
I hope that such knowledge will be preserved though it seems to be a little outdated.
You are indicating that procedures like the ones presumably used for the preparation of my examples is fairly routine letterpress practices: This seconds my assumption that most of the "historical avant-garde" type experiments are in fact applications of standard printing opportunities of their time (and space, and knowledge, and availability of resources) to a new field (literature).
Any more comments on the examples above?
Thanks again, Stephan

Robert Trogman's picture

The letter was made by mitering the lines (Rules) up against a conventional letter. A letterpress bullet was placed on the top.
The spacing material to support it were also mitered at a 45 degree angle. It was an everday practice in the composing rooms of the past. I maintain a letterpress environment just to keep my head straight and I find it a way to unwind from the Mac.

Don McCahill's picture

Stephan. That is pretty much how I would see the furniture sitting. It would depend on the size of the character, of course. It would also be possible that they actually would cut the wood to the proper angle, as they did with the rule used to make the I that looks like an N.

bieler's picture

Stephen

To some extent, most of the "historical avant-garde" experiments would have been produced with time-honored printing practices. I think that Marinetti's page of 1918[?] (which interestingly is contemporary with Cobden-Sanderson's Genesis page) was produced simply by pouring molten lead into the chase to lockup the random configuration of the various metal type pieces. Nothing new about the practice, but there sure was about Marinetti.

I'm not sure the slanted lines are actually rule but likely large slashes that were undercut. Looks like the 2nd and 3rd examples are simply a lower case i snugged up against the slashes. First example could simply be a large point (period) turned sideways and cut to fit. All kinds of possibilities. But I don't see any need here for clever lockups.

Gerald
The Bieler Press
http://BielerPress.blogspot.com

Don McCahill's picture

I had not been thinking of slashes. Or possibly a solidus. In either case, they would have been cut on a metal saw to fit flush against the I piece. This would be more stable than a slanted rule.

I haven't got enough handset experience to know for sure. I do know that those guys could do some amazing things with the limited tools available.

Stephan Kurz's picture

Thanks a lot to everybody.
I just received a scan of the original edition from 1923 (not in the best quality, though), which is similar to the second version in my first post:


Previously, I thought that the upper left sample from the first image I posted here had been the original version, but that does not seem to be the case. My guess is now that the newer version has been created especially for the edition of Schwitters’ works done by Friedhelm Lach in 1974-1981, then reprinted [Amazon].
I think that this makes sense – do you agree?

Syndicate content Syndicate content