Monotype machines for mathematics

quadrescence's picture

For a long time I have been typesetting mathematics with LaTeX, which of course works very well. For a while I have contemplated the prospect of typesetting mathematics via letterpress, namely with Monotype's 4-line system.

My question: does anyone know where the equipment (caster, keyboards, etc.) could be obtained? I am unsure on their value and rarity, so I apologize in advance if such a question is rather inane.

Miscellaneous comments: I realize that this technology is relatively obsolete with the introduction of digital printing. I also am very well aware that this is a less flexible, more expensive, and more time consuming process than simply using digital systems. But, I suppose the quality of the result and the classic feel of it is worth more to me.

oldnick's picture

Your best bet, probably, is to check regularly at eBay > Business & Industrial > Printing & Graphic Arts. Also be prepared to pick the thing up: these machine weight a ton, if not literally, at least figuratively.

Another thing to consider is the learning curve: I've had opportunity to see Linotype operators in action, and it's reminiscent of the doings of "the man behind the curtain" in the Wizard of Oz.

quadrescence's picture

oldnick: Yeah, it would require a pretty good amount of space and time. They are incredibly complicated machines (as you've witnessed), probably one of the most beautiful pieces of engineering -- both the Linotype and Monotype machines.

I also realize it has a pretty steep learning curve. In the most ideal situation, I'd apply for an apprenticeship at, say, the Arion Press in California, but I can't afford to move there and stay for four years.

Fortunately I have a good handle on the non-mechanical stuff -- especially the way text and mathematics is structured physically on paper. I've also read Rehak's book "Practical Typecasting".

quadibloc's picture

My suspicion is that, at this time, the rarity of Monotype casters is such that attempting to obtain one at this late date is out of the question. I could be wrong, but I believe that all surviving specimens are in museums by now.

I do agree that this is a fascinating topic. The book "The Printing of Mathematics" describes typesetting mathematics on a Monotype caster before the 4-line system came out. There are two very interesting papers by Daniel Rhatigan which describe the 4-line system in some detail at

... a Google search will turn up direct links to the PDF papers, which the server apparently does not allow to work, so you need to go to this index page instead.

The basis of 4-line mathematics comes from a simpler feature found on Linotype machines (and, despite their lesser flexibility, mathematics can be typeset to some extent even on them) called "Advertising Figures".

Basically, both Linotype and Monotype machines offered special attachments so that the digits and other characters needed to express prices, like the dollar sign and the period, could be cast in a face that was double the height of the normal typesetting being performed, and then overhang (in the Linotype case) or displace (in the Monotype case) the appropriate spaces on the next or previous line.

This was useful for certain styles of small advertisements (resembling classified ads, but set in a serif face - tucked in the back corners of magazines instead of newspapers).

Four-line mathematics worked a bit like that. Normal values in equations were "double height", with the real height of the characters produced being that used for superscripts and subscripts. Two pairs of lines like that were usually what would be used for typical equations where you would have the ratio of two polynomials - each polynomial would be constructed from two lines, and there would be a rule between them, hence the term "four-line mathematics".

quadrescence's picture

quadibloc: Thanks for the reply. That's how it seems -- that such machines are probably put in museums, destroyed, or not at all in working order. And if there was a machine available, the full thing would cost me a fortune.

I have read those papers. They were very informative about how mathematics was typeset.

I guess these days, some sort of photopolymer plate + computer is the way to go (if you don't intend on getting some huge 6-color press). Just doesn't match the quality of old letterpress though. :(

liberapertus's picture

There are still a number of people operating Monotype equipment, and the equipment is available for sale from time to time. I'm not sure about how easy it is to get the matrices and keybars for the math typesetting system. The best way to find out more is to get in touch with the American Typecasting Fellowship; you just missed their biennial gathering earlier this month. There is a little bit of info here:

If you go to the home page for, you can find contact info for Rich Hopkins, who leads the group.

4lineman's picture


I'll do this post (my first ever) in two hits, because my first try (1,000 words) just vanished.

In the '60's, I worked at a company called Santype, of Salisbury (UK). They were probably the premier typesetter of mathematics for high-quality books in England, and also did a great deal of work for the US market. They also specialized in topological treatises, and many foreign languages (including non-Roman typefaces).

I was one of about 6 4-line monotype operators (although still an apprentice!), and it was a job that I still look back on as my most enjoyable. I also worked for a short time for Harrisons of London, on an experimental 10/8pt mathematical system.

Santype also set up a satellite company in Richmond (Va) in the '70's (I believe Byrd was part of the name). The manager is still alive, living in Arizona.


4lineman's picture

Mr Quadrescence's project is quite admirable in many ways. However, it would be inadvisable to try and do it all himself.

There must be many museums and print hobby clubs that possess Monotype keyboards and casters, and I'd recommend he try and find someone in one of these organisations as enthusiastic as himself to look into the rebirth of 4-line.

New Zealand has only 2 or 3 Monotype keyboard/linecaster pairs, only one of which was still operational in 2008. The museum I belong to has only a fragile supercaster. The country does have a relatively large number of Linotypes and Intertypes.

I wish Mr Q all the best, hope he's successful in sourcing the many and varied pieces of equipment needed for 4-line, including a good proportion of the more than 10,000 matrices that were cut.

I can advise that Alembic Press (UK) did have quite a range of 4-line information, but I'm not sure they're still in existence.

Best of luck!

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