The Lanston Monotype, circa 1890.


This old-style description of  The Tolbert Lanston Monotype invention is from “The Advertiser,” Adelaide, South Australia. circa 1900.

The age of miracles has not, as some would have us believe, gone by.
The discoveries of science, the wonders of invention, are as astonishing in their way as any of the marvels dreamed of by men of old. In the matter of printing, for instance, what wonderful triumphs have been accomplished. So great are tbey that one would scarce imagine anything new could be invented.
Typeseting machines of marvellous speed and accuracy are already in use in hundreds of offices.
But the recent invention of an American engineer Tolbert Lanston  (1844-1913) is a marvel. This latest invention is the Lanston Monotype machine.
Its name indicates its essential difference from those typesetting machines which cast their type in whole lines, for tbe Monotype casts each letter singly, thus allowing ease of correction.
The Monotype is in two parts. The first is a keyboard, and the second is the typecasting machine proper. The keyboard is operated by a compositor, who strikes keys representing letters, points of punctuation, etc.
The pressing of a key does not, however, liberate the type, but simply perforates a ribbon of paper, which, when placed on the castng machine, governs all its movement.
Everything that can reasonably be required of a printing machine can be done by the Monotype. The perforated ribbon when put into the casting machine works backward, so that the last letter, quad, or point struck by the compositor is the first to be set by the machine. As the spool of ribbon is unwound the perforations govern the mechanism.
This consists brieffly of a pan of molten type metal kept liquid by a set of gas burners. A series of matrices  set in a die case into which the molten metal is injected, a carrier of type, and a maker of lines which is almost human in its action.
Although so complex in its parts, the working is so easy and methodical that one man can look after some 10 machines. All he has to do is to oil the machinery, occasionally put a block of metal into the melting pan and puts the lines of type onto a galley, which, when filled, is replaced by empty ones by the engineer.
Tbe type on the galley is then corrected, made up and dealt with by the compositor in precisely the same way as a galley of type set by hand. The superiority of the Monotype over most of its rivals is that instead of the line being cast solid, each letter is separate, and should any error have been made it can be remedied without the whole line having to be remade.
Another and obvious advantage of this is that the type, after being once used, can be distributed and used over and over again, just like the ordinary type bought from the type foundry. If the original type is not  wanted, it can be thrown into the melting pot and the metal used time and again.
The power required to drive the machine is claimed by the inventor Mr Lanston to be very small. The molten metal is forced into the matrices by pneumatic pressure, and is immediately cooled by cold water, which circulates through the mold. It is claimed that the types thus cast are equal to those made in the ordinary way at the type foundry.
Another advantage is that the Monotvpe requires so few men to attend to it. Thus eight operators and the machinist can work 10 machines. Yet another advantage is the small amount of space required for the plant, for the keyboard takes up no more room than a sewing machine, while the actual typesetter covers scarce a square yard.
From the foregoing facts and details some idea of the machine we have described may be gathered. But the Monotype must be seen to be appreciated.
Understood by the layman it cannot be, but appreciated it must be by all who witness its wonderful performance-
There is something almost uncanny about the way the thing works. A ribbon of perforated paper is put into a machine, and immediately types issue from it, words are spelled, lines are made and put into their place, and before the eyes of the spectator the column of type visibly grows. It will work day and night. It is useless to praise the inventive genius which created such a machine.
The Lanston “Monotype” type setting machine is one of the most wonderful inventions even of this age of wonderful things.

4 thoughts on “The Lanston Monotype, circa 1890.

  1. The intertype and monotype machines were indeed a modern miracle at the time. How on earth these machines with so many moving parts and belts could all come together and produce a line of type buggers me.

    Liked by 1 person

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