The Thompson Type Caster could in many ways be considered a transition machine, sitting between foundry machines like the Barth casters that were used by the American Type Founders Company (ATF), and machines that were intended for casting slugs (Linotype, Intertype and Ludlow) or composed type (Monotype) for printing office use.
The Thompson was invented in 1908 by John S. Thompson. It is a sorts caster, casting multiple types of the same size, letter and style. With attachments and adjustments it is also capable of casting quads, spaces, borders, leads, slugs and rules.
As originally designed, the machine utilized Linotype matrices, but the geometry of the machine is such that it is very versatile. With the proper mat holders and moulds, the Thompson can cast type from virtually any matrix, including foundry martices.
Type sizes ranged from 5–48 point. In 1929, The Monotype Corporation bought the Thompson Machine Company. They continued to build and sell the machine until 1967.
In the day, the Thompson was sold to printers—ATF used the high pressure, high temperature Barth machines to cast type to “foundry” specifications. Today, the Thompson is being used much like the Barth casters once were, and forms the core equipment of several operating foundries.
This facsimile of the Gutenberg Bible is one of several pieces of “The Art of the Printed Book Through the Centuries” exhibit at the Garnett Library on the Missouri State University-West Plains campus.
The exhibit, which features pieces from the collection at The St. Louis Mercantile Library, was brought to campus through The Missouri Center for the Book with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts. (Missouri State-West Plains Photo)
Since the creation of metal type, there has never been such a successful machine as the Heidelberg platen.
Schnellpresse, as Heidelberg was called in the early days, built their business around this press. Platens were sold all over the world and when it was time to stop, in 1985, more than 165,000 “T” platens were delivered.
There was of course, competition. The British Thompson was a close facsimile of the Heidelberg – especially before WW II when Thompson used the same rotary gripper system. That ended abruptly after WW II.
Later, the Czechoslovak Grafopress appeared as an almost identical clone. Some suggest this is when Heidelberg started to use the term “Original Heidelberg” to disassociate themselves from an Iron Curtain country impervious to litigation.
I rather doubt that. The word “Original” was often used by German builders and Schnellpresse probably did too even before the Czech copy. We called the Grafopress the “Scrap-o-Press” as it was nowhere near as good a machine.
Grafopress did have one feature that was incorporated into the Heidelberg though. The ability to lock out the forme rollers was eventually, years later, designed into the Drupa 1967 Heidelberg.
Both the Soviet Union and China also made knock-offs of the Heidelberg, both very poor copies.
Over the years, we hauled Heidelberg platens out of and into basements, through windows, into garages, or stripped down to get through narrow doorways.
There seemed to be no place that existed where a Heidelberg could not go. Our company overhauled and sold so many – I lost track. When crash numbering was at its apex, it was not uncommon to see one operator in control of four presses.
He could hear exactly what the machine was doing while busy loading and unloading feeders and deliveries. As safety concerns increased the Heidelberg platen faced many challenges.
Some “T’s” found themselves encapsulated under plexiglas and wire mesh, just to keep the authorities at bay. Eventually, it became impossible to operate these presses in such situations. Greeting card companies that may have had 10+ machines soon started to discard the platen.
This amazing and still relevant machine was born around 1912 when Schnellpressenfabrik-Heidelberg purchased the patents from a Köln print shop owner and tinkerer – Karl Gilke.
Not much is known about Gilke, but the platen with the “propeller-gripper” changed the world.
Prior there existed essentially hand-fed platens. These machines, while labor intensive, were slow. Every sheet had to be fed and delivered by hand.
Gilke changed all that by using the favored “Boston Principle” (a platen that has a stationary bed) and incorporated both feeder and delivery into it.
“Incunabula,” from the Latin for “swaddling clothes,” are the earliest books printed in the West, specifically those dated before 1501.
The first documented instance of women actually employed in printing comes from a manuscript kept at the Convent of San Jacopo di Ripoli in Florence.
Perhaps because their printing works was supervised by two male friars, the women’s contributions have been little noted until recently.
In 1999 the convent’s Diario, a type of account book and daily log, was published with a commentary and transcription by Melissa Conway.
As is evident in the colophon shown here, the nuns gave themselves no credit in the works they printed.
This example, The Conspiracy of Cataline by the Roman historian Sallust (86-34 B.C.), shows that these women were skillful and accurate — although not artful — compositors.
Their work is nevertheless of great importance to the history of women, as are their contributions to scholarship, particularly their magnum opus — and the last imprint of San Jacopo di Ripoli — the first complete printed edition of the works of Plato, published in 1484.
Crispi Salustii De coniuratione Catilinae liber incipit, printed by the Nuns of San Jacopo di Ripoli