Linotype classes (and Linotype the Film)

We’re going to be hosting the *only* Southern California screening of Linotype: The Film At the International Printing Museum, on March 17 (see for more details).

We’ve also been discussing a possible Linotype class for later this year… how many people would be interested in learning some of the basics, to operate and maintain the Linotype?

Linotype operation is clearly a very complex topic, so we were thinking of having a very basic, one-day introduction class, and then spinning that off into a more advanced class later.

We’ll hopefully have more details available before the Linotype Film screening, but the more interest that we get in advance, the more motivated we’ll all be to get the gears in motion!

Let us know what you think and whether you’d be interested in coming to the Museum in Carson for a Linotype class.


image: Linotype: The Film

Linotype: The Film

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One of the basics of linotype operation is the combination, the “teeth” on the matrix which decide into which of the magazine channels the matrix will fall.

I have never found on the Internet or anywhere else a depiction of the method of determining which channel of the magazine/s corresponds to the combination.

The matrix (mat) has 7 pairs of teeth; the following method is from my memory:

Method: Hold the mat with the teeth to the top; assign “values” to the teeth which are present, those which project inwards and have not been “cut away”. The values are 1 for the uppermost pair usually numbered 1, the pair at the top or open end of the V-slot; value 2 to the next pair, usually numbered 2; value 4 to the next pair, usually numbered 3; value 8 to pair 4; value 16 to pair 5; value 32 to pair 6; value 64 to pair 7, the bottom-most, close-together pair. [Most people will recognise the mathematics.]
Add the values for the teeth which are present, then deduct 1; the answer should be the number of the channel. This accommodates the “extra” channel “e”, numbered zero (0).

If a mat has teeth numbered 2, 4 and 7, these correspond to values 2, 8 and 64 which (with minus 1) add up to 71, so should (if I am correct) correspond to channel 71.

If the matrix has no teeth, it should drop into the pi (or “hell”) box, just to the left of the spaceband box; if the mat has all of its teeth (or on single-mag machines teeth 6 and 7 are present) it should (again hopefully) go down the pi tube at the right of the magazine/s. [The “right” is as viewed by the normally-seated operator.]

Would someone with a machine check if I am correct? The foregoing is from my memory which is 37/84 of my years.

And I have just proved (again) to myself that a type-face with a reasonable serif, and traditional (“old-style”) thick-and-thin strokes to the characters, is easier to read (proof-read) than a sans-serif face.


The pattern on the distributor bar of a 90 channel machine is pure 7-bit binary coding. To a computer programmer, it is a thing of comfort and beauty. While this might seem to be an “obvious” solution today (well, to a computer geek, at least), in historical context it is a good indication of Mergenthaler’s genius. Mathematicians certainly knew about binary in the 1880s, but I doubt that it was part of any engineering curriculum - and certainly not the watchmaker’s training that he received in Germany. I suspect that he re-invented it on his own.

I wrote this up a few years ago, in a notebook that I’d probably revise now if I had the time:

David M. MacMillan

Anyone know if there is still existant anywhere a Linotype “Blower” machine? Where? If not, is it possible that sometime, somewhere, someone could make a replica? A replica of the first Mercedes (automobile) came to my town a few years ago, and I have seen on Internet several replicas of the Cugnot vehicle (steam).


To all:

The Russians still market a few types of radio vacuum tubes (wireless valves); does anyone know if they junked or saved their machines for making linotype matrices?

Did Mergenthaler/Intertype scrap/keep their machines for making matrices?


In general:

I do a lot of reading, came across a description of operating a Linotype which mentioned that any line should have at least three spacebands in it. This was not my experience when I was working.


It is my belief that russia manufactures valves as we call them because they still use the technology for military communications they supposedly being resistant to EMF therefore in the event of use of weapons that emit emf they wont lose their ability to use important equipment .
I doubt if russia ever kept the means for reproducing written information seeing as they did so love to control as many forms of information as they could .


Pretty much all of the typecasting equipment has been trashed in Russia at the onset of the digital era. A few lonely Linotypes remain in use in small provincial printing offices, the presses have been converted to do foil stamping and die-cutting. There is of course a letterpress revival happening at this time, with Vandys Windmills and C&P’s being imported from the west, but that has only started a couple years ago. Most of the old equipment was scrapped in the late 80’s early 90’s.

It is possible that the folks at ParaType (successors of the main Soviet type foundry “Полиграфмаш”) might have kept a few derelict machines in the attic.

I’ll ask around.

Interestingly enough, the old soviet color system “Rainbow” is still produced, complete with matching inks and swatchbooks, despite the fact that 99% of the business has switched to Pantone some twenty years ago.

image: pms2.jpg


image: pms1.jpg


FYI - Linotype holdings at the Museum of Printing in N. Andover MA are listed here: