Watts / Kittypot Castings

A few days ago there was a discussion here on BriarPress in which the “Kittypot Casting” series of the late Stevens L. Watts came up. These were subscription-based revivals of older types, cast by ATF for him on special order.

Bob Mullen (Xanadu Press) has just written a very nice article on Watts and his Kittypot Castings, identifying and documenting eleven of them. It’s a fine article and an important contribution to the history of 20th century metal type revivals:


Bob also wrote the definitive history of typefouding in St. Louis, “Recasting a Craft: St. Louis Typefounders Respond to Industrialization” (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 2005) ISBN: 0-8093-26361-1.

David M.

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Thanks so much for posting, David. There’s some delightful commentary there, such as a request for “3½ point Brilliant Roman for bughunter’s specimen tags.”

I think such an arrangement is possible today, though it seems that matrices are spread hither and yon these days. With the internet, it should be easier than ever to find groups of printers who want to revive a face in ample quantity to make a casting worthwhile.


Bughunter’s specimen tags indeed. I actually do have a font of old roman type cast on a 3 pt. body. This includes both ascenders and descenders in the lowercase! The pieces of type look like little needles!!!! I most certainly will never use this, but before you ask - this is most likely going to someone who is interested about getting into minature books - so at this moment I think it is spoken for.

It is unfathomable to me that someone actually handcut the punches for this face more than a century ago.


David M., thanks for your posting!
Bob & Carole,
Thank you for putting some of Watts’ printing on your site. It reminded me that, in 1990, thinking that few would have a copy of his “Delights for Typewranglers and Bookwormes,” I reprinted Watts’ page for my contribution to “It’s a Small World,” using my font of 60-pt. Gothic Ornate, in the title, and Pekin in the subtitle. Anyone having a copy of the 1990 IaSW can see the reprint, with my mis-spelling of “Bookwormes.” That was the most hand-setting that I have ever done, on one page, and I doubt that I would ever do something, like that, again!
Dave Greer

It is Bob Mullen who deserves the thanks, not me.

I did, though, manage to pick up a few copies of the journal that Watts produced, “The Pastime Printer.” Only one of them (No. 9) says anything about his Kittypot Castings, but they’re all good examples of his printing.

Online now at:


David M.

Steve Watts’ daughter, Nancy Watts, married Ralph Babcock, a noted printer and amateur journalist. He published The Scarlet Cockerel, as well as Weaker Moments, two journals first for National Amateur Press Association, and in later years for American Amateur Press Association. If I recall correctly, Nancy Watts worked in sales for Amsterdam Continental Type, which imported type from many European foundries to the US. As a result of these connections, Ralph Babcock’s journals featured a wonderful assortment of new European designs and old American revivals from the Kittypot series, all used with an excellent eye for typographic design. As I recall, Nancy was able to lean on the folks at the Enschede foundry for a Kittypot-style special casting of Cancelleresca Bastarda, the wonderful calligraphic font designed by Jan Van Krimpen with many alternate kerning swash characters. I had the privilege to visit Ralph and Nancy at their home on Whidbey Island around 1980.

3 point type (see Rick’s comment above) is small, but even smaller is 2-1/2 point type.

The smallest metal type ever made, as far as I can determine.

The only physical printed 19th century reference I have to tiny types is printed in Thomas MacKellar’s American Printer. My copy dates back to 1860 before the American Point System came into being. The smallest type size shown was Brilliant, which was half the size of Minion (7 points) or 3 1/2 points. MacKellar notes that a pound of lower-case ‘“i” would contain about 4600 characters.

The smallest type made was cut by Antonio Farina in Italy in the year 1834. The type was called “occhio di Mosca” or “Flie’s eye type”, which measured 2 points. It took 44 years to successfully print a book, the “La Divina Commedia”, because of the smallness of the type and the difficulty in casting it. Writing in a Grolier Club publication Samuel Putnam Avery noted that the type caused serious injury to “the eyesight of both the compositor and corrector. It took one month to print thirty pages, and new types were necessary for every new form.”

The smallest types I have are some 4 point Boxhead Gothic Figures and a partial font of another unknown 4 point type I found on eBay several years ago. I am always looking for 6 point and smaller types with which to print my miniature books, that is while I can still see.


image: MacKellerAmericanPrinter1860_2.JPG


image: MacKellarAmericanPrinter1860_1.JPG


I have to amend my initial statement. I have two much abused and mis-matched volumes of John Johnson’s “Typographia, or the Printers’ Instructor” from 1824. It is liberally sprinkled with tiny and even tinier types from a variety of foundries, and none are identified. He does mention Brilliants, and his examples look to be smaller (perhaps 3 point) than MacKellar’s. I do feel sorry for the printers who counted on “Typographia” for their printing education. Some portions of the text are so small I would put them into the migraine category. Although I am impressed with his use of footnotes to the footnotes.


to Devils Tail Press and others

Has anyone an explanation of why some compositors set footnotes in a typesize smaller than the text? Why not use the same size as the general text? Although I would use a fount of a different, contrasting face, but still stick to serif faces. I abhor non-serif for bookwork.


Usually text is one size, say 12 point, a quotation within the text would be 10 point, and the footnote might be 9 or 8 point. It speaks to the importance of each part of the book, and by keeping the typeface the same there isn’t any question as to that organization. By using one family of type any distraction from different types is much less of a problem. Remember, some of the most famous presses printed their books with only one size of type, and no italic, so there is precedent for using the same type for footnotes as well.

In my shop I only have one type family that is complete (well nearly so) with Roman, Italic, small caps and accents, with sizes from 6 pt to 36 pt. It seems almost a luxury to be able to solve almost any textual problem I might encounter while using that particular face. It is not the same with other types I have, and that’s when I have to get creative.

I specifically buy types that will “work” with my other types. I find display types that have some of the characteristics of the types I use for text, the shape of certain letters or perhaps a similar relationship in the strokes of the characters. I know it matters less to modern designers, but I prefer a page that flows, not one that starts and stops from unrelated types on the same page. Like in Beatrice Warde’s “Crystal Goblet”, I think that the message, whether it is a business card, book, or poster, is more important than the type with which it is composed. Type can set a mood, or give an overall impression, but if the reader has to search through the type to reveal the message then the printed article is a failure. If one looks at the history of the printed word it is pretty clear that anything that can be done with type has pretty well already been done. The bad ideas get discarded (sometimes repeatedly), and the good ones transcend the years and some, even though several hundred years old can still seem fresh, and worthy of imitation.


Alan, G,day Mate Remembering back to apprenticeship days, I asked the same question, “why are footnotes usually smaller” and as I/We did 3 months as copy holder for the proof reader his take was, Footnote,s are/were smaller for 2/3 reasons (apparently) if there was more than one per page, the footnotes, (at the same size as the text) would tend to over power the main body.>>>And in the case of technical matter, if /when the copy ran out of asterisk, dagger, double dagger, the only other option,>> was footnotes with superior figures, occasionaly into the teens, smaller size appeared to be a logical progression.>>Another aspect which seemed to be a factor where technical, text setting was involved, was the use of the Monotype DUPLEX (Twin Headed) keyboard, whereby the Keyboard “op” would swing the keyboard left or right and perf the footnotes, page x page, to the same “em” measure but in a smaller size, as per instruction on the docket/job bag.>>>Consequently in the interest of page make up,>>> after leaving the caster in galley length form, the comps could with there “Page Gauge Depth Rule” make up the pages,>>to incorporate the exact depth of type matter with the relevant number of footnote,s. Accurate Costing and ESTIMATING was not always an option, and even blank mock ups for imposition, folding, finishing etc, were often done “on a Wing and a (Dodgy) Prayer”.>>>Hence If in doubt, keep it small seemed to be the order of the day.

to Monotype Mick

The few words

The bad ideas get discarded (sometimes repeatedly)

made me smile a little. Thank you.


P.S. When I worked at a country weekly, the manager said he had hoped that I would bring some fresh ideas on display of advertisements; I responded that there was only a limited number of founts; he responded that, in text alone, we had four founts:

lower case light
upper case light
lower case bold
upper case bold

Well, I adjusted the disser box on the machine I was working, so that it would stop only an average number of times a day; before that, it stopped about 5 times as often. I also re-adjusted the left-hand jaw of the vice (vise) so that it would release the end-pressure on the matrices after casting; someone had used the wrong adjustments to set the length of the line, they were not aware there is another nearby adjustment for that.

I heard that, some years later, with different owner of the newspaper, that Intertype machine was kept going with a piece of bicycle-inner-tube tied with one end to the wall, the other to the first elevator. Maybe they were not familiar with recommended lubrication.

By the way, some years later I noticed that different lino mechanics have different ways of cleaning matrices, some NOT recommended. And we had another mechanic who persisted with his ideas of how to lubricate the keyboard, which was usually finished late afternoon, so that the night shift experienced the trouble at a most inconvenient time.

At the morning daily, one of the linos gave us a problem, if one changed measure without disabling the quadder to “non-quad” the measure of the line would be wrong; I did not find out just what was the trouble, but an operator who had seen this elsewhere was able to persuade the mechanic to do some adjustments of the quadder mechanism so that wrong measure work was avoided. Sometimes a whole hour’s work was wasted when the operator did not think to check the length of the lines.

I heard that, in much earlier days, before an electric saw was purchased, for a good deal of the work each slug was cut to length in a hand-operated cutter. Someone did not notice that the first line was indented in a job, so cut off a letter or so from the beginning of each line; reset.

There were plenty of other mistakes which waste a lot of labour. One of the Linotypes had a swing-out keyboard; I swung it, caught the lower ends of about a third of the reeds, bent them. Left it to the next-day mechanic, who was rather unhappy to need to remove the reeds and straighten them; I felt slightly justified, because the problem may (repeat may) not have occurred if the keyboard had been given regular maintenance.

I think I have told the story previously, the special-shaped bolt which holds the pawl for the ejector to the side of a large cam came loose, was damaged; I said we had no hope of finding one, but the operator looked through the mechanic’s drawers of miscellaneous bits-and-pieces jumbled together, found the correct part. Cheers!


@alan. You’re welcome. Next time you might want to give credit where credit is due.

Alan, G day mate, Re Linotype etc a few more recollections from a long time ago, which may or may not be of interest, or even informative to the new ones!!>>>Where I did my apprenticeship, the comp room etc was on the top floor of three, in order Monotype Casters (3), Monotype keyboards (2), Linotypes (2) Comp Room, Reading Box, BIG, BIG, Proof Press etc etc.>>>With only 2 composition Casters, and a tight work flow, it was often the need, to run the Casters at their optimum quoted speed!!!>>>Purely by accident on one or two occasions, a strange phenomenon happened>>>The Works, on three floors, was an EX Newspaper office, so consequently had Massive 18 inch R.S.Js supporting the top floor, so it turned out that the 2 composition Monotypes and the 2 Linotypes straddled the same main beam.>>>Consequently every so often possibly undetected, The Disser Mechanism on one Lino would play up, jam etc etc unexplained.>>>Eventually and once again coincedence, after having a serious short seminar at Technical College, Printing Dept, about ALL the potential dangers in Print Shops, (this before Health and Safety at work was invented!!!)>>>Included in the seminar was, I thought, at the time a strange point, but which was adequetly stressed, Extreme care should be excersised when, for example, using the power trimming saw, and the point was reached, where the revolutions of the blade coincided with the frequency of the Neon Strip Lights the blade would appear to stand still,**in a noisy enviroment** potential Danger???This little principle stuck in my head for a while and slowly/eventually I sort of figured that perhaps the Casters, when they occasionaly synchronised, as they sat on a common beam, with the Lino, MAYBE ETC>>>As the one Lino Op was known to be a miserable old f**t (and took a dim view of me chatting up his Daughter in The Bindery)>>>I furtively proved the point, one day when the caster Foreman was out of the way for a while.>>>This began a vendetta which got a little out hand, possibly because of my Silly, Childish and sometimes DANGEROUS further efforts.>>>Around the back of his Lino with a long pair of tweezers, operating one matrix escapement bar up and down, consequently bringing down wrong fonts into his assembeling line.>>>Then the dangerous one!!! I worked out that a piece of 4 em furniture, placed on the clutch operating rod, at the rear would stop the machine working, when the line was sent away.>>>Silly, Childish and DANGEROUS. BUT I paid a heavy price, eventually He lost the plot and His temper, and threw half of a feeder ingot at me, so hostilities ceased, mainly because I had to have 2 toes strapped together for 2 weeks.?!?!?!

You were a naughty boy Mick.

Devils Tail Press

My deepest apologies, Paul, there is no way I can dodge the blame for a most basic error on my part. I am trying to devise ways of avoiding such a simple error.

I think I have previously told the story of how I dropped the half-tone picture for the front page of the daily morning newspaper into the chase where the back page should have been, then built the pages around this incorrectly-located pic. Unfortunately, the back page masthead was about 4 picas shorter than the front age masthead. Correction involved some frantic rebuilding of the two tabloid pages. The two pages carried local and overseas general news, now the back page is sport; wish it had been so when I made that blunder, it probably would not have happened.


Monotype Mick

Yes, I have scrolled and re-checked that I have the correct person.

Re supporting several heavy, shaking machines over one joist, this effect shows up from time to time and some of the old-timers knew where to be careful.

A foreman criticised me for not subconsciously listening to all the noises of the linotype; if I had been aware, would have realised that the automatic feeder of the ingot of metal into the pot had failed, which I had never seen happen previously, and the pump was making a different noise as the metal in the pot lowered. There were lots of things like that which were not passed on down, including NOT using ways of doing the work which seemed to save time, but resulted in lost time when things went wrong. One operator claimed to be able to “hear” when a matrix did not drop although the key had been pressed.

There are many things which can be observed which, when taken to another field of human activity, may be useful. A bridge built in my hometown circa 1890 had the planks for the running surface laid at an angle, so they met V-fashion in the middle of the bridge. [All planks went from one side of the bridge to the middle.] Visualise a two-axle vehicle of normal size supported by these running planks. The pair of wheels on each axle would have been on different planks, four planks supporting four wheels, individually. The ability to transfer from one piece of human-devised machine to another could be useful. In the early days motor-cars, tyres (tires) were made smooth; a man decided to try to print advertising slogans on the roads, moulded the letters onto the working surface of a tyre and then found he had unintentionally made the first tyre with a “tread”, which resulted in a better grip of the road surface. All of which led to the making of the many shapes of road tread on tyres.


re floors of buildings which support heavy, shaking machinery.

At the morning daily newspaper where I worked, the upper floor had joists (beams?) which were very deep timber only a couple of inches thick horizontally, but about 15 to 18 inches deep (the direction of the load, vertically). There were frequent crossbraces (X-shaped) between the deep joists, to transfer load from one to another; also stopped the joists from buckling (twisting, bending) sideways. Viewed in one direction, looked like IXIXIXIXIXI. Even so, there was a warning that there is a limit to how much can be supported by any structure.

As to synchronised forces, I have seen a movie of a suspension bridge where the bridge structure began moving vertically and the movement was reinforced by more pressure from the strong wind; eventually, the bridge failed.


@alan. All is forgiven, see what happens when you spend all that time with Linotypes, when you should have been quietly sticking type in the composing room.

Alan, Thanks, Why do I get the feeling that, some of the very ones decrying the Old(er) F**** stories are secretly lovin it, possibly learning a little, maybe even able to apply retro thinking to modern application.>>>Re tyres, BERT MUNRO from Invercargil (one “L” to save Ink) New Zealand, Who was/still is Hero to a lot of Bykers!!! was probably good Buddies with Your Bald Tyre Man? On The Bonneville Salt Flats????>>>And as I have 101 more anecdotes, all basically true personal happenings>>. providing the P.C. brigade, dont get the strops and banish me to “Van Deemans Land”?>>>My next episode, could well be the one, about the Printers Strike in 1957, Forged Driving Licence, Arrest in handcuffs, Inerrogation, B********G, and retribution, Via 6 bags of Horse S**t (manure) AND the sting in the tail? I GOT STUNG TWICE. Watch this space. Oh, and Alan, by the way, Where did Your Ancestors come from,? You might just be 3/4/5th generation descendant, of My uncle who was deported, for forging Wanted Posters about Dick Turpin!!!>>> Original, Aussie, Bushwhacker, perhaps>?? G day Mate.