A most curious process

by David Shields. Average Reading Time: about a minute.

The following entry was originally published in the 1889 edition of Johnson’s (Revised) Univeral Cyclopædia: a scientific and popular treasury of useful knowledge ((Frederick Augustus Porter Barnard and Arnold Guyot, eds., Johnson’s (Revised) Univeral Cyclopædia:a scientific and popular treasury of useful knowledge (New York: A.J. Johnson & Co, 1889), 6, s.v. “Printing–Wood Type.” p 440)). The last sentence of the entry is most curious in that it describes an apparently efficient—if utterly unique—process of wood type manufacture. The “sand-blast method” does not appear to be described in any other trade- or reference-publication. It is not attributed to any specific manufacturer, nor can it be found in any known patent filing. The peculiarity of the description might cause the title of ‘useful knowledge’ to be called into question.

 Wood Type.— The large letters used in handbills and posters are made of wood, usually maple or bay mahogany, which is prepared as for wood-engraving. The outline of the character is first carefully cut upon the face of the block, which is placed under a revolving drill, which cuts away the superfluous wood, when it is finished by an engraver.  William Leavenworth of Allentown, NJ, in 1834 applied the pantograph to the cutting of wood type, in which a tracing-point at one end follows the outline of a large model letter, and is repeated at the other end by a revolving cutter, which cuts the letter from a block of wood, after which it is dressed with a graver.  Wood type may be cut out by the Sand-Blast (which sec), by cementing the stencils on the ends of the blocks and placing them together under a moving jet, after which they are ready for use and require no dressing.

This entry and the entire Johnson’s (Revised) Univeral Cyclopædia can be found archived online.