The seventh song from Living Colour's second album, Time's Up. It's not too easy to say exactly what this song is about, but I think it's safe to say that it addresses the different categories we put each other in: black, white, hetero-, homo- et al. This is one of the songs that singer Corey Glover plays backing guitar on. It was a single from the album, and had a video as well.

For half a millennium, a printing press using movable type was the main way of transferring words to paper. Its rise was spectacular and well-known, thanks to a certain German goldsmith and his famous Bible. Its decline has been much quieter, though the revolution in printing processes of the last century has been as thorough as Gutenberg's in the 1400s. Inventions such as computer printers, photocopiers, lithography and filmsetting have taken over, to the extent that that movable type is no longer used in industry.

Type, however, endures. Much of the old stuff has been melted down over time. But it's still around, on ebay and in junk shops. Small presses and artists use it. Hand bookbinders use it for finishing. And anyone with an interest in typography or composition would be well served by knowing the origins of the printed word.

I cannot remember a time when my father did not have a printing press.
Intellectually, I know he must have made a decision to buy it, once,
and that before that date he did not have one.
But in my heart, he is always associated with printing,
from his beginning as well as my own.

Some Technical Terms

                /_    __/|
                |_/ /|_| |
               / / // /  |
              / |_|/ /   |   <- shank or body
shoulder or ->      /    |
 beard      |      |     |
            |      |     |
            |      |     |
            |      |     |   _
    nick ->  )      )   /    /
            |      |   /    /
            |      |  /    / -> point size measured
            |      | /    /      this way
            |______|/   _/

          width or set

My parents' house has always seemed huge and light to me,
as though the sunlight shone through the lath and plaster walls.
I used to wonder,
if it would blow away, like a vast hot-air balloon,
had it not been anchored in the basement
with the heavy press,
and the massive type cases,
under their long low fluorescent lights.

Types of Type

There are five kinds of type generally available.

  • Wooden type
    This is generally used for larger letters, and ones that won't be used too often. Even the hardest wood can't stand many impressions before it starts to show wear. Wood type will occasionally have a metal face attached to lengthen its life.
  • Foundry type
    This is lead type, made using the processes Johann Gutenberg adapted from coining:
    First, a steel punch is carved with the positive of the desired letter shape, either by hand or with a Pantograph machine.
    Next, the punch is pressed into a copper mat to produce a negative matrix.
    Then the copper mat is mounted in an adjustable mould (which can be resized for letters of different widths) and the type cast.
  • Monotype
    This lead type is made on demand. An operator types a line of text into a Monotype machine, and the separate letters and spaces are made right then, already set into the line of text. The machine adjusts the spacing to justify the line if required.
    The letters can be re-used, and are often sold as fonts, but the spaces are of irregular size due to the justification.
  • Linotype
    Like the Monotype machine, the Linotype was designed to make type immediately after an operator entered a line of text. However, rather than producing a pre-set line of individual letters, the Linotype machine produced a block of type containing an entire line of text. These lines were usually melted down rather than being resold, but Linotype is occasionally found in the second hand market.
  • Brass type
    Brass is harder to work with than lead. As a result, brass type is more expensive, and is used exclusively for tooling and hot stamping work. Rather than being cast, it is carven with a Pantograph machine.

Type attracts a certain kind of dust,
different than anything I have encountered elsewhere.
It's dark and faintly oily,
fine-grained, with its own distinctive smell.
I had forgotten this until I ordered a font on ebay,
and opened the box to be greeted by that familiar scent.

Foundry, Monotype and Linotype types are all referred to as "lead type". However, pure lead, though it has a relatively high melting temperature, is very soft and prone to cracking. Most type is made of lead mixed in some proportion with antimony (to reduce fractures) and tin (for hardness and a lower melting temperature). Below is a chart of the various types of lead types, plus the characteristics of pure lead and brass for comparison.

                                Melting    Melting
Type        Pb     Sb     Sn    Temp (C)   Temp (F)
Foundry     62%    24%    14%   318.33°     605°
Monotype    76%    16%     8%   268.3°      515°
Linotype    84%    12%     4%   246.1°      475°
Pure Lead  100%     0%     0%   327.38°     621.3°
Brass       N/A    N/A    N/A   915.56°    1680°

The melting temperatures of the various kinds of type are important for two reasons. First of all, the "on demand" manufacturing process for Linotype and Monotype required the lower melting temperature to make the machines operable. And second, any type used for hot stamping or tooling must have a higher melting temperature. In practice, only brass type and foundry type are suitable for such work.


He printed my wedding invitations himself, a great gift to me.
I recall him standing in the basement,
composing stick in hand,
picking letters out of a drawer resting atop the slanted top of a type case.
He would pick up each piece of type between thumb and middle finger,
blowing through his slightly pursed lips as he did so,
and delicately place it in the line of text he was setting.

Until the invention of the Linotype machine in 1886, all type was set by hand. The font to be used was stored in a long, shallow type drawer. The printer, working from a typographer's design, would use a small metal tray called a composing stick to hold each line of text as he set it. The lines would be assembled upside down, running from right to left. As he placed each letter, the printer would feel the nick to check that it was turned the right way. An experienced typesetter could set about 3,000 characters in an hour in a commercial setting.

One year,
Dad made 3x5 "business cards" for me and my brother,
with our names over and over in different fonts
interspersed with the ornaments we chose.
I remember standing at the type cases, pondering designs.
The mouse next, or the crescent moon with the owl perched on it, or the flower?
Then which letters - the big black ones, or the slanty ones, or that pretty, simple style?

But hand typesetting is more than just an inferior version of machine work. Since most printers still using type are small press publishers or artists, they usually combine the roles of graphic designer, typographer, and typesetter. The time at the type case is design time, used as much for trying out ideas and adjusting the balance of the text as for assembling lead.

When I was a child,
typesetting was the dull thing he did before printing started.
I waited impatiently for the time
when I got to turn the big wheel on the press,
listen to the syncopated clank...slide clank of the machinery,
watch him place each sheet of paper in the press
in a series of swift, sure gestures
before the type came closing in.
Only when I was older
did I understand the true balance,
learning that he took his artistic risks
in the quiet hours at the type cases with his composing stick
(or, latterly, when mixing the colors of his ink),
that the flash and motion of the press
was merely the execution of his plans,
showy but essentially safe.

History Repeating

Movable type was not the first mechanism for printing used in Europe. Before Johann Gutenberg, printers carved designs for entire pages from wooden blocks. This was unsatisfactory for two reasons: first, the wood wore down quickly, looking thick and clumsy after a few hundred impressions. And second, it was too slow. Creating even a page of text took days of a master craftsman's time.

Ironically, these two factors have doomed movable type as well. A piece of foundry type will show appreciable wear after as few as 50,000 impressions (depending on the paper and press used). At that rate, a large publisher would have to re-set the same best seller several times to keep the pages fresh-looking. In addition, processes such as filmsetting are enormously faster than hand-setting type (or even typing the text into a Monotype or Linotype machine).

Even more ironically, these new techniques create books page by page rather than letter by letter. They are the heirs of the carven full-page printer's blocks that Gutenberg replaced, rather than a refinement of movable type. Gutenberg is no doubt turning in his grave, but his invention can retreat now to the hobbyist's basement, where it will be treasured.

My father's type,
and the artistry it represented,
was like the roots of a tree,
nourishing everything above it.
It delighted him and fed his soul,
and he would come upstairs happy,
ready to delight us all in turn.

Banister, Manly. The Craft of Bookbinding
McLean, Ruari. The Thames and Hudson Manual of Typography

On the phone to my mother recently,
conscious of the irony,
I said, "I'm thinking of buying some type."
She laughed to hear my father's words from my lips.

Type (?), n. [F. type; cf. It. tipo, from L. typus a figure, image, a form, type, character, Gr. the mark of a blow, impression, form of character, model, from the root of to beat, strike; cf. Skr. tup to hurt.]


The mark or impression of something; stamp; impressed sign; emblem.

The faith they have in tennis, and tall stockings, Short blistered breeches, and those types of travel. Shak.


Form or character impressed; style; semblance.

Thy father bears the type of king of Naples. Shak.


A figure or representation of something to come; a token; a sign; a symbol; -- correlative to antitype.

A type is no longer a type when the thing typified comes to be actually exhibited. South.


That which possesses or exemplifies characteristic qualities; the representative.

Specifically: (a) Biol.

A general form or structure common to a number of individuals; hence, the ideal representation of a species, genus, or other group, combining the essential characteristics; an animal or plant possessing or exemplifying the essential characteristics of a species, genus, or other group. Also, a group or division of animals having a certain typical or characteristic structure of body maintained within the group.

Since the time of Cuvier and Baer . . . the whole animal kingdom has been universally held to be divisible into a small number of main divisions or types. Haeckel.

(b) Fine Arts

The original object, or class of objects, scene, face, or conception, which becomes the subject of a copy; esp., the design on the face of a medal or a coin.

(c) Chem.

A simple compound, used as a mode or pattern to which other compounds are conveniently regarded as being related, and from which they may be actually or theoretically derived.

The fundamental types used to express the simplest and most essential chemical relations are hydrochloric acid, HCl; water, H2O; ammonia, NH3; and methane, CH4.

5. Typog. (a)

A raised letter, figure, accent, or other character, cast in metal or cut in wood, used in printing.


Such letters or characters, in general, or the whole quantity of them used in printing, spoken of collectively; any number or mass of such letters or characters, however disposed.

Type are mostly made by casting type metal in a mold, though some of the larger sizes are made from maple, mahogany, or boxwood. In the cut, a is the body; b, the face, or part from which the impression is taken; c, the shoulder, or top of the body; d, the nick (sometimes two or more are made), designed to assist the compositor in distinguishing the bottom of the face from the top; e, the groove made in the process of finishing, -- each type as cast having attached to the bottom of the body a jet, or small piece of metal (formed by the surplus metal poured into the mold), which, when broken off, leaves a roughness that requires to be removed. The fine lines at the top and bottom of a letter are technically called ceriphs, and when part of the face projects over the body, as in the letter f, the projection is called a kern.

The type which compose an ordinary book font consist of Roman CAPITALS, small capitals, and lower-case letters, and Italic CAPITALS and lower-case letters, with accompanying figures, points, and reference marks, -- in all about two hundred characters. Including the various modern styles of fancy type, some three or four hundred varieties of face are made. Besides the ordinary Roman and Italic, some of the most important of the varieties are --

Old English. Black Letter. Old Style. French Elzevir. Boldface. Antique. Clarendon. Gothic. Typewriter. Script.

The smallest body in common use is diamond; then follow in order of size, pearl, agate, nonpareil, minion, brevier, bourgeois (or two-line diamond), long primer (or two-line pearl), small pica (or two-line agate), pica (or two-line nonpareil), English (or two-line minion), Columbian (or two-line brevier), great primer (two-line bourgeois), paragon (or two-line long primer), double small pica (or two-line small pica), double pica (or two-line pica), double English (or two-line English), double great primer (or two-line great primer), double paragon (or two-line paragon), canon (or two-line double pica). Above this, the sizes are called five-line pica, six-line pica, seven-line pica, and so on, being made mostly of wood. The following alphabets show the different sizes up to great primer.

Brilliant . . abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz <-- brilliant l = 1.0 mm --> Diamond . . abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz <-- l = 1.1 mm --> Pearl . . . abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz <-- l = mm --> Agate . . . abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz <-- l = mm --> Nonpareil . . . abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz <-- l = mm --> Minion . . . abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz <-- l = mm --> Brevier . . . abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz <-- l = mm --> Bourgeois . . abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz <-- l = mm --> Long primer . . . abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz <-- l = mm --> Small pica . . abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz <-- small pica l = 2.5 mm --> Pica . . . . . abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz <-- l = 2.9 mm --> English . . . abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz <-- l = 3.3 mm --> Columbian . . . abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz <-- l = 3.6 mm --> Great primer . . . abcdefghijklmnopqrstuvwxyz <-- Great primer l = 4.0 mm -->

The foregoing account is conformed to the designations made use of by American type founders, but is substantially correct for England. Agate, however, is called ruby, in England, where, also, a size intermediate between nonpareil and minion is employed, called emerald.

Point system of type bodies Type Founding, a system adopted by the type founders of the United States by which the various sizes of type have been so modified and changed that each size bears an exact proportional relation to every other size. The system is a modification of a French system, and is based on the pica body. This pica body is divided into twelfths, which are termed "points," and every type body consist of a given number of these points. Many of the type founders indicate the new sizes of type by the number of points, and the old names are gradually being done away with. By the point system type founders cast type of a uniform size and height, whereas formerly fonts of pica or other type made by different founders would often vary slightly so that they could not be used together. There are no type in actual use corresponding to the smaller theoretical sizes of the point system. In some cases, as in that of ruby, the term used designates a different size from that heretofore so called.

<-- Here is inserted a two-column table, in which the sizes of the bodies of the various types are represented by a 2.5 cm long bar of the corresponding height; the two columns are separated by a thin vertical line. --> <-- pica (12 pt.) = 4.3 mm tall -->

1 American 9 Bourgeois &bar; &bar; 1&bar; 2 Saxon 10 Long Primer &bar; &bar; 2&bar; 3 Brilliant 11 Small Pica &bar; &bar; 3&bar; &bar; 4 Excelsior &bar; 4&bar; &bar; 5 Pearl 16 Columbian &bar; &bar; 5&bar; 6 Nonpareil 18 Great Primer &bar; &bar; 7 Minion &bar; 8 Brevier 20 Paragon &bar; &bar;
Diagram of the "points" by which sizes of Type are graduated in the "Point System".

Type founder, one who casts or manufacture type. -- Type foundry, Type foundery, a place for the manufacture of type. -- Type metal, an alloy used in making type, stereotype plates, etc., and in backing up electrotype plates. It consists essentially of lead and antimony, often with a little tin, nickel, or copper. -- Type wheel, a wheel having raised letters or characters on its periphery, and used in typewriters, printing telegraphs, etc. -- Unity of type Biol., that fundamental agreement in structure which is seen in organic beings of the same class, and is quite independent of their habits of life.



© Webster 1913.

Type (?), v. t. [imp. & p. p. Typed (?); p. pr. & vb. n. Typing.]


To represent by a type, model, or symbol beforehand; to prefigure.


White (Johnson).


To furnish an expression or copy of; to represent; to typify.


Let us type them now in our own lives. Tennyson.


© Webster 1913.

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