Saturday, August 30, 2008

Linotype in Portland

I'm in Portland, Maine for the weekend to see my brother, our friends Sei, Wendy, and Melissa, and my husband, Matt, play in a musical festival here (their band is called Hearts by Darts).

Mike and his friend, Sei, recorded their first album up here with the help of Ron Harrity, founder of Peapod Recordings. Yesterday we dropped the band off for practice and saw inside the New Systems Laundry building, a warehouse near downtown. It's been transformed into artist's space and there are several designers creating screenprint posters:

And then there was this: a classic 1880's linotype machine used by a local bookseller/preserver.

The machine is operated by one individual at a keyboard.

(That's my sister-in-law, Anne)

Here's a description of how it works from a linotype Web site:

Having adjusted the machine for the required point size and line length, the metal heated to the correct temperature—about 550 degrees Fahrenheit—he commences setting.

A light press of the key buttons actuates a mechanism that releases the matrices. These are small pieces of brass in which the characters or dies are stamped. The matrices travel from the magazine channels where they are housed, by means of a miniature conveyor belt, into the assembler box. This assembler box is the composing stick of the Linotype. After each word the operator touches the spaceband key which allows a spaceband to fall before setting the first letter of the following word. These spacebands are steel wedges and are used to spread out the line of matrices to the required width. When these spacebands have entered the assembler they are so positioned that their minimum width is between the matrices.