Ancient and Modern Typecasting

Gutenberg Bible

Gutenberg Bible at the Huntington Library, Pasadena, California.

The Sunday after Christmas we were in Pasadena visiting our son and his fiance. They took us to the Huntington Library and Gardens, a place that requires multiple visits to enjoy it all. One of the buildings held a vellum Gutenberg Bible, among other ancient texts. Being in the printing business for many years, seeing this was especially interesting to me. Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press, of course, and although the Bible wasn’t his first project, it was his most important. You can read more about it here.

Typecasting Woodcut

Woodcut from "Panopleia" depicting typecasting, 1568

In the same room were some reproductions of woodcuts depicting the craftsmanship of book and manuscript production in the 1500s, a century after printing with movable type was invented. These images first appeared in Panopleia, by Hartmann Schopper in 1568, Germany. I was drawn to these for one in particular seemed familiar. It’s the one reproduced here. (Sorry it’s not very sharp. The room was very dim and I had to shoot this handheld.)

Within minutes of returning home from the 6-1/2 hour drive, I took a closer look at a drawing made by my great-grandfather in 1879, which hangs in our living room. He was a typecaster in the Boston Type Foundry and an artist. My dad had this hanging on the wall in his den for as long as I could remember and my brother owns a painting of just the bottom image. It depicts typecasting in ancient and “modern” times, the modern being 1879. He obviously copied the image for 1564 from this same woodcut. You can play a game of “what’s different in these two pictures?” They’re very close, but not exactly the same.


Ancient & Modern Typecasting by William A. Robinson, Sr., Boston, 1879

This drawing is also a self-portrait. My great-grandfather, William A. Robinson, Sr., is depicted as the man on the right of the large image. Notice the city of Boston outside the windows. Although he never had formal artistic training, he left behind a few paintings and drawings that demonstrate his talent and understanding of techniques. This drawing is one of my treasures and it was exciting to me to discover this little connection.



Filed under Family History, Miscellany, Trip

7 responses to “Ancient and Modern Typecasting

  1. Stephen O. Saxe

    I was delighted to learn that your grandfather had drawn the typecasting picture in the Boston Type Foundry, and was one of the casters. I found the image in my Boston Type Foundry specimen book of 1880, and used it in my recent book, Loy’s “Nineteenth-Century American designers and Engravers of Type” on page 22. It is actually one of the best illustrations showing the casting of type in the nineteenth century with the Bruce pivotal type casting machine. I will be giving a talk at Harvard in April and will use that image again.
    Steve Saxe

    • cataclog

      To: Stephen Saxe – How amazing and interesting! I had no idea that drawing existed anywhere but in our family. I’m thrilled that it appears in your book. It looks like a fascinating book, even without that family link. I confess to a bit of interest in typecasting, although I haven’t pursued it. Thank you so much for letting me know about your book. I’m curious in learning how you came to find my blog post.

      • Steve Saxe

        I found your website by doing a Google search for images of the Boston Type Foundry.

      • Hi – as an outgrowth of my talk at Harvard in 2010, I have written and submitted an article on the Bruce type caster to the Printing Historical Society Journal in London. If the article is accepted I would like to use the color version of the illustration by your great-grandfather, which you so kindly sent me a while back. Would it be possible to get a high-resolution scan of the illustration suitable for publication? I would like to get at least 600 dpi or even 1200 dpi if possible. If it is possible, please email me and we can work out the details.
        -Steve Saxe

  2. Steve Saxe

    I’m using the image in an article I’m working on for the Harvard Library Bulletin, about the Bruce pivotal type casting machine. I have been wondering whether you have an image of the painting that you mentioned that your brother has of it? I would be very interested in seeing it. Thanks!

  3. Stephen O. Saxe

    The article has been published, with your great-grandfather’s color painting of the Boston Type Foundry in 1879, by the Journal of the Printing History Society, London. The black and white drawing is on the cover. A note in Facbook about it is here:
    Best regards,
    -Steve Saxe

    • cataclog

      Thank you for the update, Stephen. I’m so glad the drawing and painting live on and can contribute to your article and the knowledge of printing’s history.

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