“By The Letter—By The Line—By The Pound—By The Font”
Another artifact from my father’s old letterpress shop: a 1965 hot metal and wood type catalog from Los Angeles Type Founders. This is around the time that the hot metal type (cast in individual characters or by-the-line) and letterpress industry was seeing its future growing dim in the shadows of the newer photo-set type and offset printing technologies. Of course, the concept of today’s digital design and imaging would have been considered science fiction then. But with designers and printers starting to use the new technologies (and free themselves from the constraints of brass molds, molten lead and carved wood), the implications were already clear.
John W. Fleischman, in his 1977 history of Los Angeles Type Founders, noted,
When the glory years at LA Type ended in the mid-60s, Winter was managing 32 employees, running three shifts around the clock. They were making 100,000 pounds of type a year and turning the stock every year. Now they make about half that and still have a good deal of type on hand years after it was cast. The wrappers tell the story. Winter is standing in the aisles of the stock area. He picks up a package and explains the coding on the wrapper. "We made about 30 fonts of this in 1960 and here we are all these years later and we still have it.” He moves down the shelves reading off dates. May 1962. September 1965.
It may be illustrative of the way time caught up with hot metal that so many of the graphical cuts in this 1965 catalog were from designs dating at least as far back as the 1920s and 30s (check out the telephones).
Though LA Type Founders closed many years ago, there are metal type foundries still in the game. Bell Type & Rule Company is one, and they even have a page referencing LA Type.