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Old 09-21-2005, 12:13 PM   #1
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Default Display type historic ramble

Remember the Photo Typositor? Ever buy type from Photo-Lettering (at so much a word)? Ever try to set display type with the Variyper Headliner?

Happens that I have done all those things, though I had almost forgotten about most of them until I saw Frank Romano’s “Making headlines” column in the August 2005 Electronic Publishing magazine.

When I started out in the 1960s, we pasted up type that had been set in metal and proofed to galleys. Text type came from Linotype machines, and display type from a Ludlow. At that time there was no typographic-quality transfer or rubdown lettering.

Then along came Photo-Lettering, located about two blocks from my NYC office. The only problem was that my boss wouldn’t pay $5 (I think; maybe only $3) per word, so except for one experiment, my relationship with P-L consisted of mooning over specimen booklets and trying to finagle the boss into buying a few headlines. (You can still find their specimen books around — a friend picked up one for me last year from a tag sale for $2. Well worth more than that, lots of fun to look at and reminisce about type in the 1970s.)

The Rube Goldberg-esque Photo Typositor is nicely illustrated in Frank’s column. We kept ours in a closet. I would sort of edge in and sit, hands turning little wheels to position the film strip, fiddling with various controls to control size, distortion (though we didn’t do much of that), and so on. I loved that thing. Wonder if there are any left. It used strips of ordinary negative film so if you had a stat camera, as I did, you could make your own masters. I once made one of typographic ornaments from a Dover book.

I used the Varityper Headliner in another place. In my memory, it was a total, unrelieved dog. Ugly type too (knockoffs, maybe?). But in looking around to see if I could find a description or picture on the web, I find people raving about how wonderful it was, so I might be all wet. Anyway, Frank has something to say about that as well.

Nice read for us old fogies. And interesting as well for people who have never known any way to set type but on a computer screen with digital fonts!

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