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Design Documentary History
A Fascinating Film About the Last Day of Hot Metal Typesetting at the New York Times
On July 2, 1978 the New York Times made a significant technological leap when they scuttled the last of 60 manually-operated linotype machines to usher in the era of digital and photographic typesetting. When working at 100% efficiency with an experienced operator the Linotype machines could produce 14 lines per minute cast on the spot from hot lead. That number would increase to 1,000 lines per minute the very next day using an array of computers and digital storage.
Typesetter Carl Schlesinger and filmmaker David Loeb Weiss documented the last day of hot metal typesetting in a film called Farewell — ETAOIN SHRDLU (the obscure title is poignantly explained in the film). This amazing behind-the-scenes view not only captures the laborious effort to create a single page of printed type, but also the the emotions and thoughts of several New York Times employees as they candidly discuss their feelings about transitioning to a new technology. One man decides he’s not ready for the digital age and plans to retire on the spot after 49 years, while others seem to transition smoothly into the new methods of production.
This historically significant documentary was digitized in 2015 and made available online in HD from Linotype: The Film, another documentary about linotype printing that includes portions of Farewell. While I’ve always been somewhat familiar with the history of typesetting and printing, I didn’t fully grasp the absurd mechanical complexity and scale required to print a newspaper before the digital age. Each newspaper page was cast in a 40 lb. block of lead!? A huge number of employees were deaf!? If you’re a graphic design or typography professor, here’s a great way to spend 30 minutes.
If you’re super interested, the New York Times TimesMachine has a complete high resolution scan of the final hot metal typeset newspaper made in the film. (via Reddit)
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The World’s Oldest Multicolored Printed Book Has Been Opened and Digitized for the First Time
The earliest example of multicolor printing is now available for the public eye, digitally available through Cambridge University Library’s Digital Library site. The 17th century book, Manual of Calligraphy and Painting (Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu), is so fragile that it was previously forbidden to be opened, its contents a total mystery before its recent digitization.
The book was created in 1633 by Ten Bamboo Studio and is the earliest known example of polychrome xylography, invented by Hu Zhengyan. The technique, also referred to as douban, uses several printing blocks applied in succession with different inks to achieve the appearance of a hand-painted watercolor. The Cambridge site explains that the although the skill required to achieve such douban prints is admirable, the gradations of color within the book are what led to its reputation as “perhaps the most beautiful set of prints ever made.”
The manual contains eight categories showcasing birds, plumbs, orchids, bamboos, fruit, stones, ink drawings and miscellany. All of these sections of the manual are contained in the original “butterfly binding,” and has been identified to be the finest copy in the original binding by a leading scholar.
In addition to Shi zhu zhai shu hua pu, the library has also digitized other selections from its Chinese collections including the oracle bones (the earliest surviving examples of Chinese writing anywhere in the world), a Buddhist text dated between 1127 and 1175, and a 14th century banknote that threatens forgers with decapitation. (via Hyperallergic)
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