[Guest Article] Gutenberg’s Inventions – Part 3: Type and type case

In our series, guest author Dr. Julia Bangert from the International Gutenberg Society introduces the inventions of Johannes Gutenberg. The third edition is all about the type and type case.

Setzkasten

The type

The type or sort is mainly made of lead and is the result of casting with a hand mould. At the head of a long rectangular body (shank), each piece of type bears the inverted and raised image of a character. Together, individual pieces of type form a typeface that can be used to set a wide variety of texts.
To save time, writers in the early modern period often used abbreviations and letter fusions called ligatures. Johannes Gutenberg based his prints closely on the model of the manuscript and adopted these characteristics. Instead of using only the 26 letters of the alphabet in upper and lower case as well as the punctuation marks, as is customary today, he also produced a whole series of these special characters. In addition, there were different variants of a letter, for example as a connecting letter. Such a connecting letter looked like it had been cut off on its right side and had no edge, so that a following letter could be placed close to it. In total, Gutenberg cast around 290 different pieces of type for his famous Gutenberg Bible.

Scheme of a piece of type. Legend: Details: 1. hallmark, 2. face, 3. flesh, 4. cone, 5. shoulder, 6. body (shank), 7. nick, 8. groove; dimensions: a head, b quadrat-high, a+b type-high, c character width, d point size

The type case

The finished type is placed in a wooden box with many small compartments of different sizes, the “type case”. We do not know whether Gutenberg already used such a type case or arranged the sort in another way. In a hand compositor’s workshop the type case is in any case an integral part of the equipment. There is a separate type case for each font, font size and typeface. The size of the individual compartments and the distribution of the type in them is based on pragmatic considerations. The letters or punctuation marks that are used most often are placed in the middle of the largest compartments. In this way, more of them can be stored in the type case and the compositor can reach them most easily. Less frequently used characters can be found in the smaller compartments around the case. Each type case also contains non-printing material for the word spaces and character spacing.

Christian Friedrich Gessner, “Die so nöthig als nützliche Buchdruckerkunst und Schriftgiesserey: mit ihren Schriften, Formaten und allen dazu gehörigen Instrumenten abgebildet auch klärlich beschrieben, und nebst einer kurzgefassten Erzählung vom Ursprung und Fortgang der Buchdruckerkunst”, 1740, p. 226f

You can read more about how the compositor assembles the pieces of type into a text from the type case in part 4 of our series “Gutenberg’s Inventions”.

 

Über die Autorin:
Dr. Julia Bangert, Copyright: cross-effect

Julia Bangert has a PhD in book studies and is an artist. Her dissertation entitled “Buchhandelssystem und Wissensraum in der Frühen Neuzeit” was published in 2019. In addition to her work as Managing Director of the International Gutenberg Society, she works as a book painter and illustrator. Finest colouring and an elegant brush stroke are her trademarks, a perfect gilding is her passion.