M&H, Skyline and others vs. True Foundry Type?


I see a number of discussions differentiating “true foundry type” like that available from Dale Guild, from the type being cast today by M&H, Skyline, and others on Monotype casters. When I read the web sites of M&H and Skyline, I see that they use a harder alloy than regular monotype, but softer than true foundry type used in a Thompson or Barth caster.

I’m curious what this means in practice for most letterpress operators. Obviously if foundry type is much harder it should (with proper care) last longer than “hard monotype”, but how much does this really matter in day to day use, and in practice, how much longer should it last?

Does anyone know how many impressions are obtained from foundry type before it shows wear vs hard monotype or regular monotype for that matter? Should this drive my type acquisitions in any way?



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While Monotype, as you correctly noted, is generally less durable than foundry type, at Skyline Type Foundry we use exclusively center-jet Thompson casters, and remelted scrap foundry type (much of which is ATF). It is undisputed that Barth-cast ATF type was the finest quality ever attained. But Theo Rehak himself describes the Thompson thus in his 1993 book Practical Typecasting: “There are many who consider the Thompson machine a very close second to the foundry automatics … when used with patience and respect, the Thompson casts good type, delivered grooved (center jet molds are preferred for appearance’s sake) and trimmed on top and bottom.”
Hardness of type is really not much of an issue for hobby and craft printers, whose use of type is gentler than industrial printers. (If you’re a trade shop crash imprinting runs of 10,000, then durability may be a consideration.) Here in our pressroom at STF we have even used our type for hot foil stamping, which properly requires brass type to withstand the heat and pressure. It did ruin the type, but we got over 1,200 good hot foil impressions out of it.

I’ve always tried to make some kind of practical comparison in my own mind that would help me in making decisions as to whether or not to invest in new type in some cases or wait and hopefully find vintage foundry type of whatever face I’m looking for.

In general terms, if on a scale of 1 to 10 with 1 being standard monotype cast in monotype metal on monotype casters and 10 being Barth cast ATF foundry type (whether new cast by Theo or not) where do the various current foundries fall regarding hardness: Skyline, M&H, etc? I’m assuming general quality and whatnot would be roughly the same but if not what would be the differences?

I think this would be a helpful comparison.

Rich Front Room Press
Milford, NJ


Thanks for your response, this is useful information. I also found this site http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Type_metal on Wikipedia which shows hardness of type alloys on the Brinell scale. Looks like regular monotype is around a 23 while foundry type runs between 29.5 and 33 with 33 only used for larger display type. Using 23 and 29.5 as the numbers and the %change formula on my HP 12C, looks like foundry type in the most commonly used sizes is about 28% harder than routine monotype.

Per Sky’s comment above about recycling foundry type, I’d assume that the type he’s producing is near foundry hardness.

The M&H web site says “Small sizes, generally through 12 point, are cast on Monotype casters, using metal that is harder than Monotype metal but not as hard as the foundry metal used for Thompson casters.”

I see in Theo Rehak’s book on Practical Typecasting that “As a general rule, you cannot use the same alloy for casting small body type to cast the larger bodies” likely due to the ability of the jet to flow the metal into a smaller form.

I also found this article: http://www.apa-letterpress.com/T%20&%20P%20ARTICLES/Type/Type%20Metal.ht... about the hardness and wear of type.

Given the range is between 23 and 29.5 (average) and let’s say M&H on smaller faces go to the middle at around 26.25 brinells, we’re really only talking a difference of 12% for M&H, and in fact it may be less than that per Theo’s comment that different alloys are used in smaller type.

I have been told by other printers that a good font of foundry type should last approximately 10,000 impressions with careful use and “kiss” impressions.

Two other variables come into play here, the depth of impression (and it appears that current tastes favor impressing the paper rather “kissing” it which will increase wear) and the quality of the casting itself. Barth casters seem to be the best, followed by Thompson, followed by Monotype. This appears to be related to registration, force, etc… of the jet flowing metal into the form. I can’t seem to find anything that quantifies this, but assuming the face is clean and the metal is generally free of impurities, let’s say that it is notable but not material.

Looks like for the casual letterpress hobbyist, with perfect conditions, True Foundry Type should last maybe around 10% longer. In practice, given the number of impressions pulled, with average runs in the hundreds instead of the thousands, and given the fact that I don’t see a huge difference in pricing, it looks like either route is fine.

Any flaws in my thinking here?


Alan wrote:
“I have been told by other printers that a good font of foundry type should last approximately 10,000 impressions with careful use and “kiss” impressions.”

Alan, although I don’t have it in front of me, I seem to recall the big 1923 ATF book was 60,000 copies printed from (of course) their own foundry type. I don’t imagine ATF reset the entire book every 10,000 impressions! While ATF may have had ideal conditions, it would seem that 10,000 impressions would be a fairly arbitrary number for the “life” of type. Presumably the stock being printed makes a difference, too; I assume kiss impression on a nice smooth coated stock would be easier on type than printing on an uncoated paper.


Hi Dave,

Probably true. 10,000 sounded a bit conservative. Cleeton, Pitkin, and Cornwell in their book “General Printing” note in unit 106 that “in an average plant, the life of foundry type is about 4 years (depending, of course, on the use, which varies — popular faces must be replaced frequently while less used ones merely accumulate dust).” In the link above to apa-letterpress the author notes up to 1/2 million impressions on monotype but this is likely a special case, starting with new type, probably the hardest monotype alloy, probably a well wearing face with thicker serifs or sans-serif, on a precision cylinder press, with special paper, etc…

I suspect the ATF catalog run you mention was likely done on a large cylinder press as well given the size of the run. Still, they would have wanted the last catalog to look good too given that they were selling type…

Probably more than 10,000, less than 100,000. In either case, it should wear longer than I’ll need to worry about.

Oh, and Sky, my apologies for grouping you incorrectly in the title and my initial post.



Has anyone noticed any work-ups in the ATF catalogs? Surely with all that hand composition there would be one space which might work up and rear its ugly head.

Is there anything in the big specimen books which indicate that they were not produced from electrotypes made from the original type forms? It would make sense to me to have made electros and printed from them rather than the original typeforms. It may, however have been a point of pride for them to say that their catalogs were printed directly from the original type. I can’t recall seeing that anywhere, but someone may have read more closely than I have.

John Henry

John, this is what happens when you use the ‘23 ATF Catalogue as a reference instead of sitting down and reading all 1148 pages cover-to-cover! (It’s a good read, although sometimes a bit repetitious, and not much plot!) Actually, on (unnumbered) page 1 it states “Sixty thousand copies of this book were printed entirely from type and brass rules in the Specimen Printing Department of the American Type Founders Company” so I’m assuming that means handset type, doesn’t it?

While printing from electrotypes would be logical, I think you’re right on about them wanting to be able to say it was printed from their type. I haven’t looked in other ATF books to see if they say anything similar, I just happened to remember being impressed by the idea of printing 60,000 copies of 1,148 pages entirely from handset type (and brass rule and some cuts).



When a kid I think I read every page of the 1923 catalog, but I have to admit that was 40 years ago.

John H.

With the enormous amount of pride that went into the design and production of the 1923 ATF Catalog, the errors are few and far between. The one that comes to mind for me is the display of Parsons Swash Initials. Compare it to the display of the same face in the 1925 BB&S Catalog. Do you see the glaring error????

I won’t hold you in suspense. In the ATF Catalog the “O” is mistakenly rotated and set on its side!!!!! Since it is on a square body and actually looks fairly normal in that position, it is hard to detect unless you know what orientation it is actually supposed to be in.

I’ve been doing some research on Will Ransom and Parsons, so Foolproof546’s ATF note on the “O” specimen error made my day.