Hand-made punches and matrices: how many uses?

For a book I’m writing, I’ve been trying to nail down a piece of historic information from contemporary sources: with a hand-made steel punch, how many matrices could be created before it was too worn? From a matrix, how many pieces of hand-moulded or Bruce/Barth-cast type could be made before it burned out?

It would seem like hardened steel would survive a lot of hammering into brass, but that the matrices would be more likely to fail sooner. Any historical references would be welcome!

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Glenn, First humble effort from *The Bentons* - Father & Son, Punch Cutters.
Short extract from one paragraph, i. e. speaking about Fournier and His >Manuale Typographique<, He devotes an entire chapter to the hardening of punches, this hardening stressed the steel and made them very brittle, etc., etc.

Apologies NOT the answer, but the book IS 372 pages of solid text long, and (with 3 Indexes - what is the plural of index ?) may take a little time to find, Life Expectancy of Punches, IF at all.

The volume Published, Printed & Bound in the U. S. A. should provoke a few more responses.
Good Luck.- Mick. U.K.

Theo Rehak Practical Typecasting
Wilke Vom Schriftgiessen
DIe Kust und Weise Schrift zu schneiden, Halle and der Saale, 1778
There are a bunch of others, but my Archive is still boxed from a recent move

I think I recall that there was someone in the private press world who did cut punches, about 1960 maybe, was it Matthew Carter?? I’,m not certain. But I do recall that a very particular grade of steel was used, much the same as that employed by those engraving die-stamping dies, and like them, it was cut whilst ‘soft’, proofed using the soot from a candle flame, and then hardened. I know for certain that the die-stamping folk, often changed dies, by re-softening, changing a small detail, and re-hardening. I doubt if anyone does this now, as I believe the shop in Nairn, near Inverness has ceased. Maybe this was possible for worn punches?.

Here are links to 4 operating foundries in the US and Europe who should be able to answer your questions. Aside from worn or damaged matrixes, I would think that foundries would limit the number of matrix sets. Isn’t that why there are so few remaining from centuries back?



My only experience/knowledge about this relates to Frederic Goudy’s second typeface, Village, which was cut in the mats by an engraver/founder in Chicago, and cast in, I assume, a large font for Goudy. He and his wife used the type as their Village Press house face for a number of years, and then after the studio fire from which the mats were the sole survivors of his work, they were sold to a publisher who had a large font cast for a 2”-thick catalog of Dutch Master painters. The mats then found their way to Dale Guild Foundry, where they were used for several castings. I bought 100lbs of it from the final casting — Theo said the mats were starting to show wear and should not be used again. He said they had not been nickel-plated, which would have ensured a longer life, and was used on many commercial foundry fonts.But no punches were cut for that set of mats.


The late Dan Carr taught some hand punch-cutting classes in the late ’90s, after training at the Cabinet des Poincons et des Livres, de L’impremerie nationale. The French punchcutters were still quite active then, and there were online references to them into the early 2000s, but I have a vague memory of them being closed down, and can’t find any English language reference to them in a websearch now.

I just came across a couple of references this week on Twitter. Richard Ardagh has a paper presented to the Assn. of European Printing Museums this year on the Monotype punch cutting process, in which he has been trained recently at the Type Museum in London where the old Monotype equipment lives on, at least for now. It mentions the punch hardening process.

At the ATF (American Typecasting Fellowship) conference in SF last year, Patrick Goosens presented some info about a special visit to the French Imprimiere Nationale, where Nelly Gable is the long time punch cutting master. And this week on Twitter someone posted about getting a copy of the English translation of her book on punch cutting. See:


Regarding longevity of punches and matrices, the Monotype presentation by Richard Ardagh implies that the punches seldom need to be replaced, but it can be done if needed. Regarding the matrices, you should ask people in ATF who are actively casting type. At M&H Type, I have heard mention of rare occasions where a mat became unusable, and they wished they could replace it. For Linotype matrices that were in frequent use, they were deemed unusable after a certain number of years due to wear such as edges getting malformed, allowing lead to form flashing that sticks up between the letters. I have seen comments from Skyline Type about certain sets of mats having a lot of problems or needing extra work after casting to remove extraneous metal. There are people still active in casting type who can answer such questions.

The above mentioned book is available in English and in French. The publisher is Editions des Cendres in Paris.

Dessins de Geste
Gravure & Poinçon typographique
Nelly Gable, Annie Bocel
Éditions des Cendres
ISBN: 978-2-86742-284-3
price: € 42

Drawing the Movement
Cutting the Type Punch
Nelly Gable, Annie Bocel
translation James Mosley
Éditions des Cendres
ISBN: 978-2-86742-285-0
price: € 42

[email protected]

The full text of Richard’s talk can be found here: https://www.aepm.eu/publications/conference-proceedings-2/safeguarding-i...

And Ramiro Espinosa’s talk during the ATypI conference in Antwerp in 2018:

Thanks, Thomas, for posting the link to Richard Ardagh’s talk! I meant to include it.

Ramiro Espinosa’s talk is very interesting, thanks for adding that. I did not pick up who he said were the remaining people cutting punches today aside from Nelly Gable. I don’t think he included people who are using pantographs to cut punches or matrices such as the Type Museum or Ed Rayher at Swamp Press who has cut over 1000 new mats.

Nelly will be retiring soon, but has trained Annie Bocel. Patrick Goossens in Antwerp did get involved in cutting punches by hand (trained by Nelly) and by pantograph, Ramiro is cutting by hand, Fred Smeijers did cut a long time ago and published a book on his experience and findings. Richard uses the pantograph. Hugh MacFarlane cuts by hand. These are the people I know here around me. There is someone in Scandinavia who has been cutting punches, striking mats and casting type…