Metal Type: Home | Library | Forum | Free Ads | Store

Spaceband Patent Saga

Started by Dave Hughes, April 18, 2008, 01:56:24 PM

Previous topic - Next topic

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Printle: A Printing Word Game from Metal Type

Dave Hughes

Many thanks to George Finn for sending in this interesting article he's been researching:

Probably one of the most important inventions related to the Linotype was the spaceband.  Without it accurate justification would not have been possible.

The first machine that Mergenthaler demonstrated was to friends on July 26, 1884. This was the first machine to cast a metal slug. Justification was achieved by variable fixed word spaces inserted by hand. Mergenthaler was not happy with the inaccuracy of this method of justification.

In February 1885, his second improved machine was ready for operation. This machine was demonstrated in Washington, and among those praising the machine was US President Arthur. These first two machines used long thin bars each containing a complete alphabet of female characters. Tapping a key would bring the required character on the bar into casting alignment. Pairs of wedges were used to justify the line. The cost of manufacturing the type characters was prohibitive and Mergenthaler was still not happy with the line justification. 

Mergenthaler decided that a better approach would be to use circulating matrices. He had to design and build a new machine. On July 3, 1886 the first 'Blower' machine was used in typesetting part of the "New York Tribune." An illustration and a description of the machine are detailed on this site at:-

Justification on the Blower machine was via 'folding wedges', whatever that means. If you look at the 'justification wedge box' you will see that it is similar to spaceband boxes on later linotypes, only transverse left to right. As there was no second elevator I assume the space wedges would have been carried to the distributor and dropped back down to the wedge storage box, where they were stored and released as required. When he applied for a patent for the new machine fitted with the folding wedge in 1885, he found that a spaceband patent was already held by J. W. Shuckers and he had licensed it to the Rogers Typograph Company

Of course there was a court case, which found in favour of  J. W. Shuckers. The spaceband was such an integral part in the design of Mergenthaler's new Linotype that he paid $416,000 for the patent. What that is worth in today's money is anybodies guess. 

Just how Shuckers' spaceband worked I have not been able ascertain. On appeal in 1894,  the court affirmed that Mergenthaler's design had infringed Shuckers, patent.

Jeffo, you wouldn't happen to have a 'folding wedge' in the cave?

Printle: Word Puzzle for Printers Play Now

Keep in touch with Metal Type Get our newsletters

Jeff Zilles [jeffo]

Ahaaa  goodho!  The vanishing post re-appears!

A partly prepared reply, or rather addition to the intrigueing information presented has been retrieved from the half-done trogla-files and a rummaging search made thru the couple of small boxes of unexplainable stuff in the 'Cave' that showed up at some time or other with one of the Linos.

Sorry George, can't produce a folding floggle-toggle.  There is a collection of spacebands -  thins, mids, thicks and jumbos -  but as far as I can remember  or find, no Blower Lino bits -- in fact it could be a matter of debate as to whether any of that particular beastie ever made its way to Oz - I am willing to be proven a conclusion-jumping liar on this point.

The machine part description 'folding  wedge'  does not seem to tally with the illustration.  Perhaps this is what happened to the item all too frequently in the course of operation which could also explain some of Herr Mergenthaler's dissatisfaction with the part and the ongoing quest for a better solution.

There was a story, which I have no solid evidence to substantiate,  that the fellow who invented / developed the spaceband was a regular resident of the Crazy Farm --  and, , , ,  if for no reason other than I just didn't think about it,  I assumed this character to be a member of Ottmar's whiz kid team. 

Possibly the truth may point towards  J. W. Shuckers?

I dug up some reference to a paper by M's Goble and Corban of 1986 which deals with 19th century Court Litigation of a technical and patent nature and I quote a paragraph which seems relevant even if it does raise a further question or two.

"The paper then discusses an impression-type composer developed by J. W. Shuckers, with whose company Rogers subsequently merged, and the counter-infringement suit brought against Mergenthaler for use of Shucker's spaceband mechanism. Finally, the paper discusses Mergenthaler's acquisition of the Rogers firm in 1895 and the particulars of the purchase, as well as Rogers's subsequent work in the Mergenthaler organization and Shuckers's obscurity once the patent for his spaceband mechanism was bought out. (Copies of ads for the two machines are included.) "

Unfortunateley I have been unable to find any link to the ads referred and additionally,  I had believed that the Typograph was established well enough to have been manufactured well into the 20th century -  perhaps further delving will reveal  more truth or better yet, more controversy!!



QuoteI had believed that the Typograph was established well enough to have been manufactured well into the 20th century -  perhaps further delving will reveal  more truth or better yet, more controversy!!

You only have to search the pages of Metal Type to get a reasonable history of Rogers Typograph.

I based my interpretation of the "Folding Wedge" on this sketch form the Italian site Linotipia.

Even if my item turns out to be partly fiction, as it was originally, it can be the basis for some debate.

I doubt that the "Blower Linotype" ever made it to Australia, as the first machines were purchased by the "Sydney Telegraph" in 1893. That was the year that Mergenthaler demonstrated his new Simplex Linotype at the Chicago World Fair. But then again I could be wrong!

George Finn (Mechanic)
Gold Coast

Quick Reply

Please leave this box empty:
Type the letters shown in the picture
Listen to the letters / Request another image

Type the letters shown in the picture:

Shortcuts: ALT+S post or ALT+P preview

Printers' Tales - Over 30 stories from the pre-digital age. Buy now on Amazon/Apple Books

☛ Don't miss our illustrated newsletters. Click here to see examples and subscribe. ☚