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The Monotype composing machine was invented by Tolbert Lanston (1844–1913) who first produced his machine in 1889. The Monotype was based on similar principles to the Linotype but cast characters and spacing separately.
The machine comprised two separate units: the keyboard (like a QWERTY keyboard) and the caster. The keyboard used compressed air to punch holes in a paper ribbon, according to the sequence of keys struck by the operator. The caster operated by blowing compressed air through the paper strip to select the letters and set lines out in a uniform width.
As letters were cast singly, it was possible for the caster’s attendant to make corrections ‘on the run’, whereas Linotype corrections necessitated recasting the whole line of type. The use of the Monotype system enabled casting of some 6,000 characters an hour.
Printing purists such as Bernard Newdigate were disparaging about the quality of the output from these machines largely due to the uninspring typefaces available. However, the various university presses and Francis Meynell’s Nonesuch Press, part of the Private Press movement, enjoyed excellent results and economies of scale. For this latter reason, most ‘hot-metal’ Penguins, the vanguard of the Paperback Revolution, were set on Monotype.
Realising that it was important to offer a high quality innovative service, the Monotype Corporation appointed Stanley Morison as typographic advisor in 1922. Morison set about recutting past ‘classic’ designs as well as commissioning new fonts from designers Bruce Rogers, Eric Gill and Frederic Goudy. Morison also had his most famous type cast here – Times New Roman.

Watch a film of a monotype machine in operation.

Watch a film showing the monotype process at the Edinburgh firm Speedspools

Learn more about the process of composition casting.

Read a description of the Monotype air tower.