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Book Review: History of the Ludlow Typograph

Press release from the issuing company

By Jim Hamilton

Frank Romano’s latest book History of the Ludlow Typograph, written with Miranda Mitrano, follows in the footsteps and style of Frank’s most recent books: History of the Linotype Company, History of the Phototypesetting Era, and History of Desktop Publishing. Like his previous work, History of the Ludlow Typograph is as much a database as it is a book. Frank includes everything that you, or a future historian, might like to know about the Ludlow Typograph.

The topic, the Ludlow Typograph, will be familiar to many, as these devices continue to be used effectively in many letterpress shops today. The Museum of Printing has one that it fires up on many Saturdays so that visitors can typeset their names in lead. Few of these visitors then take that slug and use it in a letterpress project, but they could, and the fact is that Ludlows have been in use for more than a century in newspapers and print shops for the purpose of setting headline and larger type.

The Ludlow Typograph company was formed in 1905 as part of a partnership between William Reade and Washington Irving Ludlow. Ludlow, a mechanical engineer, had an idea for a typesetting machine that he shared with Reade. That first idea never came to fruition, but a later one did. By 1913 the first successful installation of a Ludlow Typograph occurred at the Chicago Post in August of 1913.

Little is known about Washington Irving Ludlow. Romano calls him a “mystery man.” Born in March of 1835, he did not live to see much of the success of the device that bears his name. He died in February of 1916. Ludlow received twenty patents between 1868 (when he was 33) and 1907 (when he was 72). This included his work in typography, but also in many other areas. He patented a fruit bag, a corn shelter, a pencil case, a door catch, a crank shaft, and a cable railway system.

You will not read this book in one sitting. It’s massive. You don’t read a book like this, instead you just do your best to absorb it. Frequent pull quotes help the reader to skim and find relevant segments. Many sections are longer quotes from historic documents. These are generally marked with a vertical line and an indent, allowing the reader to know which segments are quotes, and which are Frank’s creation. The reader soon notes that Frank’s entries are greatly outnumbered by quoted historical documents. This presents a dilemma. There are pearls to be found in the quoted materials. Historians will appreciate that these documents are quoted in full. In some cases, similar material is repeated, as Frank says, to create a full record. This is the database aspect of a book by Frank Romano. Very little is left out. The other part of the dilemma lies in truly appreciating the segments written by Frank. When you spot them, you are in for a treat because Frank brings his perspective into play. He sets these materials in a context, and he becomes a first-person observer to all that is going on.

For example, Frank presents the following theory. He believes that Washington Ludlow got the idea for the Typograph from Ottmar Mergenthaler’s 1885 patent for the Second Band Linotype machine, which Ludlow likely became aware of through patent publications.

Whether written by Romano, or pulled out of the dustbin of history, you will find a number of gems in this volume:

· Pages 10 to 20: Ten plus pages on typesetter developments 1873 to 1917 – a truly dazzling illustrated distillation of an extraordinary period in typesetting history
· Pages 52 to 61: A brief history of the Ludlow written in February of 1936 by Douglas Crawford McMurtrie, a larger-than-life figure, and one of many that grace the pages of this book. McMurtrie’s passion for helping disabled people prompted him to raise money and develop artificial limbs for veterans and others. He was a prolific writer (maybe even more so than Frank) who catalogued the history of the Ludlow Typograph and wrote on many other topics. There is certainly much more to McMurtrie’s story, but one must note that he loved typography so much that he named one of his children “Baskerville.”
· Pages 219 to 236: Frank’s perspective on type casting and matrices is strengthened by his work at Linotype in the 1960s, which helped solidify his understanding of these processes. Few people alive today can explain this as Frank can.
· Pages 305 to 322 – A Ludlow company timeline that is rich in detail and built upon Frank’s personal perspective based on his prior books and direct experience.
· Page 323-338: Quotes, writings, and biographical information on John Schappler, another amazing personality in the book, who worked as the director of Type Design at Ludlow Typograph from 1967 to 1971. Schappler’s collection of typographic ephemera now resides at the Museum of Printing. This section includes a poetic quote from David Pankow, former curator of the Cary Collection at Rochester Institute of Technology: “The eye is still, and will always be, the sovereign judge of typography.”
· Pages 415-422: Frank cites two important sources to aid in identification of Ludlow Typography: Mac McGrew’s American Metal Typefaces of the Twentieth Century and A Ludlow Anthology edited by Steven and Meryle Chayt. Frank includes an alphabetical list sorted by gauge.
· Page 435: In regard to Robert Hunter Middleton: “Typefaces that were designed by Robert Hunter Middleton for the Ludlow Typograph set the typographic standard for thirty years. His designs influenced typography during the first decade of the 21st century.” One of Middleton’s most memorable designs is Umbra (1932), which McMurtrie described as “among the most notable typefaces of original design first produced by the Ludlow organization…”
· Pages 473 to 482: The addendum reproduces in its entirety a full chapter on the Ludlow Typograph from the pages of a Printing Industries of America book from the 1950s entitled “A Composition Manual.”
· Throughout: Frank includes entire chapters on the men who were influential in the company, not only the big names like Ludlow and Reade, but also those who cut and designed type like Robert Wiebking, Ernst Detterer, and Robert Hunter Middleton.

There are parts of this book that only a Ludlow operator will understand and appreciate such as the lengthy illustrated section on different types of Ludlow Typograph sticks. Other sections, like the ones on Ludlow Typograph advertising materials and specimen books provide an insightful design glimpse into the periods during which they were produced.

This book is a must-have volume for any Ludlow Typograph user. Whatever question you may have is answered somewhere within the 500+ pages of this book, though it may take some searching to find it. Don’t forget to leverage the extensive index. In addition to Ludlow users, researchers and historians will relish the detail and the resources that Frank has packed into this volume. Historians will turn first to the bibliography, the index, and the addendum. They will appreciate the rigor of Frank’s research. Frank went down a Ludlow rabbit hole so that you don’t have to.

All proceeds of the sales of this book go to the Museum of Printing. See museumofprinting.org.


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