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The First Commercial Stereotype Shop

( Originally Published 1927 )



A workman in the employ of Didot, Louis Stephan Herhahn by name, devised a new process of stereotyping upon which he obtained patents in 1798 and 1800. Herhahn worked in conjunction with his employees, Errand and Renouard, under the supervision of Count Schlabrendorf. He had copper type made, in which the letters were sunken, but in such a manner that the letter-face did not appear upon same reversed. With these copper types he set up his form, and from this copper form he made a cast in lead. The printing plate therefore was made DIRECTLY from the copper composition of form. This very costly experiment had the great disadvantage that the sunken letters did not permit of correction, and without possibility of correcting, the process was impracticable. Thus every type needed in a printing shop using Herhahn's method of stereotyping had to go thru the separate manual operations of filing, dressing, arranging, striking with special punch, lining and properly adjusting for the nicety of printing. A labor for which no adequate remuneration ever could be expected.

After Herhahn's first patent was granted, Pierre Didot, Firmin Didot and Herhahn entered into a partnership to exploit it. They issued a pamphlet called "Prospectus of stereotyped editions". This is the first prospectus of its kind. They announced therein the formation of a partnership for the purpose of quickly and accurately employing the new stereotyping methods for which they enjoyed a patent. They specifically stated that in their stereotyped editions, correctness would be a special merit, which would be carried to the highest degree of perfection, based upon the fact that even if in the first impression a few mistakes would creep in, it would be an easy task to correct these on the plate, which is always at their disposal, before making new impressions. They further stated that they would sell these stereotype plates in two sizes, 18mo and 12mo sized pages, the latter at francs 3.75 or 75 cents a page. In case of loss or deterioration they offered to furnish another copy of the same plate at the price of francs 12.50 or $2.50. Independent of the advantages of most perfect correction and of being able to furnish these books or plates at a very modest price, since copies were printed only when needed, there would be no storing of paper, no warehouse charges, etc.

The new editors also called attention to the fact that should a customer lose a volume, forming part of a set, they would replace same at the original price, the plates for reprinting always being at their disposal. This prospectus aroused a deluge of derisive remarks and criticisms. The consensus was "that this so-called art of new stereotyping, which embodies all the inconveniences of an old process long abandoned because of its imperfections (meaning the process of Hoffmann), tends to retrograde the art of printing; that by stereotyping one can never reproduce an impression as beautifully as made by movable type; that without showing any visible advantage for the announcers, it would be ruinous for all others who would make use of such plates." The prices were objected to as prohibitive, etc. All this clamor did not keep the three associates from going ahead with their stereotyping business. In 1810 about 2,000 plates were made in Paris every month.

Other stereotyping shops were established, where the same methods were used with very slight changes. It would lead too far to recount these different adaptions of the existing processes; worthy of mention are DARCET, ROCHON, THOUVENIN, GENGEMBRE, BULLIARD and LHERITIER.

BOUDIER produced in 1798 some specimens of stereotype printing by a process entirely different from Herhahns, proceeding as follows: Boudier's mold was taken from a page of type by sinking its face into a mass of soft clay. Into this clay matrix melted copper was after-wards poured, in much greater quantity than was required to form a plate, as it was upon the weight of the metal that Boudier depended for its entering completely into all the cavities and angles of the mold. When cold, the plate was reduced in a lathe to such thickness as was required. This process, however, had no special outstanding merits to commend its use and therefore did not become a practical success. Boudier obtained a patent on his process in 1801 and published stereotyped school books and music.

In the year 1803 a printer named Pierre de Joyeuze proposed a new method of stereotyping, which consisted of making a relief mold with clay from a page composed of movable types. His process had the advantage of cheapness, but it also had all the old defects of plates cast in clay.



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