( Originally Published 1927 )
In the year 1795 the celebrated French printer and type-founder, FIRMIN DIDOT of Paris, coined the name "STEREOTYPE" for printing from solid lead plates.
Stereo, in Greek, means rigid, solid, and the Greek word typos means type, letter, character. Hence the combined word stereotype means a rigid, solid plate made of types. Stereo-typing is the method of making of type metal perfect facsimiles of the faces of pages composed of movable type.
If we have reason to be surprised at the quick steps by which printing with movable types was perfected, we have more cause to wonder why, with the acquisition of movable types, the art became stationary. The transition from founding single letters to founding whole pages was so invitingly obvious, that the circumstance of its not having been attempted, may be imputed rather to a want of enterprise, than to any ignorance of the perfect practicability of the art. The art of printing from movable types was invented in 1452, and it was not until 1701 that the first attempts at stereotyping were made in Europe.
Printing from stereotypes is, in one respect, the reverse of printing from movable types. As described above, the first books were made from solid wooden blocks, each of which formed a page. Then came typography (meaning writing, "graphein", from type, "typos'') the assembling of letter into words and pages, in which these pages were composed of numbers of separate types. There followed the period of the invention of stereotyping, in which pages again were formed by single blocks, that is, where printed pages were solidified or made rigid in one plate. The distinction between the two is, that whereas the antique blocks were of wood, the later ones were of metal; and that while the one kind consisted of originals that were separately engraved, the other are mechanically produced copies, and cast in a mold. The disadvantages of printing certain works with the aid of movable types which led to stereotyping were the following: It was necessary before redistributing types, that the whole number of copies of which it was wished that the edition should consist, had to be printed at one single time and at once. Then again there was a great disadvantage of advancing capital for large editions, thus tying up considerable funds in standing type and pages preserved in this manner were constantly liable to become incorrect by letters being misplaced or dropping out. There was also always the element of danger involved, making mistakes in the new form, causing thereby offence and annoyance in books of a religious nature, or grave errors in technical, dramatic and classical works. Another danger was the jumbling of types ("pi") caused in the transport of forms from one establishment to the other. Before the art of stereotyping was invented, the forms of such works had to remain intact, stored and in some cases, for instance the Bible, thousands of pounds of metal types were stored away.
These many inconveniences led to experiments to overcome them; stereotyping was the ultimate result.