Frank Romano's Love Letter to Linotype

Professor Frank Romano’s new book, “History of the Linotype Company,” is like a love letter with references and footnotes. Beautifully printed and illustrated, it smells great too. It also weighs about as much as a fully-loaded agate type magazine from a Model 9 Linotype machine. With more than 460 pages, this book does not constitute light reading. If the names James Clephane, Whitelaw Reid, and Linn Boyd Benton mean anything to you, then this will be your goldmine. If they don’t, then this book provides the opportunity to drink in a rich mixture of historical documents and Romano’s astute observations. Romano is clearly obsessed with this topic, and for that we should all be thankful. Who else as a young man would have had the forethought to collect old type catalogs and preserve an unpublished company history?

In the Preface, Romano describes the book’s intent perfectly:

There are lots of books about Ottmar Mergenthaler and the invention of the Linotype. This one brings together in one place all the major documents and all the corporate information. It is a time capsule of just about everything the company did.

It’s an accurate description, but almost an understatement. James Clephane’s “History of the Linotype”? Check. Joseph Mackey’s 1936 History of the Linotype Company? Check. Excerpts from Mergenthaler’s autobiography and the 1936 book “The Power of Print, and Men”? Check. One hundred plus pages of fonts manufactured by Linotype or its subsidiaries? Check.

My favorite parts of the book are the images that you would never be likely to see if it weren’t for Romano’s detective work: Mergenthaler as a jaunty young man (mostly clean-shaven, only a moustache) in the days before the bushy beard of his most frequently reproduced photo; Mergenthaler and his wife Emma in a 1899 portrait; a 1944 Linotype-themed comic strip called “Lines of Letters”; and a true gem, a Milton Glaser line drawing of a Linotype machine.

Admittedly, Romano’s “History of the Linotype Company” is not for everyone, but if you think you might enjoy a bouquet of obscure historical delights collected and arranged to perfection by today’s foremost Linotype expert, then this is the book for you. It is truly the work of a lifetime.

You can order “History of the Linotype Company” for $39.99 through its publisher, the RIT Press.

Frank Romano is a Lead Strategist with InfoTrends and a regular contributor to our InfoBlog.

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