AND PROPORTIONAL SPACINGIt emerged in yesterday’s post, about early typewriter developments, that in the four decades before the words “type” and “writer” were out together, the objective of the like of Charles Thurber and John M. Jones had been to invent and manufacture small printing presses. The same could even be said of the original intent of Christopher Latham Sholes.
An imperative in this quest was to build a machine which would enable the user to proportionally space lines. By the early 19th century this was, of course, the already long accepted practise in almost all forms of hand typesetting, such as for books or newspapers. If a typesetting machine was to take over from manual typesetting, it needed to be able to do the same thing.
Woodblock (mostly used for headlines) or movable metal components (for text) were obviously sized in such as way as to allow for font width consistency – “leading” might also be used to “fill” a line to the desired, consistent width.
To build a machine using typeslugs of varying widths, and to allow for these at a printing point on a platen or other printing surface which moved proportionally according to those widths, proved to be a very difficult undertaking.
Proportional typing was ultimately achieved, but not before many unsuccessful attempts over the century from Thurber to the VariTyper, an adaption of the Hammond. This was the machine which broke the “grid”, to which its monospace typeslugs had made the typewriter a slave.
Initially, when the typewriter did evolve, it overcame the problem to a very limited degree: typeslugs were a consistent width, the same for an ‘m’ as an ‘i’. But line spacing was another matter.
Line spacing required the component carrying the platen and paper, that is the carriage, to move proportionally. And that meant finding a way of adjusting the way the dogs and pawls worked in uniformly moving the carriage (image below by Georg).
The definition of differential (or proportional) spacing is: spacing where each character takes a space equivalent to its width, ‘m’ taking more space than ‘i’. In typesetting, justification (or 'full justification') is the typographic alignment setting of text or images within a column or ‘measure’ to align along both the left and right margin. Text set this way is said to be ‘justified’.
In justified text, the spaces between words, and, to a lesser extent, between glyphs or letters (kerning), are stretched or sometimes compressed in order to make the text align with both the left and right margins.
Thurber and Jones incorporated the ability to differentially space in their designs. So, too, did others, such as the Frenchman Xavier Progin, whose 1833 patent for a ‘machine ou plume ktypographique’ offered, according to historian Michael Adler, “a limited form, of differential spacing”.
From the time the design of an office typewriter was more or less standardised in the late 19th and early part of the 20th century, there were many attempts to invent a means of achieving line-justified typing.
James A. Watson of Washington in 1892 applied for a patent for a “justifying mechanism for matrix-making machines” which could also, he claimed, be applied to typewriters. In 1912 Eduard Marek von Marchthal of Vienna, Austria, applied for a US patent a means of “justifying lines” on typewriters. In 1929, Arthur L. Slee of San Francisco assigned to Jack Huston a patent for a “variable spacing mechanism for typewriters” (above).
Another effort is incorporated in a “variable carriage feed” mechanism patent issued to Arthur S. Wheeler, of the Bronx, on this day in 1923. Significantly, Wheeler used as his base machine a Hammond. He set out his objectives as “regulating of the spacing in accordance with the number of characters in and the length of the written lines so that the lines may be of even length, as is done in justifying type in setting up printing.
“Another useful purpose is the changing of the spacing to conform to the size of the type, as for example when changing from pica to elite. This latter is particularly useful in connection with a typewriter haying easily changeable type, and the well-known Hammond typewriter is a good example of this class of machine.”
Wheeler wanted his mechanism to be “economically incorporated in the manufacture of the typewriter” and to “have the different spacings selectively controllable by the operator and that will give uniform results”.“I attain this object by providing the carriage with a plurality of racks so arranged with respect to a plurality of different-sized gears controlled by the escapement mechanism that any one of the gears may be caused to engage one of the racks at the will of the operator, while the other gears remain out of mesh.”
Wheeler’s choice of machine is significant, because it was on the Hammond that this goal was to be finally achieved, but not for some 20 years later. The Hammond, that is, masquerading as a VariTyper.
Richard Polt, on his The Classic Typewriter Page
describes the VariTyper as “a highly ingenious ‘word processor’ of the pre-digital age. This machine could use over 300 different type styles and write in 55 languages; it could adjust the space between characters, and even produce right-justified copy.”
Richard says the VariTyper “found a niche as a ‘cold typesetting’ or ‘office composing’ machine: it was generally used to produce neat, camera-ready copy for offset printing, at a cost much lower than that of conventional printer's methods.”
How the Hammond was turned into the Varityper is still a little confusing. After James Bartlett Hammond died on January 27, 1913, he left his stock in trust for the longest period possible under the statue of limitations – that is, to “lives in being”. Thus it went to, in part, “during the life of Neal Dow Becker”, a Wall Street attorney who had, according to The New York Times, “for several years been the trusted adviser and personal friend of Mr Hammond”. In October 1915, Becker’s alma mater, Cornell University, said Becker had been president of the Hammond Typewriter Company “for several years”. In October 1921 the Hammond company was restructured under Becker as a $2.5 million corporation.
Becker’s life continued until 1955, when he died aged 72 (he was, by the way, a co-founder of the American Australian Association in 1948 with Rupert Murdoch’s father, Sir Keith Murdoch).
Somehow, however, Hammond was apparently sold in 1926 to a Frederick Hepburn Company, although nothing is known about this organisation. It was at this stage that the company became known as VariTyper Incorporated.
The point at which control of the Hammond-VariTyper machine changed from VariTyper Incorporated to a New York company run by Oakland, California-born Ralph Cramer Coxhead (below) is shrouded in a period between 1929-1930, and does not appear to be related to the Wall Street Crash of October 1929.
Regardless of what happened to the mysterious Hepburn and his company in 1932-1933, Coxhead would appear to have had the rights to the VariTyper at least two months before the 1929 crash.
Patents for changes to the machine were still being issued as assigned to VariTyper Incorporated in 1930, yet from August 1929 onwards there was a flurry of patents for a complete revamp (a staggering 1400 changes, it was later reported) of the machine, all being assigned to Coxhead’s company.
Coxhead clearly brought on board a sizable team of design engineers once he took on the VariTyper. Most notable among these was Frank H. Trego of New York (of Hudson, Packard and Liberty aircraft fame), who had more than dozen VariTyper patents issued to him and assigned to both the Coxhead and VariTyper Incorporated. Others included Henry L. Pitman of New Jersey, Charles E. Fuchs of New York, Henry Resch of New Jersey and John H. Ritz of New York.
Notwithstanding Trego’s massive input, Ritz was to later work with the man who made the VariTyper the famous machine it is today: one Charles W.Norton, of West Orange, New Jersey.
Time magazine in 1948 wrote that Coxhead “once helped to get Hawaiian sugar growers to use mechanical calculators in place of the Chinese abacus”.
In 1924 Ralph Coxhead and his brother (not son, their father was Ralph Stuart Coxhead) Stuart Coxhead set up a New York company importing and distributing Mercedes Euklid mechanical calculating machines, made by Mercedes Büromaschinenwerke in Berlin and later in Zellamehlisin (the same company made Mercedes typewriters).
Mercedes sold the rights in 1926 and Coxhead simply replaced Mercedes products with those of another German brand, Brunsviga, made by Grimme, Natalis and Company in Brunswick. This company’s long-standing engineer, Franz Trinks, had retired in 1925 after almost 30 years at the helm and Coxhead became part of the design team for the "new Brunsviga" range and the "13-series" of 1927.
This is where Charles W. Norton stepped in. From 1926 until 1940 he and Coxhead were jointly issued with a number of designs for the adding machine and its components, which they assigned to Brunsviga Maschinenwerke in Germany (in 1959, by the way, Brunsviga by absorbed by typewriter makers Olympia Werke AG of Wilhelmshaven, part of the AEG group).
Following on from his association with Brunsviga, Coxhead bought the rights to the VariTyper for $300,000, probably closer to 1929 than 1933. In reporting on the 1400 changes Coxhead made to the machine from 1929, Time magazine on February 16, 1948, said that after 1926 Coxhead had "hastily [my italics] looked around for a product of his own. He found it in the old Hammond typewriter." Time went on that Coxhead “developed [the VariTyper] into an efficient printing machine for house organs, direct-mail campaigns, etc.”Time added that “International Business Machines Corporation also makes a proportional-spacing machine but it has little type variety and is not being merchandised to newspapers.”
Under Coxhead, the VariTyper became “a source of duplicator stencil masters and web offset litho printing masters which, unlike the Linotype and Monotype machines, did not rely on hot metal casting. To describe this new kind of type origination, Coxhead coined the term ‘cold typesetting’.
“The Varityper was well suited to this purpose because it had both a large library of hundreds of typefaces and also a facility for proportional spacing to accommodate their varying widths. To these, Coxhead added the ability to right-justify type, variable letter spacing (1947) and variable line spacing (1953).”
All of these advances were designed by Charles W.Norton. At about the time, in the late 1930s, when Norton and Coxhead were winding down their work for Brunsviga, Norton turned his attention the VariTyper.
Advance work in this line-justifying area had been done by Alpha F. Colton, of Ashland, Ohio, who between 1933 and 1938 patented justifying devices for printing. One of his three patents was for an external “automatic” device which contracted and expanded characters.
Coxhead recruited Colton in September 1938, but probably found Colton’s designs a little too convoluted. Coxhead then turned to Norton.
Norton had a long history in inventing, starting in 1914 with work for the Edison Storage Battery Company. This company had been formed in New Jersey in 1901 to develop, manufacture and sell Thomas Edison's alkaline storage battery. Norton worked alongside Miller Reese Hutchison (1876–1944), below, who developed some of the first portable electric devices, such as the vehicle horn and the hearing aid.
Hutchison was chief engineer of Edison's laboratory in Norton’s home town of West Orange, New Jersey, from August 1912 until July 1918. Norton was issued with five Edison patents, up to 1920. He then became associated with Coxhead.
Between 1938-1952, Norton assigned eight patents to Coxhead, all to do with the VariTyper. He acknowledged the pioneering work of the like of Watson (1892) and von Marchthal (1912), and also of the Waite brothers of Santa Monica, California, Alden C. Waite and Clark F. Waite, in 1939-40. But Norton came up with something entirely workable.
As Richard Polt explains, “Right-margin justification was achieved by a mechanical system in which each line would have to be typed twice. It sounds tedious, but it was a clever solution to a challenging mechanical problem - although the results were not comparable to professional typesetting.”
In a patent for a “justifying typewriter”, for which Norton applied in October 1938, he explained, “When the operator has finished writing the unjustified line, in accordance with the present invention, the operator depresses a tabulator key which automatically releases the carriage so that it may move to the left hand margin of a new or second column at the right of the sheet of paper. The operator now writes the same line over in this second column and the machine automatically justifies this re-written line so that it now extends a standard length. This result is obtained by automatic action of the machine.”
Through the VariTyper and the IBM, typewriters had broken the “grid” – referring to the uniform spacing of each letter space in the monospaced fonts used by typewriters. One source says, “In 1941, IBM introduced the Executive, a typewriter that used proportional spacing by ‘breaking each cell of the grid into fifths’. Although proportional fonts had been used in various forms in typesetting since the invention of movable type, this innovation broke the hold that the monospaced font had over the typewriter — reducing the severity of its mechanical limitations.”
In 1948, Time magazine vaunted the advantages the VariTyper still then had over the IBM. Time related how the VariTyper had come into its own when “In a dozen US cities the International Typographical Union AFL struck newspaper plants. Once, such a walkout by the linotype operators would have paralysed the papers. But last week most of the strikebound dailies were on the stands, thanks to a new technique in printing and, chiefly, to its sponsor, Manhattan's small (total assets: $800,000) Ralph C. Coxhead Corp.
"Its VariTyper machines, glorified typewriters which automatically set straight right-hand margins, were being used by most of the strikebound papers to by-pass the linotypers. The biggest fault that readers found with the papers was that they looked like a stenographer's work.
1946, first dial appears on the left“This week Coxhead Corp was ready to get rid of the typewritten look. It had a new model machine whose type was almost indistinguishable to the layman from ordinary newspaper print. Unlike the old VariTypers, which can print in Arabic and 50 other foreign languages, the new machine has only five typefaces, as yet, but they are specifically designed for newspaper printing.”
Time said The Bayonne Times, a small New Jersey newspaper, used VariTypers when its linotype men walked out in 1946. “The strike lasted only one day, but it was long enough to start the orders rolling in from other newspapers. Last year  Coxhead sold about 3500 VariTypers (priced from $308 to $910) for some $3,000,000. This year he hopes to move his 225 workers into a new factory, double his output.
1949, two dials“Meanwhile, Coxhead's eye is on business offices and small daily newspapers and weeklies that are not yet saddled with the traditional expensive printing equipment. For large newspapers — except in emergencies — VariType printing is still too slow (photoengraving alone takes an hour) and can't print headlines.
“The biggest obstacle is the high cost of photoengraving the VariTyped pages. Coxhead hopes that engraving cost will soon be cut by another new invention ... a method of photoengraving VariTyping directly on printing-press plates. By combining their method with his, Coxhead hopes to make VariTyping as cheap as linotyping."
Ralph Cramer Coxhead, born in Oakland, California, on June 1, 1892, died aged 58, on February 7, 1951, in Dade County, Florida. His company was sold to Addressograph-Multigraph Corporation and the VariTyper, with an 18-inch carriage, continued to be used to typeset magazine and tabloid newspaper-sized pages. AM Varityper was bought by Tegra Corporation in the late 1980s. In the 1990s, Tegra-Varityper was in turn bought out by Pre-Press Solutions Inc.
FOOTNOTE: From IBM Typewriter Innovation, by H.S.Beattie and R.A. Rahenkamp, September 1981:
POSTSCRIPT: Richard Polt has been kind enough to send me this additional explanation, which comes from "Identification of Typewriting. Problems Encountered with Shaded and Proportional Spacing Type Faces" by Ordway Hilton, page 220 of 219-223, The Journal of Criminal Law, Criminology, and Police Science:
On this day in 1889, lawyer and author of detective stories Erle Stanley Gardner was born in Malden, Massachusetts. He is best known for the Perry Mason series. Gardner died in Temecula, California, on March 11, 1970, aged 80.
On this day in 1899, actor Jimmy (James Francis) Cagney Jnr was born in New York City. He died in Stanford, New York, on March 30, 1986, aged 86.
Australian writer Christina Stead was born in Sydney on this day in 1902. A noted novelist and short-story writer, Stead was acclaimed for her satirical wit and penetrating psychological characterisations. She died in Sydney on March 31, 1983, aged 80.
Thank you for educating me about the later history of that wonderful creation, the Hammond/Varityper.
Thanks again for a meticulously detailed story that pulled me through it; fascinating how machines and people contributed to the development of a singular creature -- the Varityper. Was anyone else struck by how a machine with such a serious purpose, and one that demanded so much of its operators could wind up looking -- esp. straight on-- as though it had a big, almost goofy grin?
-- mcget / phillytyper
OH-- RM, how embarrassing--your observation about the big grin was in your earlier post which I missed! Please don't hold it against me, as I my visits to the Typosphere have been spotty the past few months. I run a bike shop and this was our busy season in Philadelphia, to be sure. Meant to ask -- have you ever seen a Varityper being used in a workplace? Can't help wondering when the last one went shift, and where.
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