Copying characters – stereotyping and electrotyping

Starting in the 17th century, demand for books increased, driven by rising literacy rates in Europe and growing trade between States, cities, businesses and individuals. The arrival of the Industrial Revolution in the late 18th and 19th centuries only fuelled this demand.

Stereotyping was used to duplicate books being printed and older works needing to be reissued; this freed up lead type, which could then be broken up and returned to the type case for new projects. Stereotyping also reduced the wear and tear on moveable type, which represented a significant investment for printers.

Reducing the wear on sorts while at the same time using them more intensively.

First, a mould of the composed page was made using plaster or papier-mâché. The mould was then filled with a lead alloy to create an exact copy of the entire composition. The stereotype (or cliché) thus obtained was very sturdy and could be used intensively. This process was generally used for completed compositions. A variant technique, polytyping, was used for copying large printed letters that were generally made from wood, and therefore fragile. Electrotyping, which uses electrolysis, was also used to create large characters.

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