So @Octav1usKitten went to the Prague Technology Museum and they've got this beauty there and my god, it's amazing.
This is a Monotype machine! Look how many keys it has! Who needs a shift key (or other modifiers) when you can just have FOUR SEPARATE ALPHABETICAL KEYBOARDS?
Before I forget, they posted it here:
So this machine is a hot metal typesetting machine, the sort you'd use for making books or newspapers or such. They competed with Linotype machines, and replaced manual cast metal typesetting.
So before hot metal typesetting, you'd have two drawers (called cases) which each had a bunch of little compartments holding these "sorts", which are little pieces of metal for a letter. You'd load them onto a composing stick, backwards.
fun random trivia fact: Traditionally you'd have two cases, one for capital letters (majuscule), and one for small letters (minuscule).
The top case contained capitals, the small letters were in the bottom case.
This is where the terms "uppercase" and "lowercase" comes from!
So the problem with this sort of manual typesetting is that it's very slow. It's a lot of manual work.
So hot metal typesetting was invented around the end of the 1800s to make a lot of this automated.
The Linotype machine is more well known for hot metal typesetting as it was more popular for newspapers and magazines. They work by casting a whole line at once as a single slug of metal, rather than character by character.
You can have duplicate keys for the same letters, this lets a monotype switch between different typefaces. So you could have A-Z regular, A-Z Bold, A-Z Italics, and to switch you'd just type on the other keyboard. Same for upper vs lower.
Pressing these keys doesn't directly cause sorts to be formed, instead, the keyboard is controlling a paper tape punch.
It's set up so that all your keypresses do is record the relative position on the keyboard that was pressed
so instead of encoding somehow that you pressed "A", it just records that you pressed COLUMN 1, ROW 6.
This was because you could switch out what each key did, by changing the matrix case used by the casting machine. These contained molds for each letter.
So you'd type out your lines onto the paper tape, resulting in a bunch of punched holes, then feed that into the automatic casting machine.
This machine would use the molds to create sorts for each letter in the lines on the tape
and after a print run was done, you'd take all the little sorts and toss them into a bucket, then melt them back down for the next run.
This type metal is mainly made of lead, but to make it tougher tin and antimony are added.
but when you melt the type metal, the some of the tin and antimony oxidise and form a grey powder on the surface that has to be skimmed off, and you have to periodically add more to keep your type metal alloy in the right proportions.
So the fact that the Monotype creates individual letter sorts instead of full lines like the Linotype would seem like a downside, as you might have to still arrange them as they come out of the casting machine.
But it's actually a benefit, for one simple reason: Typos!
One problem with typesetting systems this complex is that it's hard to make corrections, especially since it's not like you have a piece of paper or a screen in front of you showing you what you just typed. Try typing blind and see how well you do.
and while obviously in 2019 they're not making any hot metal casting machines, the typeface creating part of Monotype never really went away. There's been mergers and buyouts and bankruptcies but they're still around. And you've seen their fonts TODAY, I guarantee it.
The Linotype does have a "screen," kind of. The characters are engraved on the opposite side of the matrices, so the operator can make changes if a typo occurs before casting. (Loving this thread by the way.)