The Offizin Haag-Drugulin – An Introduction

Over many centuries mankind was spell­bound: Gutenberg’s art of printing, the so-called ‘Black Art’, was looked upon as secretive, almost diabolic; it nearly unhinged the world. Printing acted as catalyst and changed society radically!

Up to then no other way was known how to produce a book than by copying an already existing one by hand – letter by letter. This was done mainly in the scriptorium of a monas­tery by specially trained and skilled copyists. It was an immense effort and cost much time. To own a book was priceless and only few gained this precious privilege – a reason why only few people could read and write.

Overnight everything changed. Suddenly it was possible not only to produce one book, but hundreds of them at once. At those times it was particularly the many newly founded universities, dedicated to humanism and the idea of univer­sal education, that eagerly took on the new media. This epochal invention caused an almost frantic demand, dem­onstrated here with a few simple facts: Already at the end of the fifteenth century – hardly fifty years after the publica­tion of Gutenberg’s 42-line bible – there were more than 1,100 working printing offices in over 200 places; most of them in Italy, Germany and France. Up to the year 1500 these printers published between 30,000 and 35,000 pub­lications, all set and printed by hand, adding up to about ten millions of copies. These almost inconceivable quantities were an unprecedented accomplishment. Admittedly the powers and the clergy were not always amused by the bless­ings of this new technology – most dubious to them.

Later Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742–1799) commented pointedly on the beginning of the media revolution: ‘More than gold, lead has changed the world. And more than the lead in the musket, the lead in the printer’s type case.’ Were it not for these new possibilities that spread and distributed thoughts, visions, science and information as quickly and as comprehensively, all those decisive changes in social history were unthinkable. Martin Luther’s reformation depended on the printed word just as the French Revolution and other social upheavals did. All those achievements of which we are so proud, we owe almost wholly to the ingenious idea to manifest, multiply and distribute text by means of cast lead types and the letterpress printing: education, enlighten­ment, democracy, freedom of press. Without doubt civili­zation and modern technologies, progress in science, research and medicine, have their roots in the printed word.

Against this background it is not so surprising, when 1997 the jury of a Time-Life magazine’s questionnaire, regarding the most important achievements of mankind at the end of the second millennium, considered the invention of printing as the most important event. Thus Gutenberg was chosen ‘Man of the Millennium’.

For about five hundred years, Gutenberg’s invention of reusable lead type lasted nearly unchanged and undisputed and was the almost exclusive printing media for written information. Only the introduction of typecasting and type­setting machines brought a certain degree of mechanization.

After World War II a hardly predictable change took place, caused by the new offset-lithography printing machines. This printing process actually had grown out of lithography as invented by Alois Senefelder from Munich in 1798. Furthermore the rotation principle in printing and the simpler production of printing plates, together with other technical changes till up to today’s digital technology for text and image, brought about the slow disappearance of lead type and letterpress printing from the printing works.

It is a well known fact that technical developments are happening, because of the urge to produce always faster and cheaper. Rarely is there a declared aim to strive for better quality. On the contrary, euphorical about obtaining an increase of production, the losses in quality are dismissed as unavoidable and neglectable.

It is the same with the new digital printing technics: eco­nomically, the direct transfer of digital data from computer to offset plates cannot be surpassed. But that in due course experts like type founders, type setters, proof-readers and printers were put aside, left obvious traces. Today these consequences are visible in the neglect of well proven typo­graphical rules that help to bring about the content of information as clearly and plainly as possible. Even in books and newspapers from renowned publishing houses we notice a flood of printer’s errors. Knowledge and sensitivity for what ‘effortless reading’ really means and how it feels are almost lost. It is as if people cannot see properly anymore.

And something more is lost: when using letterpress printing and lead types, the latter leave a very light impression in the paper. Through this literally pressing of letters a slight relief appears that causes an ink squash. Consequently the letter looks darker, gains more body and additional weight. These characteristics are unmistakable and lend a distinctiveness to letterpress printing that cannot be found in publishing with digital data. This minute, irregular haptic feature makes all the difference: we can feel the text we are reading; we move along a humane and real scale as against the cool perfection of virtual, simulated type.

Even more important than the technical printing conditions are the rules for type proportions. Not only are the stem strokes of lead letters in small sizes slightly stronger, but also the counters of small size types have a more open form. This is one of the reasons for good legibility. Larger type sizes are more compact and have a narrower width, meaning no big jumps for the eye and easy reading. At the time an experienced type cutter, who worked in a type foundry, would have foreseen the disadvantages of today’s linear digital typescaling. It is due to this knowledge and crafts­manship that those cast typefaces in small sizes are not too tight and too thin and in larger sizes not too broad and clumsy.

Today letterpress types are out of fashion. Computers and modern offset printing in combination with smoothly coat­ed paper surfaces and the often unproportionally designed and badly kerned digital typefaces have long replaced the old craft. Probably these refined, but important differences in those old typefaces are not perceived by everybody any­more. Yet it is for certain that, especially in the United States and in Great Britain, where Edward Johnston’s work is still kept alive, a revival has started, preferring well balanced handsetting types and analogue printing – the real stuff.

Manually working printing shops have sprung up at many places. There, lovingly designed editions, and also statio­nery are produced for a refined clientèle. Astonishingly the number of these printing offices is growing. In Europe there are publishers of limited editions who particularly appre­ciate ‘the lead’. Often original artist’s prints – wood engrav­ings, woodcuts, linocuts, lithographs, etchings – are combined with hand-cut typefaces which suit them much better than the uniformed and slick digitally simulated type reproductions. We can feel how they live and breathe and how the contours let us sense the tool and the meticulous work of the punch cutters behind it. This is equally true for all other publications beyond mass production. Here this only seemingly small ‘difference’ is important for printed matter like a firm’s chronicle or a jubilee brochure, limited editions, exclusive advertising campaigns etc. Not to mention exquisite stationery on quality paper.

Among the very few printing offices in Germany that are devoted to precise craftmanship, ie ‘lead’ and letterpress printing, the Offizin Haag-Drugulin holds an outstanding position. It is indebted to a series of fortunate circum­stances. Looking back on its one hundred and eighty year old printing history, the most important fact is that over the time everybody who was responsible for the well being of the firm was rooted wholeheartedly in their profession. Since its founding each one of them carried on the house’ philosophy of trusting in the quality of a craft with full conviction and that made the offizin a hoard of type culture and typography. Already in 1835 the first typespecimen book showed faces of the most renowned German punch cutters amongst it many by J. G. Justus Erich Walbaum. The collection was enlarged continuously. It became truely international. Typefaces and matrices from the Netherlands, from England and France were added.

Also alphabets of prominent punch cutters, or the far-famed typeface ‘Janson’ by Nicholas Kis, were included. During the first half of the twentieth century innovative designs of contemporary type designers like Lucian Bernhard, Rudolf Koch, Paul Renner, F. H. Ernst Schneidler, Walter Tiemann and Emil Rudolf Weiß were added to the collection.

Even during the time of the communistic regime in East Germany (GDR) the Offizin provided for new type designs, traditional metal faces were also preserved. In 1988, shortly before the German reunification, the Offizin published a typefacespecimen, a book with almost 700 pages. It lists rarities that hardly can be found anymore. Many of them in the original casting, like the unique Bessemer capitals, do not exist anywhere else.

Additionally there is a great number of blackletter, ie fraktur types, eg ‘Breitkopf-’, ‘Claudius-’, ‘Unger-’ and ‘Luthersche Fraktur’ or ‘Fleischmann-’ and ‘Tiemann Gothic’ to name but a few. These are truely wonderful alphabets of a richness and variety in form which we can regard today without prejudice, thanks to the distance to a regime that miscredited them politically.

In 1992 this treasure house was again considerably enriched when the Munich printing office of SchumacherGebler took over the East German Offizin Haag-Drugulin, adding its own types. The ‘Bavarian type catalogue’ was hardly less bulky. It listed many post-war typefaces of West German typefoundries which were not available in the GDR. Thus both type stocks supplemented each other ideally. Together they represent a cultural heritage that presumably does not exist a second time in the world. The Offizin reflects a splendid creative period, unique in the twentieth century. During those times German typefoundries gained an extraordinary position in the world due to technical and artistic achievements. This we owe to a generation of exceptional artist personalities, who with almost boundless imagination and with an abundance of ideas created a magnificent variety of alphabetical forms.

However, the West German hand-set types were only a part of the ‘Munich dowry’. Indeed it were the vast stocks of Monotype matrices that proofed to be of immense value concerning future tasks of a letterpress printing office and which now also were integrated into the Offizin Haag-Drugulin. The Monotype system was not unknown in the Offizin. Quite a while before World War II the Offizin had acquired Monotype facilities, but mainly only book types and ‘bread and butter’ types for daily job printing.

Yet the situation at SchumacherGebler’s printing shop in Munich was quite different. Clients came mainly from advertising agencies and their choice of type was different. They looked always for the exceptional, the new, the unknown typefaces. At those times also photo-composition came into being and competed internally with the already existing in-house Monotype system.

The Monotype typesetters and typecasters were still new and had not yet paid for themselves. The only possibility to use them economically in the future for the type studio, seemed to be to broaden the offer: including unfamiliar typefaces or such which did not exist in photo-typesetting. Second-hand sets of matrices – everything else would not have made sense economically – were easy to buy, espe­cially from big printing companies that had installed a Monotype system and now changed over to photo-compo­sition. Altogether there were about a good dozen of these big firms, amongst them well-known names like William Clowes in England and in Germany Brügel, Oldenbourg, Passavia, Stulle or Tempelhof. In addition to these acqui­sitions, SchumacherGebler retrieved a stock of Monotype matrices from the Monotype Printing Department in England. The range of illustrious types was astonishing. Although the types were designed by internationally recog­nized type designers, some of them were never or very seldomly used in Germany. To mention only a few of these retraced typefaces: ‘Barbou’, ‘Bulmer’, ‘Centaur’, ‘Fontana’, ‘Imprint’, ‘Lutetia’, ‘Perpetua’, ‘Romulus’, ‘Spectrum’, ‘Van Dijck’ and besides a series of classical blackletter types, also ‘Antigone’ and the ‘New Hellenic Greek’.

Now the renowned German typedesigner as represented in the Offizin enjoyed good company: international colleagues like Morris Fuller Benton, Adrian Frutiger, Eric Gill, Frederic William Goudy, Jan van Krimpen, Giovanni Mardersteig, William Martin, Bruce Rogers and many others.

Contrary to hot-metal printing types, showing a raised reversed image, one cannot print from matrices, as in this case the type image is punched into metal and the matrix shows the letter in the right reading way. Matrices are in combination with the mould of a casting instrument or a casting machine the forme to produce types. It is thus possi­ble to cast as many letters as are requested; the metal is an alloy of lead, antimon and tin.

Let us now come to a central theme: the durability of types. At all times printers complained how quickly lead types show signs of wear and tear. Naturally, quality letterpress printing depends mainly on newly cast letters with sharp contours. But when in the past, printers were obliged to renew their stock of typefaces more often than they liked, they at least had the chance to buy new type material from the foundries. But what to do when the latter have disap­peared almost completely from the scene? Hence it followed: without a well equiped Monotype department (with all its necessary machines and devices, like the indispensible matrices for casting innumerable, beautiful new typefaces) the positioning of the Offizin Haag-Drugulin within a highly skilled craft would not have been possible. The Monotype system was invented and intro­duced in 1897 by Tolbert Lanston, an American full of ideas. It is a wondrous technical accomplishment. Mono­type typesetters and typecasters produce copy text as single letters, but also cast hand-set types for the typecase from 5 to 72 points in perfect typographical quality.

Still, the described typographical variety has its pros and cons. Today more than thousands of types in various sizes can be burned as digital fonts onto a CD-ROM – easy to put in your pocket. Whereas the real, touchable letters not only need their own typecases, but even one for each type size. The treasure of metal types is heavy, hard to move and needs a lot of space. Therefore some call the digital version and the heavyweight ‘originals’ antipodes, or the ‘fast’ and the ‘heavy’ or simply ‘cool’ and ‘hot’.

The almost endless type alleys are stacked with frames in the composition rooms of the Offizin Haag-Drugulin. One of these frames contains approximately twenty typecases, one above the other. Bigger frames have often twice as many cases; they are broader and are divided up for ‘bread and butter’ type sizes for copy text and next to it the undivided and smaller cabinet cases for display type sizes. In addition to this there are many storage shelves with various racks for drawers that keep the matrices plus all the spacing material as well as many other items necesssary to a type shop. If all typecases and drawers from the altogether 255 shelves are put side by side – one would count c. 6,800 items – half a soccer field would not suffice. Or put it differently: all shelves piled up would build a tower of 284 meters, almost equalling the Tour Eiffel which in 1889 at the World Expo­sition measured 300 meters and was considered the highest building in the world.

We know: lead is heavy. So altogether – types, standing type, spacing material, stocks, also the metal used in pro­duction, but without the machines and matrices – adds up to 220 tons. That is twice as much as a steam locomotive for older German fast trains of the series 01. When confronted with such number games visitors ask questions like: ‘How many letters are in all those typecases?’ Admittedly, no one ever has counted them. But we estimate that it must be easily about 20 to 25 millions. Even the number of Mono­type matrices surpasses a million. Alone 950,000 matrices are needed for copy text typesetting and about 180,000 matrices for casting single letters.

All the different type weights and type sizes that can be cast at the Offizin Haag-Drugulin are listed on this website. The most important ones are shown on these pages. A few presently non-available sizes of single matrices (but which are considered suitable as supplementary sizes) are underlined in orange colour. If you are interested or have other type or printing questions, please contact us.

In the font section (‘Schriften’) we deliberately have limited the choice of Monotype faces. There are two reasons.

Firstly, most of our commissions for type setting and letterpress printing – artist’s books including original artists’ prints in limited editions, also books without illustrations – have a volume that demands a production with a typesetting machine. Orders with a small text quantity are more economically set by hand. This can be done also with Monotype faces.

Secondly, all other types are rare foundry types. And, it is quite a while since they were acquired from foundries. So it’s no wonder that the condition they are in is not the best. As it is impossible to replace them, we hope you understand that they are the apple of our eyes and jealously guarded. They are used only for very outstandings jobs. In those cases we offer our above mentioned typespecimen books as a working basis.

Finally, of course, freshly cast letters are not the one and only solution in quality typesetting. For a high printing quality it is equally important that all parts within the whole printing forme appear evenly printed. To recognize unwanted technical tolerances and to smooth them out with the help of flimsy tissue paper is one of the printer’s most difficult tasks; clearly these artisans have their own opinion about how to do this. To avoid this subjective judgement the Offizin uses an almost unknown Swiss patent. Possibly Haag-Drugulin is the only printing shop that possesses this remarkable invention. It works like this: at first, the condition of the printing forme is measured mechanically. Then a high precision-machine removes the differences up to one hundredth millimeter. What a pity that this efficient method was invented only at the end of the letterpress printing era!

Translation: Yvonne Schwemer-Scheddin