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Forging Fonts Out of Metal


Pay attention kids: this is how it used to be done. Apparently.

Near the harbour in Copenhagen there is a small shop beneath an art suppliers without any signage or indication of its purpose. However, with the door open you will hear the sounds of what we discovered to be a 35 year-old printing press, whirring and clunking. This is Mr Jorgensen’s printers. Mr Jorgensen has been a printer since he was 17 and has continued to use the same machinery and movable metal type on which he learnt his trade.

The shop is a mess. Or at least it looks like a mess, with piles of papers on every surface and cases and cases of metal fonts stacked to the ceiling. However, Mr Jorgensen knows where everything is and what everything is for, so it must be in order. The old printing press is hypnotic when in motion. It sweeps the paper from one side of the machine into its middle, stamping the inked letterpress into it and depositing it safely into a tray. The sound of the old belt motor engulfs the whole shop when it is on, and takes Mr Jorgensen’s attention like a surgeon’s patient.

A type foundry is a company that designs and distributes typefaces. Today, these companies are almost exclusively digital but until 20 years ago the majority of the companies designing, producing and distributing Helvetica and Times New Roman were crafting them from metal and wood. 

After a lifetime of working with his mechanical printing press Mr. Jorgensen has lost some of his hearing and part of his right forefinger. Despite this, he is still able to locate, sort, and set the eight point Helvetica quicker than you might imagine possible. His workshop, it seems, is exactly as it has been for the last 20 years. Beside the 35 year-old printing press, a Sony boom box crackles out some local radio as he points to his dusty typewriter and says, “This is my computer.” Piles of different types of paper and card are stacked throughout, as are drawers of fonts in their multiples of sizes, weights and styles.