Type Fount Proportions

An excerpt from the Brit­ish Print­er explain­ing research into type synopses

This art­icle is from the Brit­ish Print­er magazine of 1961.  The research was con­duc­ted for PATRA: The Print­ing and Allied Trades’ Research Association.

The pro­por­tions of char­ac­ters mak­ing up a fount of type should be such that by the time one char­ac­ter is exhausted as little as pos­sible of the oth­ers remains in the case. A fur­ther require­ment is that any char­ac­ter in the fount has the same chance of being exhausted first and still leave a nearly empty case. If this is achieved then the print­er will effect sav­ings in the amount of type stocked in the cases and also in the expens­ive reorder­ing of indi­vidu­al char­ac­ters to make up his defi­cien­cies. This art­icle presents the res­ults of the first sys­tem­at­ic study of type fount pro­por­tions and a new scheme is pro­posed which it is believed will ful­fil the above require­ments, as far as it is practicable.

Such a study may seem a little belated, but hand-set work still remains an import­ant part of print­ing. It is estim­ated, for example, that the fount schemes pro­posed in this art­icle will effect at least a 10 per cent sav­ing of dead met­al in the case which to the industry rep­res­ents many thou­sands of tons of type met­al. Fur­ther­more, as the kind of work which is now hand-set has become some­what sta­bil­ised the fount pro­por­tions pro­posed should remain effect­ive for many years to come.

The ori­gin of type fount pro­por­tions, even in recent times, is rather obscure and this seems largely because the respons­ib­il­ity for sup­ply is con­fined to rel­at­ively few people. It is cer­tain, how­ever, that as early as the begin­ning of the six­teenth cen­tury some account was being taken of the vari­ation in usage of the vari­ous char­ac­ters since the most fre­quently used char­ac­ters were placed at the front of the case. A more pos­it­ive example is giv­en by Mox­on’s lower­case, which appeared in 1683, and which has remained vir­tu­ally unchanged to this day. The lay of this case is such that the volume of the type com­part­ments is roughly pro­por­tion­al to the fre­quency of usage.

Some of the books on print­ing which were pro­duced in the nine­teenth cen­tury con­tain tables of bills of founts, but unfor­tu­nately they rarely men­tion how these pro­por­tions were determ­ined. It is true that the only sat­is­fact­ory way in which to arrive at suit­able pro­por­tions is to count the fre­quency of occur­rence of char­ac­ters in a piece of work that has been hand-set. Pre­sum­ably most of them were determ­ined in this way but without a know­ledge of the nature of the work chosen, the valid­ity of the res­ults can­not be judged. One of the few records that do exist of a count illus­trates this point. The count, which is attrib­uted to the Caslon Foundry, was made by enu­mer­at­ing the num­ber of let­ters used in set­ting a lengthy debate in the House of Com­mons where it was assumed that ‘the best and most com­pre­hens­ive Eng­lish would be spoken’. The valid­ity of this count can be ques­tioned on two points, firstly that the fre­quen­cies of the spoken word vary from the writ­ten word and, secondly, the sample was not typ­ic­al of the Eng­lish being set at that time.

It is recor­ded that ‘the pro­por­tions of almost every typefounder failed lam­ent­ably to give sat­is­fac­tion’. Such fail­ures seem partly due to the use of biased samples on which to base the pro­por­tions and partly to the fact that, at a time when all the work was hand-set, small vari­ations in the style of the work would have a large effect on the char­ac­ters required. The work of Dick­ens, for example, would quickly empty the case of vow­els, where­as Macaulay’s style had a sim­il­ar effect on con­son­ants. No fount pro­por­tion scheme could reas­on­ably be expec­ted to cope with that type of variation.

At the present time the copy that is hand-set from roman and ital­ic types may be broadly classed as job­bing work, and it gives rise to rather dif­fer­ent prob­lems than those facing the old typefounder. This change in the char­ac­ter of the work, which was brought about by the wide­spread use of type­set­ting machines, has led typefounders to modi­fy the old pro­por­tions by ‘exper­i­ence’ in order ‘to meet the needs of the cus­tom­er’. It might be expec­ted that since most typefounders are cater­ing for the same type of work their exper­i­ence would have led them to the same pro­por­tions. In fact, for some char­ac­ters there are wide vari­ations between the vari­ous pro­por­tion schemes in use today.

It should be noted at this stage that the present work was not under­taken as an aca­dem­ic exer­cise but the need for it was sug­ges­ted by a typefounder. Sub­sequent enquir­ies amongst print­ers con­firmed this and their main com­plaint was that cur­rently used pro­por­tions gave rise to short­ages of the most com­monly used char­ac­ters (in par­tic­u­lar, e, r, s and t) while the least used char­ac­ters built-up in the case. The reas­on for this hap­pen­ing will become appar­ent later.

Before the main res­ults are dis­cussed it is essen­tial to real­ise the main types of vari­ation that will affect the type pro­por­tions required to set a piece of job­bing work. There are three of these:

  1. Work-type Vari­ation
    Hol­i­day bro­chures provide a good example of work-type vari­ation since in these a con­sist­ent part of the hand-set work are the names of hotels. Con­sequently, the fre­quent occur­rence of the word ‘HOTEL’ means that a high­er pro­por­tion of the char­ac­ters H, O, T, E, and L will be required than is nor­mally found. This type of vari­ation is inher­ent in the work.
  2. Job Vari­ation
    A par­ish magazine, for example, nor­mally con­tains a large num­ber of dis­played advert­ise­ments for the par­tic­u­lar town it serves. The fre­quent occur­rence of the town’s name will again upset the nor­mal pro­por­tions of char­ac­ters. This vari­ation is inher­ent in the job, rather than the type of work, as the char­ac­ters most ser­i­ously affected will vary from town to town, ie from job to job. Fur­ther­more, with this type of vari­ation if a num­ber of such jobs are under­taken for dif­fer­ent towns then the like­li­hood of upset­ting the nor­mal pro­por­tions is reduced. On the oth­er hand, with work-type vari­ation the pro­por­tions become more ser­i­ously affected as more jobs of the same type are undertaken.
  3. Sampling Vari­ation
    The two types of vari­ation denned above will upset any fount pro­por­tion scheme and this fact must be recog­nised by print­ers and catered for by sep­ar­ately order­ing more of the char­ac­ters affected. There is, how­ever, a third type of vari­ation which is always present and must be taken into account to the fount pro­por­tion scheme itself, This is called ‘sampling’ vari­ation and because of its import­ance it is dis­cussed in detail.

The found­a­tion of any type fount scheme is that char­ac­ters occur in fixed pro­por­tions, but the essen­tial point is that the pro­por­tions can only be con­sidered as fixed for a large num­ber of characters.

To illus­trate this state­ment, sup­pose that a piece of set­ting con­sists of 100 lines and each line has 50 lower­case let­ters. If there is no work-type or job vari­ation present then about 200 d’s would be used in the set­ting. This is 4 per cent of the lower­case alpha­bet which is the nor­mal pro­por­tion for d, that is, what is expec­ted to occur in a large sample of char­ac­ters such as the 5000 used in this sup­posed set­ting. If each of the 100 lines is now taken sep­ar­ately as small samples of 50 char­ac­ters then there will not be 4 per cent, or two d’s in each line. There will be a num­ber of lines that do not con­tain any d’s and it is quite pos­sible that one line will con­tain as many as sev­en or eight. This illus­trates sampling vari­ation and shows that if only small amounts are set then a wide vari­ation in usage is expected.

Refer­ring still to the above example, if the occur­rence of a d‑and the same can be argued for any char­ac­ter — is a purely ran­dom pro­cess then the prob­ab­il­ity of obtain­ing 0, 1, 2 etc of them in any of the lines is giv­en by the 1st, 2nd, 3rd … terms of the bino­mi­al expan­sion (0.04+0.96)50. The res­ults of this cal­cu­la­tion are shown graph­ic­ally by the full line in Fig­ure 1, where it can be seen that with 100 lines some 13 would be expec­ted to have no d’s, 27 have one d, 27 have two d’s and so on. The dot­ted line in Fig­ure 1 shows the prob­ab­il­it­ies for samples of 25 char­ac­ters, and the curve becomes more dis­tor­ted and shows that the chance of get­ting a wider vari­ation from the expec­ted one d increases. Con­versely, as the size of the sample is increased, so the curve becomes more sym­met­ric­al with its peak over the true pro­por­tion and the spread of the curve (the vari­ation) get­ting smal­ler. A fur­ther fact, which is not Illus­trated here, is that a char­ac­ter such as e, which has a high­er pro­por­tion­al occur­rence (13.4 per cent) will have a tower per­cent­age vari­ation for the same sample size. The value of these cal­cu­la­tions to this study is that for a fount of a giv­en size the num­ber that is likely to occur for each be found.

The cal­cu­la­tions are based, how­ever, on the assump­tion that the occur­rence of a char­ac­ter is a ran­dom pro­cess that is, its occur­rence is inde­pend­ent of the char­ac­ters pre­vi­ously set. This is clearly not the case when it is known that for 58 per cent of the times that d occurs r does so after n or e and that it does not nor­mally fol­low let­ters such as c, h and j. In order to determ­ine how this depend­ency would affect the cal­cu­la­tions, a num­ber of tests were car­ried out and it was found that for the present pur­pose of type fount pro­por­tions, the effect would be neg­li­gible. This means that the stat­ist­ic­al mod­el out­lined above can be used to pre­dict what vari­ation is expec­ted to occur under vari­ous cir­cum­stances and so place type fount pro­por­tions on a more pre­cise basis than has hitherto been possible.

As men­tioned earli­er, the only way is which it is pos­sible to determ­ine the pro­por­tion of char­ac­ters is by count­ing their occur­rence and using this to pre­dict future require­ments. It is import­ant when mak­ing a count to select samples of work which truly rep­res­ent the type of work being hand-set at the present time and so reduce the num­ber of char­ac­ters to be coun­ted to a reas­on­able level.

To devel­op the new scheme samples of hand-set work were obtained from twenty-five ran­domly-selec­ted print­ing firms, which included job­bing print­ers, magazine print­ers and a pro­vin­cial news­pa­per. In all, 92,000 char­ac­ters (exclud­ing spaces) were coun­ted from 350 sep­ar­ate jobs. In order that job and work-type vari­ations could be examined more closely these items of work were regrouped into eighty-eight classes con­tain­ing jobs of a very sim­il­ar nature and fur­ther regrouped into fif­teen broad classes of work. These fif­teen work-type groups included forms, enter­tain­ment hand­bills, and a vari­ety of dis­played advert­ise­ments spe­cif­ic to vari­ous sub­jects such as motor­ing, office equip­ment, chem­ic­al engin­eer­ing and shop ser­vices. The char­ac­ters were also sub­divided into com­pos­i­tion and dis­play sizes, the lat­ter being char­ac­ters of 14 pt and above.

Clearly, if an exam­in­a­tion of the vari­ous items of work showed great dif­fer­ences from one anoth­er, there would be no value in alter­ing the cur­rently used pro­por­tions. It so happened, how­ever, that sampling vari­ation was the vari­ation of greatest import­ance. Oth­er types of vari­ation did occur infre­quently as expec­ted: for example, with lower­case a, two jobs that were found to show oth­er vari­ations were a dan­cing academy pro­spect­us and a bal­let pro­gramme. Some vari­ations were not quite so obvi­ous, such as the work-type vari­ation shown by lower­case b which was not found so fre­quently as expec­ted in dis­played advert­ise­ments for shop ser­vices. The gen­er­al remits of this work do show, how­ever, that a type fount scheme which would suit most print­ers is entirely practicable.

The basis of the new scheme is the stat­ist­ic­al mod­el pre­vi­ously dis­cussed. Simply inter­preted this means that the less fre­quently used char­ac­ters need to be strengthened more than the com­monly occult­ing ones and the exact amount of strength­en­ing can be determ­ined math­em­at­ic­ally. The cur­rently used schemes also strengthen the less fre­quently used char­ac­ters but they do so irre­spect­ive of the size of the fount and this pro­duces excesses of these char­ac­ters. By real­ising that when the size of the fount is increased the pro­por­tions should get closer to the actu­al pro­por­tions found from the count­ing the scheme pro­posed here will meet require­ments of type fount pro­por­tions out­lined in the intro­duc­tion. An abridged ver­sion of the new founts, togeth­er with the actu­al pro­por­tions found is giv­en in Table I for both lower­case and cap­it­als. Table II shows the actu­al pro­por­tions found for fig­ures and points.

Sort % Found Size of Fount
a 8.1 10 20 30 40 50 75 100 150
b 1.3 3 5 7 9 11 16 21 29
c 3.4 5 10 15 19 24 36 48 67
d 4.1 6 12 17 22 28 41 56 80
e 13.4 15 30 46 63 80 119 160 236
f 1.5 3 5 8 10 12 18 23 33
g 1.7 3 6 9 11 13 20 26 37
h 3.3 5 10 15 19 23 34 46 67
i 6.7 9 18 26 35 43 62 86 125
j 0.1 2 4 5 6 6 6 6 6
k 0.7 3 5 6 6 7 10 13 18
l 4.9 7 14 20 26 32 48 65 93
m 2.3 4 8 11 14 17 25 34 48
n 7.7 10 20 29 38 48 71 96 141
o 8.3 10 20 30 40 50 75 102 151
p 2.3 4 8 11 14 17 24 34 47
q 0.2 3 4 5 6 6 6 6 8
r 7.9 10 20 29 39 49 72 98 146
s 6.9 9 18 25 34 43 62 86 124
t 7.7 10 20 29 39 49 71 98 142
u 3.1 5 10 14 18 22 32 44 62
v 0.9 3 5 6 7 8 11 15 22
w 1 3 5 6 8 9 12 17 24
x 0.2 3 4 5 6 6 6 6 9
y 2 4 8 10 13 16 22 31 46
z 0.1 2 3 4 5 6 6 6 6
ff 0.1 2 3 4 4 6 6 6 6
fi 0.1 2 3 4 4 6 6 6 6
fl 0.05 2 3 3 4 5 6 6 6
ffi 0.05 2 3 3 4 5 6 6 6
ffl 0 1 2 2 3 5 6 6 6
Sort % Found Size of Fount
A 7.5 10 20 30 40 50 75 100 150
B 2 4 7 10 14 17 25 33 46
C 5 7 14 21 28 35 53 70 104
D 4.4 7 13 19 26 32 45 65 90
E 1.1 13 26 38 52 65 98 134 188
F 2.1 4 8 11 14 17 26 34 44
G 2.3 4 8 12 16 19 27 36 51
H 3.3 6 11 15 20 25 37 50 70
I 5.9 8 16 24 32 40 60 81 117
J 0.5 3 4 6 7 7 8 11 16
K 0.7 3 5 7 8 8 11 14 20
L 5.3 8 15 22 30 37 55 74 109
M 3.4 6 11 16 21 26 38 50 72
N 6.9 9 19 28 38 47 69 94 136
O 6.7 8 18 27 36 45 68 92 132
P 3.2 5 10 15 20 24 36 48 68
Q 0.3 3 4 6 6 6 6 7 10
R 7.3 10 20 29 39 49 72 98 145
S 8 10 21 31 42 53 79 107 161
T 7.9 10 21 31 42 53 79 107 161
U 2.4 4 8 12 16 19 28 37 53
V 1.1 3 5 7 9 11 16 20 25
W 2.1 4 8 11 14 17 25 34 44
X 0.2 3 4 5 6 6 6 6 9
Y 1.5 3 6 8 12 14 19 26 38
Z 0.1 3 4 5 6 6 6 6 6
Fig­ures, etc. % Points, etc. %
1 8.4 . 29
2 4.6 , 14.5
3 3.5 : 3.3
4 2.7 ; 0.2
5 3.4 3.2
6 3.2 - 3.9
7 2.2 ? 0.3
8 1.8 ! 0.2
9 3.3 & 1.4
0 6.4 ( 3.4
� 1.1 Total 100

Table I is based on com­pos­i­tion sizes but com­par­is­on of these pro­por­tions with those obtained for dis­play sizes showed that there was little jus­ti­fic­a­tion for sug­gest­ing sep­ar­ate pro­por­tions for the two groups. The main dif­fer­ences found were that cap­it­als I and L occurred rather more fre­quently in the dis­play sizes.

The quant­ity of type ordered from a typefounder var­ies con­sid­er­ably; it may be a five-pound fount for a spe­cial job or it may be suf­fi­cient to fill a case. So that the print­er will get the max­im­um bene­fit from the new founts two pro­por­tion tables have been pre­pared. For orders less than the equi­val­ent of 160a or I60A, which con­tain few­er than 2,000 char­ac­ters a ‘pre­lim­in­ary fount’ is used which is the weighted sys­tem shown in Table I. For orders exceed­ing this quant­ity, and where the effects of sampling vari­ation become small, the type is sup­plied from a ‘con­tinu­ation fount’ in which the num­ber of char­ac­ters are in dir­ect pro­por­tion to those found from the count­ing. This refine­ment, which has again been devised to give a more uni­form usage from the case, will not com­plic­ate the order­ing of type from the point of view of the printer.

Anoth­er aspect stud­ied was the ratio of the num­ber of lower­case char­ac­ters to the num­ber of cap­it­als in a com­plete fount. At present a 5lb fount of job­bing type con­tains 2½ lb of lower­case and 2½ lb of cap­it­als, fig­ures and points. This weight rela­tion­ship auto­mat­ic­ally fixes the numer­ic­al ratio and those in cur­rent use have about 1.9 lower­case for every cap­it­al. It was found, how­ever, that a ratio of 1.5 lower­case to one cap­it­al would bet­ter suit the major­ity of print­ers and to achieve this future founts would have to be made up of 2¼ lb of lower­case and 2¾ lb of cap­it­als, fig­ures and points. Oth­er ratios incor­por­ated into the new scheme are that the most suit­able ratio for cap­it­als to fig­ures and points is 3.8 to 1 and that of points to fig­ures is 1.5 to 1. The lat­ter two ratios do vary con­sid­er­ably with the size of the type and those sug­ges­ted here are again the ones that would suit most printers.

There were many oth­er aspects of this work which had to be dis­cussed and stud­ied but because of their lim­ited interest they are not men­tioned here. Nev­er­the­less they were import­ant in order to make the new scheme eas­ily work­able for the typefounder and also accept­able to the type user.

As quite a few firms carry out hand-set­ting and cor­rect­ing of machine-set work from the same case it was neces­sary to make a fur­ther study in order to determ­ine wheth­er the fount scheme above would be quickly upset by such a prac­tice. In oth­er words, are the pro­por­tions obtained for hand-set­ting founts suit­able for cor­rec­tions founts? Elev­en main reas­ons for cor­rec­tions were lis­ted and while some of these (bat­ters, miss­ing words, wrong fount, etc) would require pro­por­tions almost identic­al to those found for job­bing work, there were oth­ers which depended on the human ele­ment and machine cap­ab­il­it­ies. Because of the lat­ter, no pre­cise pro­por­tions are pos­sible and the require­ments will vary from firm to firm accord­ing to the abil­ity of the oper­at­ors and the type of work being pro­duced. One major require­ment of a cor­rec­tions fount is that it must be of such a size as to with­stand sud­den demands made upon it as are called for by repeated mis-spelling of a word, a dirty mat­rix, or the replace­ment of one of the alpha­bet in the die-case by a more fre­quently occur­ring sort. If this require­ment is met, then, from counts of the fre­quency of occur­rence of char­ac­ters requir­ing cor­rec­tions the hand-set scheme pro­duced here will prove to be quite sat­is­fact­ory under most circumstances.

For sug­gest­ing the prob­lem and provid­ing ini­tial evid­ence of its exist­ence, I am grate­ful to Messrs San­type Lim­ited. I wish espe­cially to thank their former Man­aging Dir­ect­or, H. F. W. Cory, for his valu­able help on the prac­tic­al prob­lems asso­ci­ated with the work.

This art­icle from the Brit­ish Print­er magazine dur­ing 1961