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.

LOWERCASE FOUNTS
Sort% FoundSize of Fount
a8.1102030405075100150
b1.3357911162129
c3.4510151924364867
d4.1612172228415680
e13.41530466380119160236
f1.53581012182333
g1.73691113202637
h3.3510151923344667
i6.79182635436286125
j0.124566666
k0.735667101318
l4.9714202632486593
m2.348111417253448
n7.710202938487196141
o8.3102030405075102151
p2.348111417243447
q0.234566668
r7.910202939497298146
s6.99182534436286124
t7.710202939497198142
u3.1510141822324462
v0.935678111522
w135689121724
x0.234566669
y248101316223146
z0.123456666
ff0.123446666
fi0.123446666
fl0.0523345666
ffi0.0523345666
ffl012235666
CAP FOUNTS
Sort% FoundSize of Fount
A7.5102030405075100150
B247101417253346
C57142128355370104
D4.4713192632456590
E1.1132638526598134188
F2.148111417263444
G2.348121619273651
H3.3611152025375070
I5.98162432406081117
J0.53467781116
K0.735788111420
L5.38152230375574109
M3.4611162126385072
N6.99192838476994136
O6.78182736456892132
P3.2510152024364868
Q0.3346666710
R7.310202939497298145
S8102131425379107161
T7.9102131425379107161
U2.448121619283753
V1.1357911162025
W2.148111417253444
X0.234566669
Y1.53681214192638
Z0.134566666
ACTUAL PROPORTIONS OF FIGURES AND POINTS
Fig­ures, etc.%Points, etc.%
18.4.29
24.6,14.5
33.5:3.3
42.7;0.2
53.43.2
63.2-3.9
72.2?0.3
81.8!0.2
93.3&1.4
06.4(3.4
�1.1Total100

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