The American Type Founders Company
The American Type Founders Co. was initially formed in the merging of 23 American foundries in 1892. The success of this alliance can be credited primarily to three firms—Benton and Waldo of Milwaukee, the Cincinnati Type Foundry, and MacKellar, Smiths, & Jordan of Philadelphia. From these three firms ATF gained proprietary access to Henry Barth’s automatic casting machine, Linn Boyd Benton’s matrix engraving machine, and the infrastructure and resources of MS&J.
It was the ingenuity of Robert W. Nelson, ATF’s first president in 1895, to realize the benefits of using Barth and Benton’s machines to standardize a system in type production. Despite the increasing competition from machine composition throughout the early decades of the trust ATF flourished and expanded it’s range of type founding products, incorporated a press manufacturing department, Kelly Presses, and a wide range of printing plant equipment.
In 1926 Robert W. Nelson died, and the following stock markets crash in 1929 would begin the decline of the ATF Empire. The company was forced to file for bankruptcy in 1933, selling the Jersey City plant and moving to the Kelly Press building in Elizabeth New Jersey. Those who formed the trust were benevolent to their employees and managed to avoid having to layoff essential personnel by creating an alternate workweek. The crushing blow for the trust came in 1948 when Morris Fuller Benton died, ending the direct line of command that had been intact to some degree since the forming of the trust more than 50 years prior. Lacking strong leadership and direction the company underwent a power shift from the matrix department to the castors, while the real power moved to the sales department.
Over the next 45 years the company would become, once again, a cloistered insular plant that rented a floor from a pharmaceutical company that owned the Kelly Press building. The refusal of management and the union to allow new employees to learn the skills needed to continue the craft eventually left the once powerful company crippled from lack of new blood. Along with the string of management companies that took what little they could from ATF and left it, and several disastrous business moves, such as the acquisition of Lanston Monotype in 1966, continued the decline. The final step in the long history of ATF’s fall was when Kingsley Machine Co. purchased the company in 1986. Kingsley would successfully bring ATF to its knees over the next 7 years through mismanagement and blatant faulty book keeping. At the time of the liquidation auction it came about that the company had not paid their rent in over a year. And on April 21st 1993 the remaining employees received notice that Friday April 23rd the doors of American Type Founders & Co. would close.
For a detailed account of the ATF liquidation auction Greg Walters Auction of the Century is an excellent account of the proceedings. Theo Rehaks The Fall of ATF; A Serio-Comedic Tragedy is the a must read for a more in depth history of the foundry, and Practical Type Casting is the authoritative text on the development and history of type casting over the last 150 years.
The Dale Guild
In 1974 Theo Rehak was among the founding members of The Dale Guild Society for Medieval Arts and Crafts, a William Morris influenced craft guild. At that time the guild needed a printer, a discipline that Theo would take on. Wanting to be able to reproduce the printing of Morris’s Kelmscott Press, Theo would track down first Elizabeth M. Harris of the Smithsonian to gain access to Barnhart Brothers and Spindler’s Tell Text Matrices, a copy of Morris’s Troy. Over the coming years Theo would learn to cast type on an OA Lanston Sorts Caster from Pat Taylor.
By 1980 Theo had begun to experiment with matrix engraving work using a friends Gorton Engraving machine. During a visit to American Type Founders to pick up an order Theo showed George Gasparik the 14 pt. matrix he had made. Gasparik offered Theo a chance to “learn how to make ours…” since the senior Benton engraver was nearing retirement. Working under William C. Gregan, Theo would learn the craft of matrix cutting and over the coming years develop skills in nearly all disciplines of type founding, a remarkable accomplishment given the strict division of labor at the foundry. Through the tutelage of the remaining craftsman at ATF, Theo would learn to fit matrices and grow electros from Frank Walsh, preform maintenance and machining from Irving Cahill, and cast type of the finest quality from Edward Harwelik.
With the help of these master craftsman Theo acquired the skills needed to save a portion of type founding for future generations. When the news that ATF was closing came in April 1993, Theo was able to convince Kingsley to hold a liquidation auction for the equipment in the plant. Out of this affair The Dale Guild Type Foundry would be established to continue the tradition of casting “the best type in any case.”