From the Archives no. 20—The Cost of Type
Another item from the High School of Graphic Communication Arts library is a copy of the famous type specimen that Bruce Rogers designed for Frederic W. Goudy’s Italian Old Style. Italian Old Style: A New Type Face by Fred W. Goudy and Produced by the Lanston Monotype Machine Company of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: The Lanston Monotype Company, 1924) is more than a showing of Goudy’s typeface or a bravura design performance by Rogers. Careful inspection of its text reveals information on the cost of type in the 1920s that casts light on the cost of fonts today.
“One font each 8 point (9 set), 10 point (10 1/2 set) and 12 point (12 set) composition matrices, roman (243 E) and italic (243 G), in cases at $115 each } $345.00. One font each 14, 18, 24, 30 and 36 point roman (243) display matrices (80 characters per font), 400 matrices at 40 cents each } [$]160.00. One font each 14, 18, 24, 30 and 36 point italic (243 I) display matrices (85 characters per font), 425 matrices at 40 cents each} [$] 170.00.” Thus, for $675 you received matrices for Italian Old Style roman and italic in a range of text and display sizes. But to set type you needed more than matrices. Keybars cost $32.50 each for roman and italic, adding another $65 to the bill. What the type specimen left out was the cost of the Monotype keyboard and caster.
I tried to ﬁnd information on the cost of Monotype machinery in the 1920s with no luck. The closest I could come was a 1914 court case (Lanston Monotype Machine Co. v. Times-Dispatch Co. in the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia) from the Southeastern Reporter vol. 80 which valued the cost of purchasing and installing twelve Monotype machines at $15,000 or $1250 apiece. The machine (keyboard and caster) represented the bulk of that cost, probably $1000 or so. That cost would have been more in 1924 if composition machines rose in price along with the overall price of consumer goods. Consumer goods nearly doubled in those years according to research from the St. Louis branch of the Federal Reserve. Thus, the the cost of Italian Old Style in 1924 was $2740 for machinery and matrices. Taking into account inflation since 1924 that cost today would be $68,146 ($16,946 for the matrices alone)!
Of course the cost of additional typefaces would be cheaper once the Monotype machine was purchased. In today’s terms, the Monotype machine is equivalent to the personal computer and design software while the matrices are equivalent to fonts (using today’s deﬁnition of the term).
But what do you get for your $16,946? You only get a typeface in a limited number of sizes. Notice that there is no size smaller than 8 pt offered, nor is there a 9 pt size. And the display sizes stop at 36 pt. Today, Adobe sells Monotype Italian Old Style roman and italic for a total of $58. Quite a bargain.