What is a typecast?

by | Sep 9, 2013 | correspondence, fakes | 17 comments

Readers may recall this fascinating piece of correspondence that I recently received.

Its sender, Alan Brignull, assured me that he didn’t mind being identified here. So thank you, Alan, for your package, and I hope my return package has reached you by now. Alan is a printer whose wonderful letterpress work you can see by searching Google Images for “Adanaland.”
In addition to sending me an interesting ’60s article on typewriter typefaces, including proportional ones, Alan contributed this thought-provoking reflection:
Alan explains:

What do typospherians think? Does this count as a typecast? What is a typecast anyway, and what is its purpose? I’ll follow up with some thoughts of my own in a few days. (They can now be found here.)


  1. shordzi

    I think Mr. Brignull's reflexion – the one in his typecast – is very very much to the point. I like his definition of typecast, and the witty way he wraps it up. And I think he really hits a key when referring to the "more human, more personal" touch – there is a lot of nostalgia in our typosphere ways.

    As to the second contribution: I am pleasantly surprised by the printed longhand, but intuitively wouldn't count this as a typecast.

  2. Richard P

    To clarify: the second contribution (which appears on the reverse of the first) is not typed, it's handwritten. In the handwritten contribution, Alan is explaining the nature of the apparently typewritten (actually printed) text. I wonder whether readers think that the faux-typewritten-actually-printed-and-now-scanned text counts as a typecast.

    Alles klar?

  3. Rudra

    I would count it as semi-typecast for the following reasons:

    1. It was printed directly to paper using a metal type and ink.

    2. There is no scope for going back via backspace/delete option.

    3. The entire process should be 90% mechanical and 10% digital.

    4. Since the typewriter was not used, it does not fully qualify as a "typecast".

    Typecasting is the mean through which a "typecast" is produced. It involves putting your thoughts directly on the paper using a typewriter, as they come into our minds, and then digitally scanning it and hosting it on the blog. In this entire process, the typewriter plays a central role and that is why, it is called a typecast.

  4. Ted

    I would call it a "printcast", as it was done on a letterpress. However, one could argue that the soul of Typecasting is using an obsolete "printing machine" which uses cast type to print a missive on paper, then the "casting" part, which is to digitize the typed sheet to a digital image file and "cast" it upon the waters of the Internet. One could quibble about type on typebars or cast type slugs that aren't on typebars, or maybe quibble about the inking system, but then you run the risk of excluding machines like Asian typewriters that select type from a shuttle or machines that use an ink roller instead of a ribbon.

    I'm voting "Yes, it's a typecast" (:

  5. shordzi

    Alles klar Herr Kommissar! In this case, I am pleasantly surprised I was fooled by the first text. Looking at it more closely, it looks just like typed on a perfectly aligned typewriter. Still, I would classify it not as a typecast, but as a faux-typecast. It is less about the physical support, but the one-by-one key action. Off-line typing could be a prerequisite. Then again, using a digitized typewriter font to use e.g. in Office Word, to me feels very close to a typecast. But not setting and printing. It is too premeditated. A typecast should be light.

  6. Joe V

    Mr. Brignull's quote is not original, I recall reading it in a recent article about the Typosphere.

  7. Richard P

    I can't find any of the passage online.

  8. Miguel Chávez

    I'm with Ted. This is a proper typecast. I don't really think the method used to create the text is that relevant – after all, a typewriter is, strictly speaking, another evolution of Gutenberg's invention. Both a typed page and a letterpress need to be composed one character at a time, and then transferred to a piece of paper via an inked device. The difference is that, once the letterpress is complete, you can print as many copies of it as you like; but I don't think that, for our purposes, it's that different from the product of a typewriter.

  9. Bill M


  10. Cameron

    I've always thought that "typecast" referred to writing with a typewriter and then scanning the page.

    It all depends on how one interprets the word "type", I suppose. It can be a verb, describing the activity of using a typewriter, or a noun, describing the font, the print. Therefore in the latter case, the above postcard could be considered to be a "typecast".

    But I personally do not consider Alan Brignull's postcard to be a "typecast", per se, because no actual typewriter was used.

    Ultimately, this is all semantics, isn't it?

  11. Mark Adams

    I think a typecast would be more engaging if it were actually sent by postal mail, perhaps among a small group of friends.

    That said, "typecast" is a term like "podcast." The suffix "-cast" indicates a form mass communication (as in broadcast, emphasis on "broad"). "Type" is simply the form.

  12. Ted

    By the by, I love the stamps and the name of his shop: "The Adanaland Waste Paper Manufactory & Repository for Scrap Metal" is an excellent name for a print shop :D

  13. TonysVision

    I like Alan's comment on his joke, as "pre-computer junk mail trickery". And I envy his beautiful handwriting. I'd be handwriting as many letters as typing them if mine was as fine. There you truly have the immediacy we are striving for with our typecasts. Besides that immediacy, typecasts also capture the varying font styles, the quirks of individual typewriters, even the texture of the paper if the imaging is done well – all characteristics that provide interest and relief from the sterility of the computer world. But I am thankful that that world allows us to share our typewritten stuff as typecasts so readily. But what would you call a scanned page of handwriting that was then shared via a blog? Handcasting is something parents do with their babies. Or knitting. Pencasting?

  14. Anonymous

    Thanks, everyone. That page was printed for a booklet on the theme 'Tyepcast' run by a group of letterpress printers for whom the typospheric usage of the word would be unfamiliar. For them, typecasting is casting type, with hot metal in a mould.

    Before computers and photocopiers, typewriter type like this was produced for printing commercial circulars. The recipient would think they had been personally typed just for them when all the time there were thousands of them all the same. Sneaky, eh? Just like the digital letters now which have your name inserted to make you think it's personal.

    Whether it's a typecast or not is up to you. It's all fun with ink and paper, and whether you share it by the internet or the postal system doesn't make a lot of difference.

  15. Rob Bowker

    If it was a typecast, there's little chance you would :-)

  16. Rob Bowker

    I think a typewriter meets all the criteria for a letterpress proofer. Hot-cast, movable type making a direct impression on the paper. That's my conceit, at least. As I found last year when looking into the wonderful world of the Adana, it is surprising how little paraphernalia you can get away with. One curiosity though is that I can set a page of type as digital artwork, have it made into a printer's relief block (a photo etched plastic plate) and printed letterpress. Now, if the font I used was a monospace version of, say, American Typewriter, how would that differ from using a digital font for which there's no hot metal counterpart. Byron II, for example. Very little, I suspect. I suppose it comes down to how many mountains you have to climb in order to get your thoughts down on paper – and then shared. I think that's why I like the word typecast and the way its ambiguity leaves some room for moneuvre.

  17. Anonymous

    Print enthusiasts have the same sort of philosophical debates about 'what is letterpress'. As you say, many people print text from computer-originated photopolymer plates, which may be efficient commercially and allows designs with the computer aesthetic, but for me half the fun is composition with moveable type. It's harder to be up to date, typographically, but who wants to be up to date? Not typosphericals, I'm sure.

    Great blog, by the way, Rob!


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