Hot Metal

Cleaning out a few drawers the other day, I came across four pieces of metal that were “cuts” used for newspaper illustrations. In fact, they were used on OpEd pages that I art directed in 1974 at The New York Times, just a few years before the paper switched over from metal (Linotype and Ludlow) to photo-composition (Harris), which eventually was ditched altogether. The firm little cuts got me thinking that type and printing materials have always had sexual connotations.

Hot metal has two obvious meanings. But matrix: The letterpunch is used to strike a blank die of soft metal to make a negative letter mold, called a matrix. And matrix is an enclosure within which something originates or develops (from the Latin for womb); Reproducing has a very overt implication. Then, of course, the impression of hot metal type on a piece of paper is called a “kiss.”

Type founders and printers had dirty hands, but dirty minds?