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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A flong being made, Leipzig, Germany, 1953
A flong being made, Leipzig, Germany, 1953

In relief printing, a flong is a temporary negative mould made of a forme of set type, in order to cast a metal stereotype (or "stereo") which can be used in a rotary press, or in letterpress printing after the type has been broken down for re-use. The process is called stereotyping.

Types of flong

Strictly speaking only moulds of the so called papier-mâché wet process are flongs, but the term was applied more widely to moulds for stereos. The following have been used for moulding type to create stereos:

  • Clay. Invented by a French printer, Gabriel Valleyre in 1730. He pressed the set-up forme in clay or other earthy substance to make a reverse image, and then poured molten copper into the mould. His copies were not very good, due either to the clay he was using, or the softness of the copper.[1]:20 However, the method was later revived, improved, and used by Government Printing Office in Washington.[2]:46 Hoe & Company included a range of plant for use with the process in their 1881 catalogue.[3]
  • Plaster of Paris. Gress was already describing this as an old method that had been displaced by the papier-mâché or paper process in 1909.[4]:25. The plaster process can reproduce finer lines than the paper process, but has the disadvantage that the mould is broken to remove the stereo.[5]:26 This was the process developed by Gad in 1725, where a plaster mould is made of the set-up type.[1]:18 The process was perfected in 1802, but because there were relatively few books that needed repeated print-runs other than bibles or schoolbooks, the process did not come into widespread use for another two decades.[6]:262 The Bank of England printed its notes using stereos from plaster moulds in 1816.[7]:241 Charles Stanhope, 3rd Earl Stanhope had invested a considerable sum of money in developing the process, and he then established and funded a stereotyping plant in London.[2]:63. However it was not a commercial success and faced considerable opposition from the printing trade.[2]:65-66. David noted that it was only with the introduction of the flexible and robust papier-mâché flong in the 1850 that led to the extensive use of stereotyping for novel production.
  • Papier-mâché[note 1] or hot process (also called the wet mat process to distinguish it from the dry mat process). The French printer Claude Genoux is frequently credited with inventing the Papier-mâché process and he was granted a French patent for it in 1828. However, the process was described in a 1696 book in the University of Marburg.[2]:34 In the wet process, a number of layers of paper fastened together by a paste made from a range of ingredients, including glue or gum. The paste could be to the stereotyper's own recipe or a proprietary paste. [4]:29
  • Dry mat, or dry matrix process. Here there is no need to beat the matrix into the page of type, but simple pressure is enough. The pressures needed are quite high[9] and effectively require a hydraulic press. It appears to have been first invented in 1893 by George Eastwood in England, but versions were also produced in Germany in 1894 and in the United States in 1900. Use of the dry mat process was limited as the wet process could provide better quality, but improvements in the dry mats led to their replacing the wet process. By 1946, the dry mat process had completely taken over in newspaper publishing in the United States.[10]:72

The process for making moulds for electrotypes was similar, except that these were made with soft materials such as beeswax or the naturally occurring mineral wax ozokerite.[11]:34 The thin electrotype shells had to be backed with type metal to a depth of 8mm make them robust enough for use.[11]:54

The papier-mâché flong

Partridge describes the papier-mâché process thus: A few sheets of thin paper are soaked in water until soft and then pasted together to form a flong. This flong is beaten into a page of type and dried, thus forming a matrix to receive the molten metal, which, when cooled, becomes an exact duplicate of the type page. A large number of duplicate casts may be made from the same matrix, either in flat form as required for flat-bed presses, or curved to fit the cylinders of rotary presses. [8]:17 The flong was constructed by pasting together two sheets of wetted soft but tough matrix paper and four sheets of strong tissue paper.[8]:17 A rice-straw based tissue paper was used for the side of the flong facing the type.[8]:19 After making up the flong matrix, it can be kept for several days if kept suitably moist by wrapping in a wet blanket for example.

The flong slightly larger than the forme was laid over it and then carefully beaten into the forme of type using a brush with stiff bristles. Many gentle blows were better to fewer strong ones.[8]:31-32 Any hollows in the back of the flong after it was beaten in were filled, either with strawboard or pieces of flong or with a packing compound.[8]:33 The flong was then covered with a sheet of backing paper and moved, still sitting on the forme, to a steam drying table. Here it was covered with four to eight pieces of soft blanket and pressed down to ensure that the flong stayed in contact with the forme while it dried. Drying took six to seven minutes typically, but this depended on the steam pressure.[8]:36

The golden rule for stereotyping was to have cool metal and a hot box to avoid problems with shrinkage cavities on the face of the plate or sinks, where the face of the plate shrank away from the front. Sometimes a casting board was used to slow the cooling at the back of the casting, as this could help to avoid problems due to the flong being a poor conductor. [12]:48-49 Before casting, the casting box was heated. This could be done by ladling hot type metal into it as many as three times and removing the resulting plate. Alternatively, the mould could be gas-heated.

The dry flong was then trimmed, leaving just enough of a margin to go under the gauges in the casting box. These gauges were the pieces of metal, typically an "L" shaped piece and a straight piece to border the sides and bottom of the flong in the casting box. The flong was then place in the casting box and the gauges placed at its sides. The box was closed up, with scrap paper used to form an apron to help funnel the molten type metal into the box.

The type metal mixture used for stereotype plates had from five to ten percent of tin and fifteen percent of antimony, with the balance in lead.[12]:44 The percentage of tin varies with the type of mould as tin makes the cast sharper. Five percent was fine for text letterpress, but ten percent was needed for half-tone blocks.[13]:163

Illustrations of the papier-mâché process

The following illustrations from "Stereotyping and electrotyping etc." (1880) by Frederick J. Wilson show some of the steps in the process of making and using a flong.[5]

Multiple casts

Wheedon stated that a limited number of duplicate casts could be made from one flong.[13]:157-169 However, Partridge states that a large number of duplicate casts may be made from the same matrix.[8]:17 Dalgin states that to his knowledge as many as thirty, and maybe more, plates have been cast from a single flong.[10]:86

Fleishman states that while flongs could make multiple casts, they typically could not be removed and reused. This would seem to be contradicted by Kubler who stated that in 1941, the United States Government Publishing Office in Washington stored over a quarter of a million flongs, and some of those in use were over thirty years old.[2]:331

Etymology of the word flong

Wilson notes that the word flong is an English phonetic form of the French word flan, which is pronounced in almost exactly the same way.[5]:27 The word is attributed both to Claude Genoux who used the word flan in his original patent to describe the papier-mâché matrix, and to James Dellagana, a Swiss stereotyper in London.[1]:40 Apparently, when living in Paris, Dellagana was keen on a pastry, called a flan which was built up of different layers. [5]:27. This is a fairly good description of the way in which the flong is built up, with layers of paper interspersed with paste.

Kubler states that the outside of France and England the general term for a papier-mâché mat was not a flong but a wet mat.[1]:40 However, several technical manuals from the United States use the terms including Kubler himself[2][1] and Partridge,[8] as well as the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics 1929 study of productivity in Newspaper Printing[7]:90.

Further reading

Fleishman provides a thorough and well illustrated explanation of the process in his blog.[14]. Dalgin provides a good overview of the mechanics of newspaper production in the middle of the 20th century, including different methods of reproduction.[10] There are also books on the whole stereotype process such as those by Wilson,[5] Partridge,[8] Hatch and Stewart,[15] and Salade.[11]

In popular culture

On 1 April 1977 The Guardian, a UK newspaper published a seven-page special report on San Serriffe an imaginary island to the North-east of the Seychelles[16] The hoax was full of typographical and printing puns, with town named after different fonts. The indigenous inhabitants were said to be the Flong and their language was ki-flong. The hoax is well described, along with images of the pages in the seven page special report which perpetrated the hoax on the Museum of Hoaxes website.[17] The Guardian followed up in 1978 with parodies of twelve UK and Irish newspapers across ten pages: The SS Guardian, The SS Financial Times, The SS Times, The SS Morning Star, The SS Mirror (half page), The SSun (half page), The SS Daily Express (half page), The SS Daily Mail (half page), The SS Irish Times, The SS Telegraph, The SS Sunday Times, and the News of the SS World.[18] However, this was considered to be less successful than the original.[17] Most of the parody newspapers make some reference to the flong. The San Serriffe hoax is ranked fifth in the top one hundred April Fool's Hoaxes by the Museum of Hoaxes.[19]


  1. ^ Strictly speaking it is not papier-mâché, but this was the name by which the process became known.[8]:16


  1. ^ a b c d e Kubler, George Adolf (1927). A Short History of Stereotyping. New York: Printed by Brooklyn Eagle Commercial Printing Dept. for the Certified Dry Mat Corporation. Archived from the original on 2020-08-31. Retrieved 2020-08-12 – via The Hathi Trust (access may be limited outside the United States).
  2. ^ a b c d e f Kubler, Georga Alfred (1905-04-24). A New History of Stereotyping. New York: Printed by J. J. Little & Ives Co. for the Certified Dry Mat Corporation. Retrieved 2020-08-12 – via The Internet Archive.
  3. ^ R. Hoe & Company (1881). Catalogue of printing presses and printers' materials, lithographic presses, stereotyping and electrotyping machinery, binders' presses and materials. 0: R. Hoe & Company. p. 134. Retrieved 2020-08-12 – via The Internet Archive.CS1 maint: location (link)
  4. ^ a b Gress, Edmund Geiger (1909). The American handbook of printing. New York: Oswald Publishing Company. Retrieved 2020-08-12 – via The Internet Archive.
  5. ^ a b c d e Wilson, Frederick John Farlow (1880). Stereotyping and electrotyping : a guide for the production of plates by the papier machê and plaster processes : with instructions for depositing copper by the battery or by the dynamo machine : also hints on steel and brass facing, etc. London: Wyman and Sons. Retrieved 2020-08-12 – via The Internet Archive.
  6. ^ Altick, Richard Daniel (1998). The English common reader : a social history of the mass reading public, 1800-1900. With a foreword by Johathan Rose (2nd ed.). Columbus: Ohio State University Press. ISBN 0-8142-0793-6. Retrieved 2020-08-16 – via The Internet Archive.
  7. ^ a b Kjaer, Swen (1929). "Productivity of Labor in Newspaper Printing". Bulletin of the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics. Washington: United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (475). Archived from the original on 2019-12-23. Retrieved 2020-08-19.
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h i j Partridge, Charles S. (1909). Stereotyping; a practical treatise of all known methods of stereotyping, with special consideration of the papier maché process; to which is added an appendix giving concise information on questions most frequently overlooked (2nd. Revised and enlarged ed.). Chicago: The Inland Printer. Retrieved 2020-08-12 – via The Internet Archive.
  9. ^ Imperial Type Metal Company, 0 (1927). Type Metal Alloys. New York: Imperial Type Metal Co. p. 33. Archived from the original on 2020-08-31. Retrieved 2020-08-31.CS1 maint: numeric names: authors list (link)
  10. ^ a b c Dalgin, Ben (1946). Advertising Production: A manual on the Mechanics of Newspaper Printing. Retrieved 2020-08-12 – via The Internet Archive.
  11. ^ a b c Salade, Robert F. (1923). Handbook of electrotyping and stereotyping. New York: Oswald Publishing Company. p. 99. Archived from the original on 2020-08-31. Retrieved 2020-08-12 – via The Hathi Trust (access may be limited outside the United States).
  12. ^ a b Fry's Metals Ltd. (1972). Printing Metals (PDF). London: Fry's Metals Ltd. Archived (PDF) from the original on 2016-04-03. Retrieved 2020-08-19.
  13. ^ a b Whetton, Harry, ed. (1946). Practical Printing and Binding. London: Odhams Press Limited. Retrieved 2020-08-12 – via The Internet Archive.
  14. ^ Fleischman, Glenn (2019-04-25). "Flong time, no see: How a paper mold transformed the growth of newspapers". Medium. Archived from the original on 2020-05-19. Retrieved 2020-07-19.
  15. ^ Hatch, Harris B.; Stewart, A. A. (1918). Electrotyping and stereotyping, a primer of information about the processes of electrotyping and stereotyping. Part I. Electrotyping by Harris B. Hatch. Part II. Stereotyping, by A. A. Stewart. Committee on Education, United Typothetae of America. pp. 45–49. Archived from the original on 2020-08-31. Retrieved 2020-08-19 – via The Hathi Trust (access may be limited outside the United States).
  16. ^ "San Serriffe - A Guardian Speical Report". The Guardian (Friday 01 April 1977): 17–23. 1977-04-01. Archived from the original on 2020-08-31. Retrieved 2020-08-19 – via
  17. ^ a b "San Serriffe". The Museum of Hoaxes. Archived from the original on 2020-04-04. Retrieved 2020-08-19.
  18. ^ "Parodies of Ten UK Newspapers Set in San Serriffe". The Guardian (Saturday 01 April 1978): 11–20. 1978-04-01. Archived from the original on 2020-08-31. Retrieved 2020-08-19 – via
  19. ^ "The Top 100 April Fool's Day Hoaxes of All Time". The Museum of Hoaxes. 2015-03-31. Archived from the original on 2020-08-20. Retrieved 2020-08-19.
This page was last edited on 25 September 2020, at 15:31
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