How were Apollinaire’s Calligrammes typeset?

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Was it set on a letterpress? Linotype? How were the curved lines achieved? I can't seem to find anything online about this, but I am very curious.

  • 1
    Hello user86371, welcome to GD.SE and thanks for your question. Could you please clarify your question? What are calligrammes, and who is Apollinaire? Please include at least a screenshot and some basic info. You can use the edit button to add this information to your question. Thanks! If you have any questions about the site, have a look at the help center or feel free to join us in Graphic Design Chat once your reputation allows you to (20). Keep contributing and enjoy the site!
    – Vincent
    Commented Feb 14, 2017 at 10:10
  • Mallarmé presents similar problems, and alain.les-hurtig.org/coup_de_des/index.html points to gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b8625644w and gallica.bnf.fr/ark:/12148/btv1b86256459 where you can see proofs annotated by Mallarmé himself.
    – Thérèse
    Commented Feb 15, 2017 at 12:47
  • I think the question amounts to asking about the technology available to G. Roy of Poitiers, who printed the Calligrammes for Mercure de France. Concrete poems go back to antiquity, so they’ve been written by hand, carved, assembled from pasted letters, typed on a manual typewriter, and produced by many other means. They can even be produced by LaTeX (tex.stackexchange.com/a/193563).
    – Thérèse
    Commented Feb 21, 2017 at 21:12

3 Answers 3


Before I get into my explaination, I found a couple of interesting historical notes about Apollonaire and this particular edition of Calligrammes: Poems of Peace and War 1913-1916.

On this publication:

Shortly after his death [9 November 1918], Mercure de France published Calligrammes, a collection of his concrete poetry (poetry in which typography and layout adds to the overall effect), and more orthodox, though still modernist poems informed by Apollinaire's experiences in the First World War and in which he often used the technique of automatic writing.

-Guillaume Apollinaire: Wikipedia entry

On Apollonaire's process:

Apollinaire initially sketched his Calligrames in notebooks or on scattered pieces of paper, and then carried his sketches to a typesetter who would set the letters and words on the page following Apollinaire’s design.

- Calligrammes and Expressive Typography

To answer the question, the sample in your original post is most likely manually typeset, possibly with the aid of a Monotype Super-Caster machine. Below are a couple of reasons to back up my claim.

Why not Linotype?

While Linotype was indeed a prominent typesetting technique at the time, and would give you the similar evidence of an industrial press machine at work (it is mechanical letterpress after all), the process, or hot metal typesetting, was developed specifically to produce molds of straight lines or strips of custom type in one block:

The linotype machine operator enters text on a 90-character keyboard. The machine assembles matrices, which are molds for the letter forms, in a line. The assembled line is then cast as a single piece, called a slug, of type metal in a process known as hot metal typesetting.

-Linotype machine: Wikipedia entry

Because of this limitation, we can safely rule out Linotype for any of the Calligrammes in this edition. However, it can't be ruled out for some of the other poems throughout the book that are comprised of straight lines of text.

The Case for Monotype

The Monotype casting machine uses a similar process to Linotype but differs in that it produces individual letters instead of full lines of text:

The Monotype machine worked by casting letters from "hot metal" (molten metal) as pieces of type. Thus spelling mistakes could be corrected by adding or removing individual letters. This was particularly useful for "quality" printing - such as books. In contrast, the Linotype machine formed a complete line of type in one bar.

-Monotype Imaging: Wikipedia entry

While the idea of mechanized typesetting was to produce more precise, straight-ruled lines and blocks of text, the Monotype letters/characters could theoretically be typeset manually if desired:

The Super-caster, another machine produced by Monotype, was similar in function to the Thompson, Bath, pivotal and others casters but designed to produce single type (including even larger sizes) for hand setting.

-Hot metal typesetting : Wikipedia entry

Closing note:

The Calligrammes are an idealisation of free verse poetry and typographical precision in an era when typography is reaching a brilliant end to its career, at the dawn of the new means of reproduction that are the cinema and the phonograph.

Guillaume Apollinaire, in a letter to André Billy (from Calligrammes: WIkipedia entry)

I know this may not be the definitive answer you're looking for, but it might steer you in the right direction if you're not satisfied. This is a beautiful print specimen, thank you for sharing!


I'm not an expert on metal printing, but the image on the left would probably have been typeset very simply using ordinary metal type, held in place using pieces of spacing material, and then printed on a press. That link goes to a guide.

The suggestions above are way too complicated. Hot metal typesetting (Monotype and Linotype machines) was a technology used mostly for advanced printers for large editions or many volumes (like newspaper and mass-market book printing), although it did get more widely used towards the end of the metal type era as the machines got cheaper. Monotype Super Casters were machines used to cast large type for posters. Not this kind of avant-garde stuff in small editions, for which its benefits would not have been much use anyway.

The image on the right is hand-lettered, not type. I'm not sure what method would have been used to set it, but possibly an engraving of some kind.


It must be Linotype, as I think its too hard to set it up in letterpress.


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