What’s metal type made of?

A little melting pot and 3 lead musket balls from my dad’s collection.

Johannes Gutenberg was a goldsmith. He knew how to work with metal, so he developed cast-metal movable type. He used an alloy of antimony, tin and lead. Type metal has a relatively low melting point—probably you could melt it on the stovetop DON’T DO THIS YOU GOOFBALLS I DON’T NEED MORE ANGRY PHONE CALLS FROM YOUR MOMS.



On the other hand, this site says you need 1980°F to melt type metal. That’s hotter than I expected. A stovetop only achieves 350° but lead melts at 621.5°. Tin melts at 449.5°. Antimony melts at 1,167°F. I dunno—I can melt solder (lead/tin) with a propane torch to join copper pipes.
Soldiers in the 1700s cast lead bullets in the field using a campfire. Here’s a scene from the movie The Patriot—Mel Gibson melts tin soldiers to make musket balls (I know, I know, old Mel probably has a blowtorch off-screen fired up to 3,000 on the Kelvin scale). When your great-grandfather was a boy, kids used to cast and recast their own tin soldiers. Maybe the antimony gives type metal a higher melting point. As a jeweler, Gutenberg had stoves and kilns in his shop designed to generate plenty of heat.

You can use this kit for cold-casting: https://www.hobbylobby.com/Crafts-Hobbies/Clay-Molding-Sculpting/Casting/Mini-Casting-Kit/p/22251?gclid=CjwKCAjwzruGBhBAEiwAUqMR8LvgJH4XhS98M-pZUqhaEPE-KWDQQ-2RNBaSmplBNAmv_s4KQ0HIjhoCS8IQAvD_BwE

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

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