November 21, 2009

Ri-Xing Letter Casting

If you are interested in Chinese Typefaces, you would definitely want to visit this small firm on Tai-Yuan Road behind Taipei Train Station. Ri-Xing Letter Casting Firm (日星鑄字行) opens to the visitors on Mon, Tue, and Th. from 5:30pm to 7:30 pm after their business hours.

“Letterpress” and “Typography” have been around me for the past four years because of my design work. I visited “International Printing Museum” in Carson, California last year. By visiting Ri-Xing Letter Casting Firm in Taipei this year, it has proven how complicated the Chinese characters are comparing with 26 English letters.

Walking into the Ri-Xing Letter Casting Firm, the first word came to my mind was “Amazing!” This ancient Letter casting technique is still operating and producing Chinese moveable typefaces in Taiwan, while this technique has already been put into museum exhibition in the US. From there, I admired the spirit of the owner who has been keeping the shop without making any profit. He is keeping the only Letter Casting Firm in Taiwan - the last traditional Chinese character casting place within the Chinese community in the world.

The traditional Chinese characters have been around for 5,000 years. Chinese invented the first moveable typeface before western Gutenberg letterpress in 1455. Ri-Xing can be considered as a world heritage place. While we were there, a local TV station was also interviewing the owner, Mr. Chang, Chieh-Kuan.

Ri-Xing Letter Casting Firm was established in 1969 by Mr. Chang’s father and himself. It was originally planned as a print shop, but the Letter Casting business started to boom before the printers arrived. Until 1986, Ri-Xing was still running a very good business with approximately 30 workers.

How to preserve this world heritage is the current goal of Mr. Chang’s before it gets turned into a museum. A “Typeface Duplicate Engraving Plan” has been made, calling all the interested volunteers to help. This plan is to scan all the current 1.68 million typefaces for a clean, clear, black and white copy for the designers to re-produce type molds or making future new design Chinese typefaces on the computer. Interested volunteers who would like to help will receive training from Mr. Chang. This is a great opportunity to get close and learn the beauty of Chinese characters throughout the entire process. Please visit http://rixingtypography.blogspot.com/

This is an automatic casting machine in Ri-Xing Letter Casting Firm in Taipei. Mr. Chang did a demonstration for us. He turned on the machine and the lead melted under high temperature created by the gas. The typeface was produced one by one automatically.

The method I saw in Carson City in the US was manually making typefaces before the casting machine was invented.

All the wasted typefaces can be melted again to reproduce more typefaces.

Carefully examining each typeface after it is made is another incredibly tiring job on the eyes.

Here are the type molds to make typefaces. Type molds are stored in the matrix wooden cabinet flat drawers. This process is similar to the Western typeface storage method which is to store the capital letters at the upper compartment and the lower case letters at the bottom compartment because they are close to the person. However, the storage of English typefaces is much less complicated than that for the Chinese typefaces. If the typefaces fell off from the storage shelves, they would need to be tossed away since they are difficult to be put back in the right order, and also because a tiny bit corner might have been damaged.

Thousands of shelves are placed on the first floor and basement in Ri-Xing.

“昔字”, “惜字”, “習字” (“hsi-tzu”, “hsi-tzu”, “hsi-tzu”) is the mission for Ri-Xing Letter Casting Firm. These six Chinese characters have exactly the same pronunciation, but they mean differently-“ancient typeface”, “cherishing typeface”, and “studying typeface”, respectively. This is how complicated but beautiful the Chinese characters are! This concluded our visit in Ri-Xing Letter Casting Firm where we learned that we should continue to preserve, cherish, and study one of the world heritage assets.

日星鑄字行 (Ri-Xing Letter Casting Firm)

Address:台北市太原路97巷13號 (Tai-Yuan Road, Lane 97, #13, Taipei, Taiwan).

Tel: (02) 2556–4626

Two photos with words on the bottom were taken in the International Printing Museum, California. All other photos in this article were taken in the Ri-Xing Letter Casting Firm, Taipei, Taiwan. Read More

4 comments:

dennis said...

very cool

micki and Kristen said...

Thanks, Dennis :)

shihshing said...

Great story, I should visit the shop next month when I go to Taipei. Did you see Chinese typewriter there?

micki and Kristen said...

Hi, Shihshing, Thanks! We did not see a Chinese typewriter there, perhaps you may ask Mr. Chang, the owner of the shop. He is such a nice gentleman and will show it to you if he does have one.

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