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Revisiting a summer vacation: digital restoration and typesetter forensics

Bagley, Steven R.; Brailsford, David F.; Kernighan, Brian W.

Revisiting a summer vacation: digital restoration and typesetter forensics Thumbnail


David F. Brailsford

Brian W. Kernighan


In 1979 the Computing Science Research Center (‘Center 127’) at Bell Laboratories bought a Linotron 202 typesetter from the Mergenthaler company. This was a ‘third generation’ digital machine that used a CRT to image characters onto photographic paper.

The intent was to use existing Linotype fonts and also to develop new ones to exploit the 202’s line-drawing capabilities. Use of the 202 was hindered by Mergenthaler’s refusal to reveal the inner structure and encoding mechanisms of the font files. The particular 202 was further dogged by extreme hardware and software unreliability.

A memorandum describing the experience was written in early 1980 but was deemed to be too “sensitive” to release. The original troff input for the memorandum exists and now, more than 30 years later, the memorandum can be released. However, the only available record of its visual appearance was a poor-quality scanned photocopy of the original printed version.

This paper details our efforts in rebuilding a faithful retypeset replica of the original memorandum, given that the Linotron 202 disappeared long ago, and that this episode at Bell Labs occurred 5 years before the dawn of PostScript (and later PDF) as de facto standards for digital document preservation.

The paper concludes with some lessons for digital archiving policy drawn from this rebuilding exercise.

Conference Name ACM Symposium on Document Engineering (DocEng '13)
End Date Sep 13, 2013
Publication Date Sep 1, 2013
Deposit Date Mar 17, 2015
Publicly Available Date Mar 17, 2015
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Keywords Digital restoration, reverse engineering, archiving, troff,
PostScript fonts, chess fonts, Linotron 202
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Additional Information Published in: DocEng '13: proceedings of the 13th ACM Symposium on Document Engineering. New York : ACM, 2013, ISBN: 978-1-4503-1789-4. pp. 3-12, doi: 10.1145/2494266.2494275


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