Cairo restored hieroglyph typecaster tells new stories

The French-made typecasting machine is over a century old, the Egyptian hieroglyphs 5,000 years. Now, in a Cairo workshop, the mechanical marvel has come to life once again.

Out of action for about three decades, a massive Foucher hot metal typecaster built in 1902 has been restored to its former glory.

The French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo, or IFAO, recently showed off the machine which allows the printing of Egyptian hieroglyphs
The French-made typecasting machine is over a century old
Designers created a font of thousands of hieroglyphs and cast them in lead, so they could be arranged line by line, covered in ink and printed onto paper

The French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo, or IFAO, recently showed off the machine which allows the printing of ancient Egyptian inscriptions.

Over a century ago designers created a font of thousands of hieroglyphs and cast them in lead, so they could be arranged line by line, covered in ink and printed onto paper.

“We managed to restart it in September after several repairs and purchasing new parts,” said Mathieu Gousse, the IFAO’s publishing director, of the typecaster.

“We were very moved,” he told AFP, when he saw an ancient Egyptian symbol, the Ankh or key of life, printed onto paper from one of the letters shaped from molten lead.

“We are at a pivotal moment… when we will be able to transmit knowledge and manual labour skills to a younger generation.”

Veteran machine operator Hossam Saad, 63, has come out of retirement to train staff on how to use the machine.

“It’s probably the only workshop in the world using this machine, which really doesn’t exist anymore,” he said.

A picture shows the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo on December 10, 2020. The French-made typecasting machine is over a century old, the Egyptian hieroglyphs 5,000 years.(AFP/Ahmad Hassan)

Hani Moawad, 37, one of the apprentices, was impressed by the device dating back to an age long before modern offset or digital printing technology.

A man operates a machine which allows the printing of ancient Egyptian inscriptions at the French Institute of Oriental Archaeology in Cairo on December 10, 2020. The French-made typecasting machine is over a century old, the Egyptian hieroglyphs 5,000 years. Now, in a Cairo workshop, the mechanical marvel has come to life once again. Out of action for about three decades, a massive Foucher hot metal typecaster built in 1902 has been restored to its former glory. Ahmad HASSAN / AFP.

“I’ve never seen anything like this before, from that era,” he marvelled. “And it actually still works perfectly fine.”

Gousse, the director, said he would like to collaborate with calligraphers and artists to publish one-off, special edition productions.

The IFAO, founded in 1880, boasts a unique library with some 92,000 volumes in the field of Egyptology, and its archaeologists are deployed around 35 excavation sites throughout Egypt.

Emmanuel PARISSE – AFP

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