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          Hard Fonts

    Today, when a superb color photo-quality printer can be had for practically nothing, we tend to forget that once upon a time printing was a serious matter. Before the advent of laser and inkjet technologies, printers had to do exactly what a typewriter used to do: impact the paper with a raised letter through an ink ribbon. A printer needed to have a set of all the letters, pre-fabricated in metal or hard plastic; to change the font you had to essentially take the printer apart and replace the letter wheel, ring, cylinder or whatever. Daisy Wheel and Golf Ball print elements (boxed)
Click photo to enlarge
        In the picture above we see the printing elements of two popular printing technologies from the early small computer era: an IBM Selectric "Golf Ball" and an Olivetti "Daisy Wheel". Below you can see them outside their protective cases. Each element represents a complete font; both were easy to replace, allowing the user to change fonts on the rare occasions that this was desired. Both elements started off as electric typewriter technologies in the sixties and ended their life in early personal computer printers in the eighties.
    The "Golf ball" print element was introduced by IBM in 1961, as the heart of the immensely successful "Selectric" line of typewriters. Unlike previous typewriters, this one held the paper stationary while the ball danced to the right position and rotated to bring the correct letter to the point of impact. This technique lent itself well to printing on computer fanfold paper, which was hard to yank to right and left; IBM incorporated it into terminals such as the 2740 and 2741 models, and licensed the technology to other printer manufacturers as well. Golf Ball print element
    The Daisy Wheel print element was molded from plastic, and rotated on a single axis to get to the right letter. Although less durable than the Selectric ball, it required a cheaper mechanism and was used in typewriters and printers well into the eighties (in fact, the first daisy wheel can be seen in a typewriter made in 1890!)
    For all their ingenuity, the ball and wheel printers were doomed by their limited speed, noisy operation, and inability to produce graphics. As soon as graphic capable printers reached a sufficient resolution for producing "letter quality" text, these devices were no longer used except for the occasional forms-in-triplicate application that still uses carbon paper...
Daisy Wheel print element
Click a photo to enlarge
Exhibit provenance:
   Can't remember with certainty... must've picked them up in one flea market or another.

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