Workshop of the World

stories of industry in & around Philadelphia

"Max Levy Autograph, a manufacturer of high-precision phototooling and delineated parts in optical, thin film, metallic, ceramic, and other substrates."

Max Levy Autograph Company
, 1902
240 Roberts Avenue, Philadelphia PA 19144

Harold E. Spaulding, Workshop of the World (Oliver Evans Press, 1990).

The structure at 240 Roberts Avenue was built in 1902, when Max Levy moved there from Arch Street in Philadelphia. About 1875, Max and his brother Louis had developed a method of producing a permanently etched glass screen for use in half tone printing. The process used a ruling engine to cut lines on a sheet of glass coated with varnish; the glass was then exposed to hydrofluoric acid, which etched it to a depth sufficient to receive an opaque pigment and wide enough to equal the unetched space in between. Two such plates held together by Canadian balsam made a pattern of apertures equal to 25% of the original area. The artwork to be reproduced was then photographed by a "gallery" camera, so called because in the days before high quality, artificial lighting, photographs were generally taken in a naturally lit gallery. Levy's screen was placed before the film plane of the camera, and the half tone negative film, composed of an image of dots, could then be used to contact print a printing plate. The positioning of the camera permitted the scaling of the artwork to any ratio. The cameras were built by Joseph Levy, Max and Louis's brother, who lived in London. Max and Louis Levy patented their process in 1893; Louis assigned his rights to Max. 1

Max Levy Autograph.
Max Levy chose the site at 240 Roberts Avenue because it provided a huge granite outcropping for seismic stability. On it, he erected a reinforced concrete building, one of the first in the nation. The building has a brick and stone exterior.
2 Max sold the firm to his nephews Lionel and Howard in 1920. They ran the firm until 1965, when Edgar B. Coale took over the operation. During his tenure, Coale contracted the construction of a computer-controlled X-Y plotter, which operates on interferometric principles. Polichrome, an Italian contact screen maker, bought the firm in 1978.

1  Louis Levy held two other patents, one for a photoelectrotype process in 1875, the other for an acid blast machine in 1899.  The acid blast permitted fast, very uniform etching, important to the screen's quality.
2  Max received his degree in architecture from the University of Pennsylvania.

Update May 2007 (by Linny Schenk & Michael Parrington):
As of 2005 Max Levy Autograph was scheduled to move to a new building in Byberry East Industrial Park in two years. The new building is a Northeast Philadelphia industrial expansion/relocation project being funded by a Pennsylvania Industrial Development Authority loan (NE Times Nov. 10, 2005).

See also:
Max Levy Autograph - corporate website.