A short while ago some mystery objects fell into my possession and it soon transpired that they were, as I had suspected, tools used in the craft of letterpress typesetting. The tools in question are two beautifully handmade filing blocks, in which a piece of metal type can be firmly held so that the back of the type can be filed away to accommodate an accent. These filing blocks could also be used to remove portions of the body from drop capitals or for adjusting letters to facilitate kerning.
The image below is taken from Georg Kandler’s excellent book Alphabete – Erinnerungen an den Bleisatz and shows how a separate accent is floated above the filed letter. In this example, it is likely that the letters would have been cast on an irregularly shaped body but the same effect can be achieved by filing away a portion of a standard letter.
In addition to supplying founts of type with accented characters, typefoundries also supplied sets of separately cast accents, often cast on extremely small body sizes.