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These pieces of lead type (actually the metal is a lead-based alloy) were cast for me on a Monotype machine; they print less-than and greater-than signs. The slot helps the Monotype machine to set the type, but it also helps a hand compositor because when the type is held in the composing stick in the hand the slots all line up if the pieces of type are all the right way round.
The pieces of type (called sorts) are laying on an 1880s engraving of an architectural drawing of the Pantheon building in Rome.