Type case


My very first trade was in printing, and I spent almost an entire year learning to typeset using what’s called ‘moveable type’. (Sometimes the Germans can go a bit overboard with wanting you to know the basics of everything, even though it’s completely out of date.)
But some of you are interested in typography, so I thought I’d write about the process of typesetting with moveable type.
Speed and quality is everything. The typesetter would stand (not sit, of course not) at their workspace, pull the type case for the correct font and font size out of the large type case drawers (and by gosh they were heavy – this is nearly pure lead), and start setting letter by letter, line by line into a composing stick, with the manuscript by the side of the case.
When a page was done, it would be bound off, composed into a layout, and printed, proofread and the mistakes corrected – this could mean a whole lot more typesetting.
Once the print was done, every letter had to be manually sorted back into the right part of the type case. This was usually a job for the apprentice. He would do this for endless hours and days and weeks, and would know the schematics of the cases really well after this. Which of course is important for speedy typesetting. It’s just like blind ten finger typing, only a lot harder.
Typesetting was a really repetitive job with serious health hazards due to the constant skin contact with poisonous lead. Wearing gloves was not an option, as individual letters in 10 – 12 point fonts are no more than one or two millimeters wide, and the bits used to create spaces between words even less than that.
Aren’t we happy we have computers?


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