A TOUR OF THE COMPOSING ROOM
latest update: 2/24/17. posted: 10/1/16.
TOOLSIn hand typesetting there are three tools the compositor has handy always: pica gauge, tweezers, and bodkin. The composing stick, of course, is in hand whenever type is being set.
PICA GAUGES—AND TYPOGRAPHIC MEASUREMENTS
If you don’t have a way of measuring points as well as picas, you’re pretty helpless in a composing room. The most useful kind of pica sticks (front and back sides shown here, not actual size) have, on one side, a scale in picas and half-picas and a scale in inches. On the other side, there are scales in points (two-point increments) and centimeters. Down the center of the first side runs a scale in agates, an obsolete scale once widely used for newspaper advertising.
You’ll see metal pica gauges in digital environments, too, along with the usual plastic film gauges—a metal ruler has its uses everywhere.
Unlike the “traditional” point system, the PostScript point system used in computer typesetting has exactly 72 points to an inch. For most purposes, the difference between the two systems can be ignored, but it can’t be forgotten. 48 picas traditional is one point larger than 4 inches; 48 picas PostScript is exactly 4 inches. On large pieces printed letterpress, this can make a difference that has consequences; once in a while the consequences may be critical, like something not fitting on a press or on the sheet size required.
COMPOSING STICK—AND THE BASIC TYPESETTING PROCESSType is assembled in the composing stick. Composing sticks were made in various lengths. The Rouse composing stick, shown below, was by far the most commonly used stick in the twentieth century, and is the most commonly seen today. (An older style is shown in the second illustration.)
The next letter is placed to the right of the first, and so on. When a line is nearly filled, the line is then “justified”: fine spaces are added so the line fills the width. The tightness or pressure of all the lines must be kept consistent, and the compositor must keep the wordspacing visually even, while avoiding bad word breaks and other faults. There’s a lot of skill to the work.
The next line is set the same way, until the stick is full. The type is then moved to a galley (see below), a long tray with raised sides. The thickness of the metal back of the composing stick is the same as the thickness of the metal of the galley, so the type can be easily slid from one to the other. The next “stickful” or “stick of type” is then set, and placed in the galley after the previous one. When the galley is full, it is typically stored until all the type for the job (or the next portion of the job to be printed) has been set. The type is then assembled with any other type that goes in the job, and readied for the press.
The one shown above is from the 1923 American Type Founders catalog. Some kinds of tweezers are more suitable for type than others. The tips should be small enough to grip small types, but not so small that they act like needles, since some pressure is put on them. (The bodkin is typically used for lighter manipulation, especially around printing surfaces that should be guarded from the slightest scratch.)
[notes in comment]
For much more about type, see the Type & Typefaces and Type Technology sections of this site.
SORTS & SPECIAL FONTS
WOOD TYPEWood type was the vehicle for the large and often fanciful display faces for which the 1800s are famous. It continued in use through most of the 1900s.
For much more about wood type, see the Notes on Wood Type page.
CUTS & OTHER ART
SPACES & QUADSFor much more about spacing material, see the The Space Page.
REGLET & FURNITURE
LEADS & SLUGS(LEAD/SLUG DIST)
FIXTURES & EQUIPMENT
CABINETS & FRAMES
GALLEYSA galley is a shallow tray used for storing type. After type is set in the composing stick, as described above, the type is moved into a galley.
Galleys were made in a number of widths and lengths. Many were longer than the one shown above.
Cabinets like the one below are used for orderly storage of galleys. Each shelf typically has a number next to it.
QUOINS & QUOIN KEYS
SLUG CUTTERS & MITERERS(ALSO HAND)
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