Archives for category: Typesetting

This is one of the saddest movies I’ve seen.

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It is a re-training film made in the mid-sixties by the International Typographical Union. It is amazing how quickly the process moved on from this early response to technological change. None of what you see here survives in today’s print industry (including the union itself. Founded in 1852, with a membership of about 100,000 at the time this film was made, the ITU finally withered away in 1986 and merged in 1987 with the Communications Workers of America.)

The tone of the film is optimistically up-beat, showing the way forward into the new world. In fact these guys were facing the elimination of most of their jobs. The union had an interest is portraying a labor-heavy process: see the guy carry one plate into the pressroom, turn around and walk back. Despite its optimistic front, the union was clearly aware of the writing on the wall. The stiff-upper-lip dodging and weaving in the face of the inevitable make for an almost tragic tale. Manning levels have plummeted since then, and while a few senior workers can remember the old ways, the number who successfully retrained was not immense. What workers do today has little connection with either the old, old ways shown at the start of the video or the initial responses to the new technology which follow.

The commentator proudly proclaims: “Printing in its many forms is the handmaiden of civilization and of progress . . . Since the days of Gutenberg the typesetter, in a real sense, has been the engineer of civilization . . . The printer has led mankind by the hand, so to speak, into the light of modern society.” Printing isn’t the only trade that has lost its pride. When it was a matter of coaxing huge piles of metal into doing ridiculously detailed things, the manual workers who accomplished this could bask in the romance of the struggle successfully won. Now there’s not too much pride to be taken in watching a computerized control system turn your lathe, grind your lens, cast your ingot, weave your cloth and so on. No wonder unhappy workers (or ex-workers) have become a troubled political force. We have moved our economics beyond manual work, but need still to come up with a psychological story transforming idle hands into — what? Proud consumers? Jolly vacationers? Self-improvement mavens? Life-time students? What about avid readers?

If we’d never had “these dark Satanic Mills” I think we wouldn’t have developed this stultifying hang-up about the nobility of work. We have bought this bill of goods, pushed at us as a means of distracting us from the realization that working in a mill was a nightmare, but a nightmare rather better than starvation. There’s no inherent nobility in being a wage-slave. Wake up guys — you’ve nothing to lose but your chains! Let’s divorce income from work by getting a universal basic income scheme going so that nobody has to be seen as “redundant” or “unemployed” — the village stocks of the modern day. People who wanted to keep working could do so. The underlying problem of automation is that robots are not workers, they are capital goods, and their arrival has accompanied and will only accelerate a switch from the proportion of the work product moving from labor to capital. Those who choose to work should become shareholders rather than salaried staff. If you don’t have to feel exploited, who knows how many people would choose to keep working.

Vimeo has lots of films generated as part of the process of putting together Linotype: The Film.

I didn’t realize there was a typeface called Fontana; I just thought it was a paperback imprint of Collins’.

However here it is, and HarperCollins historical website celebrating their 200th anniversary tells us about it in these terms :

“In 1936, Collins became the first major publishing house to create its own font. The publisher hired printer and typographer Dr. Hans Mardersteig to prepare a report on the business in which he included suggestions on design. As a result, Collins had him design a typeface that would create a unique visual identity for the company.

Building on the classic fonts of eighteenth-century Glasgow publishers Robert and Andrew Foulis, Mardersteig developed Collins’s iconic typeface: Fontana. It was used by Collins for three decades before the company released rights to the font.

After Collins developed the Fontana font, more company-specific fonts followed, including Lexicon, Fedra, Nexus (designed by Martin Majoor), Fresco, and Sansa (designed by Fred Smeijers).”

It’s hard to disagree with the sentiments expressed in their type sample. If only all designers would attend to ease of reading. It reminds me a bit of Century Schoolbook, a no-nonsense communicator. I’m not sure just how available Fontana is today: according to Creative Pro, Monotype never digitized it.

So there you are. As the punch line of an old joke told by our crusty Latin master had it “Ye ken noo”.

This Ted Talk, shared at The Scholarly Kitchen by David Crotty, tells us about the origins of our numbering system.

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The representation of these digits in type can be done in two ways: old style and lining. Old style figures extend up and down from the x-height, unlike the lining figures shown in this typeface: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 0, which are of uniform height. I prefer old style (though they should never be used in mathematical setting), and find it slightly disconcerting that when I draft a piece in this WordPress blog the numerals show as old style, whereas they will actually be displayed in a different, sans serif font. Here’s the draft of this paragraph:screen-shot-2017-02-24-at-12-13-57-pm

As far as I am aware almost all sans serif fonts just have modern numbers. The only exceptions I can find are Maxima and ITC’s Goudy Sans which provide both modern and old style. Optima, a sort of serify* sans serif face also has both. Here are both sets in Goudy Sans.


Number: “The precise sum or aggregate of a collection of individual things or persons; the quantity or amount”

Numeral: “a word expressing or denoting a number”

Digit: “A whole number less than ten: any of the nine or (including zero) ten Arabic numerals representing these”

Natural numbers: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, . . . all the way “to infinity and beyond”

Whole numbers: 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, . . . Like Natural but including zero

Integers: . . . -3, -2, -1, 0, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, . . . Like Whole Numbers but including negative numbers too

Rational numbers: All of the above but including fractions, decimals which end, and decimals which repeat or have a pattern

Irrational numbers: Decimals which never end, like √37 and π

Perfect number: A number the sum of whose factors, excluding the number itself, is exactly equal to the number itself

Abundant number:  Same story, but with a total greater than the number itself (e.g. 18)

Deficient number: Same story, but totaling less than the number itself (e.g. 8)

Amicable numbers: If the sum of the factors of a = b, and the factors of b = a, the numbers are amicable (e.g. 220 and 284)

Cardinal number: “A number which answers the question ‘how many?” As opposed to

Ordinal number: Marking position in an order or series: first, second etc.

Nominal number: A number used to identify someone or thing (e.g. Social Security Number, or 10 on Harry Kane’s back)

Prime number: A natural number greater than 1 with no factors

Composite number: A natural number which has more than two factors

Directed number: A number which is either negative or positive. (Zero is neither negative nor positive)

Imaginary number: The square root of a negative number

Transfinite numbers: Cardinal numbers indicating the size of infinite sets

Real number: a number that can be located on a number line

Complex number: A member of the most general or inclusive set of numbers used in algebra: a number that can be expressed in the form a + bi, where a and b are real numbers and i = √-1

Number complex: the compulsion to list all these crazy definitions.


* Optima has swellings at the top and bottom of verticals which to my eye make it a sort of transitional face between serifed and sans serif, although it is really a sans serif face.


enschede-haarlem_type_foundry_in_1892Joh. Enschedé en Zonen was founded in Haarlem in 1703, and began making their own type in 1743 at a time when most other printers had abandoned foundry work and were buying their types from outside. The company continues as a security printer printing banknotes, postage stamps etc.  In the world of typography the company is perhaps best known as the place where Jan van Krimpen’s font were made.

This film showing Paul Helmuth Rädisch cutting punches by hand at Enschedé in 1957, is narrated by Matthew Carter who also provides a fascinating discussion following Carl Dair’s short film.

Carl Dair, a Canadian typographer, worked as in intern in Haarlem in 1956-7 and while he was there made this film of what was a dying craft. Dair’s Epistles to the Torontonians was reviewed in the TLS of 27 January 2017. The film, Gravers and Files is included in a CD accompanying the book, though it is also available on-line at YouTube (as here) and at Vimeo.

In the olden days a good comp would strive to avoid rivers: those white streams which meander down too many type pages. Here’s one from the Library of America’s Harriet Beecher Stowe volume.



Not that this is a particularly bad case. (There’s a more dramatic example at Wikipedia.) You can make out a river with a side branch in the last paragraph of this page from Uncle Tom’s Cabin. I’ve outlined it in red — on a photocopy, not in the book! Rivers result from a coincidence of word spaces one below the other carrying on for several lines. They can be got rid of by making a correction in one of the early lines: the reflow resulting from such a change will probably work to eliminate the rest of the river. The word spacing in the first line of the paragraph is quite wide: it’s just easier to space out the line like this than it is retrospectively to tighten things up so that the word “from” can be taken back into line 1. Doing that would rearrange the word spaces all down the paragraph, and while it’s possible that another rivulet might appear, the chances are that taking back that one word would eliminate the whole problem. If there’s not enough room to transfer “from” to the first line, you set about attempting the same cure on the second line; “set” should surely be possible to pull back. Sometimes your move will get you into hyphenation hypertrophy: as you are only allowed to have three hyphenated lines in sequence the solution you select may become dauntingly complicated. A distracted comp could be tempted to edit the copy to get around the difficulty. “Aint sh’a peart young un?” will probably never be noticed! After all the author’s not going to be proofreading. In newspaper and jobbing work this way out was not uncommon. One way or another rivers can be eliminated, but as you can see it can be quite time-consuming, thus expensive, so of course more often than not the river is tolerated.

Unjustified setting (ragged right) like the pages in this blog presents less of a risk of rivers. With the constant word space permitted by the removal of the need to fill every line to the same measure, it becomes less likely, though not I suppose impossible, for a river to evolve.

While this sort of thing used to worry skilled craftsmen, we have to admit that as problems go it’s pretty minor. Still it is a fact that I notice rivers when I’m reading: and they do say that anything which distracts the reader from the author’s message should if possible be avoided.

We say measure but we mean line length. When you read a book, the type measure is the length of the text line, measured in picas.

Well, of course one could imagine a page where the measure isn’t the length of the text line — say this one! — the measure here goes from the left margin (i.e. the start of the word Measure in the title) all the way to the right hand margin (which is pretty much undetectable here as all the lines, being ragged right, unjustified, finish at different points. The two rules above the title show the measure.) So here the text has a line length of say 25 picas, while the full measure is 38 picas. In other words (words that a printer or designer would use in speccing a job) each line of text is indented 13 picas left on a 38 pica measure. (These numbers, while they are more or less an accurate reflection of reality on my iMac, should not be taken as literally accurate. The actual measure you are looking at will depend on how the device you are using is displaying the page.)

It’s for reasons like that explanation that printers have needed the word measure. We don’t do it to confuse: quite the opposite — to make unambiguous cases where confusion might easily arise.

And bear in mind that as with so much in our business the terminology originates in the hot metal/letterpress world. With hot metal type the blank spaces are not the absence of anything: they are the presence of metal spacers which are lower than type height, so that when the type is inked these lower parts receive none of the ink and therefore print blank. You can see the lower parts around the centered lines in this illustration.

Ems and ens is also relevant here.

This picture is from MIT’s Reading 17.



Click on it to enlarge enough to be able to read the labels.

Not much more to say about this really. I didn’t know about the tittle, and am not sure I altogether understand about the Ascent line, though it is defined at Typography Deconstructed.

In printing a rule is a line, though of course there are also rules in the conventional sense that printers follow. Think for example of Hart’s Rules for Compositors and Readers at the University Press Oxford. Although the book doesn’t contain rulesª directly about rules, it does include plenty of reference in its rulesª to the appropriate use of rules, for instance in its rulesª about setting rules in tables.

Rules, in their manifestation as straight lines, are measured in points or fractions thereof. We tend to talk of the weight of a rule, not its thickness. The rules at the top of this page might be 1 point rules “printing” in 50% black, though translating from screen to print is nonsensical because of variable rendering. As a ruleª these rules will look different on your iPhone, than they do on your iPad, or on your desktop computer.

One should bear in mind the related manifestation of rule: this is an en rule – and this an em rule —. In well-mannered typesetting these will be set with a word space on either side of them. This may be a British ruleª rather than an American one though.

Of course the one ruler will rule them all, which hints at the derivation of the printer’s straight line. After all printers have other uses for the word line. The OED informs us that the phrase “rule and line” means determined or regulated, rigid or strict. Apparently the word rule used also to refer to riotous conduct especially in north England and Scotland, where we love such activity.

I fondly remember the Lecturae Dantis, a series of lectures from 1969 to 1984  at Cambridge University which would read and explicate one canto of the Divine Comedy at a time. I always meant to go to more of them. Fortunately CUP published a couple of volumes containing some of the lectures. The term originally referred to live readings of the cantos, but has evolved to include academic commentary. Lots of places have them, and here’s a link to the series at St Andrews University, where you can view the lectures on most of the 100 cantos (they are up to Paradiso 3).

1465028Publishing Cambridge links to this new University series, Cambridge Vertical Readings in Dante’s Comedy, which covers three cantos in each lecture, one from Inferno and the same numbered canto from Purgatorio and Paradiso. Perhaps unsurprisingly, given interest in numerology, there are connections between cantos numbered the same in the three parts as well as significance in multipliers and sums of the numbers. There are links to 32 (thus far) lectures. Is it numerologically significant that the one missing item from the set appears to be Cantos 32?


I’ve alluded to the typeface Dante™ before. It was designed by Giovanni Mardersteig for the Officina Bodoni between 1946 and 1954. Dante got its name from the first book it was used for in 1955, Boccaccio’s Trattatello in Laude di Dante. Officina Bodoni was a fine press printer run by Mardersteig: it’s named after Bodoni — it is not to be mistaken as a continuation of Bodoni’s own Parma operation. Mardersteig was born Hans Mardersteig in Weimar in 1892. In 1922 he founded his press in Switzerland, moving on to Verona five years later. The design of Dante was influenced by Francesco Griffo’s work, and Mardersteig also designed a font called Griffo, as well as one called Zeno. His press printed high-quality work, including work for The Limited Editions Club. After his death in 1977 his son, Martino Mardersteig took over the operation of Stamperia Valdonega, their more commercial operation, but occasionally would print a book on his father’s hand presses under the Officina Bodoni imprint. John Dreyfus’ Giovanni Mardersteig: An account of his work, printed and published by Officina Bodoni in 1966, is unavailable at Amazon.

A recent book, still available in the stores, in which Dante was used is Paper: Paging through history by Mark Kurlansky. This is the colophon, which shows a paragraph set in Dante.


There’s a link to a reading of Caroline Bergvall’s VIA: 48 Dante Variations at my earlier post Translation — Style.

p8082006Cambridge University Press’ Printing Division, referred to by us publishing staff as UPH (University Printing House) used to be located in the middle of town behind the Pitt Building on Trumpington Street.

The Pitt Building

The Pitt Building

The best perhaps that can be said for the building they moved to in the sixties on the southern edge of town, (shown at the top) is that it was functional. No longer did lorries have to be squeezed into Mill Lane or skids of sheets moved up and down from floors at different levels in old buildings that had been smashed together: the work could flow. The University repossessed the buildings behind, and the Pitt Building remained the publishing office, and it was from there that I set out for the new world.

32 E 57th. The gigantic structure behind only arrived recently.

32 E 57th. The vacant lot next door (in front) was occupied by a building in those days.

When I first came over to New York to work for Cambridge University Press’s American Branch at 32 East 57th Street, a small part of my salary was paid by the Printing Division. My UPH duties consisted almost entirely of just being there to answer the phone. They were not looking to increase their business in USA; just to service such accounts as they already had. The key factor in the success of any UK book manufacturer’s ability to get American work has always been the state of the $/£ exchange rate. At that time it was not favorable, and work (like me) was flowing the other way. The UPH phone rarely rang. When it did, all involved were happy to find a British accent on the line able to talk about demy octavo, picas and ems. One of my predecessors in this role had been Brian Allen, a full-time rep., and a man of considerable typographic ability. He became after his return to England a full-time letter-cutter in stone.

It was in my capacity as a UPH representative that I inherited a membership of the Typophiles, at that time a rather traditional-minded organization of aging letterpress fans, typographers and bibliophiles. As the representative of Cambridge printing I received respect way beyond my personal deserts. The organization still exists, as manifested in this their Facebook page. The really good thing about this organization was the keepsakes you could pick up at their monthly lunch-time meetings held at the National Arts Club in Grammercy Park. For instance we had a series of meetings addressed by wood engravers each of whom brought something for us. I still have framed and on display original pieces by John DePol, Clare Leighton, Barry Moser, John Lawrence, even Reynolds Stone (though he didn’t appear in person). Fritz Eichenberg I don’t have, but as he was a member of the Typophiles, probably his role was exclusively as organizer of the series. At our Christmas meeting we’d get a goody-bag containing three or four books: several published and printed by the Typophiles themselves, but others donated by publishers. Ah, those were the days!

Sometime in the late eighties or early nineties the UPH stopped doing Monotype hot metal composition. This was a serious break in what had always been their pride and joy: fine hot metal composition and letterpress printing, arguably the finest in the world. Most of their business in the USA by that point consisted of finishing up the few multi-volume sets of The Papers of X or Y which a few American university presses had been typesetting and printing in Cambridge. The presses which had committed this work were naturally discombobulated by the failure of their supplier to be able to continue typesetting their series in Monotype before they had even gotten half way through the project. In large projects like this volumes come in at widely separated intervals as one volume editor or another finds more or less time for the work. Obviously if you go to Cambridge to get hot metal Monotype Garamond, having it switched to a filmset version, even if the two versions are pretty indistinguishable to the man in the street, is rather like being stabbed in the back typographically speaking. I got an enquiry from one of the few surviving letterpress houses in America, The Heritage Press, in Charlotte, NC, as to whether they could buy the Dante matrices from Cambridge. As this came right at the end of my tenure at CUP, I don’t know whether the sale was ever consummated, allowing the Collected Papers of this or that founding father to continue in the same font, or not. Dante was unfortunately a rare typeface, and wasn’t one that would be available filmset. I suspect it didn’t happen — I have the hint of a memory that the mats had already been disposed of — but in any case Heritage Printers in their turn have departed the scene, so it would anyway have only been a stop-gap solution. We seem no longer to be able to plan for the ages.

And now, just to drive home that point, the University Printing House’s operations, which had been transferred by sale to a competitor who’d moved them to Bar Hill, have disappeared in the closure of that company. The hangar-like University Printing House building is now occupied by Cambridge’s publishing staff, the custom-made Edinburgh Building across the street, to which publishing operations had moved from the Pitt, having been pulled down.