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June 18, 2004

Typesetting: when it changed
Posted by Teresa at 04:12 PM *

Robert Legault sent me the URL for Denny Johnson’s Minding my p’s & q’s, which he described as “an old hot-type guy’s memories.”

In our family enterprise the happiest moments in our lives were when the Linotype, aka: The Lino or The Dragon, was working correctly. Which was, in-fact, usually never. My father either called it: “That lead-spurting bastard,” or “That no-good pile of #!!*!*!# garbage.” I never heard him utter a good word towards the apparatus, and on at least two occasions watched him hurl a perfectly good horsehide mallet at the device from across the room. We had three Linotype machines over the time I was growing up in the newspaper business. Each one cost about $12,500 at the time and would bring you at least as much today in iron-weight at the scrap yard.

Now it’s fair to suppose if you had a spanking brand new out of the box Linotype when it was invented you might have found it a pleasant, even interesting, machine. It had so many gears, pulleys, cams, parts, pieces and components that you just couldn’t accept as true it would ever work right and in the case of our Linotypes, you’d be exactly right and I would applaud you for your insight.

Because our Linotypes were usually someone’s cast offs in need of repair, so our one operator was out of necessity also our one mechanic, which would cut down production time nearly in half. And if the operator/mechanic got sick or drunk, which was not an unordinary occurrence, you ended up flirting with disaster trying to meet a weekly newspaper deadline. We had three of the machines but not at the same time mind you, because there never would have been the room for even two of the monstrosities in the back room of that newspaper office, and we wouldn’t have had anyone to operate three anyway; our guy was too busy fixing the one we had.
Some of these are my memories too, though I’m some years younger than Denny Johnson. I remember the Linotype, with its inscrutable keyboard, matrixes falling down chutes like a literate pachinko game, lead pig hung up on a chain to melt, bucket hanging off one side of the machine for collecting and re-melting old slugs, and all too eloquent splashes of now-cooled lead on the floor around it.
In a nutshell, here’s how it was invented to work. The operator (in our shop, “Frank”) would sit at a keyboard and strike out the proper letters one by one following the written copy on his clipboard. When Frank would touch a key it would trip a relay that would discharge a shiny brass matrix stored in a magazine at the top of the machine and start it on a wild adventure. The matrix or mat, into which an impression of a letter had been engraved, would drop down—gravity permitting—into its proper place in the line, letters gathering next to one another in the assembly elevator forming words. Spaces were added between words and when adequate mats and spacebands were assembled to form a full tight justified sentence, a bell would ring.

Next, the entire line would be moved up by a handle called the elevator lever, starting the line on the way to the casting mechanism. In the casting process the line of matrix letter molds would be impact-filled with liquid lead, which hardened almost immediately, and then was discharged from the mold as hot slugs with letters atop—and a “line-o-type” was born.

… The casting system consisted of the mold which was affixed to a hot metal pot filled with molten lead blistering at up to 600 degrees. When a line was cast that was too loose (or unjustified), lead would first fill up the mold and then squirt through the loose cracks, sending streams of molten metal soaring like silver bullets ten feet in all directions. Everyone who worked at and around the Linotypes was burned or injured at one time or another. They were known as “Magma Dragons” and always dicey to be around. The Lino was one of the reasons the print shop owner carried workers compensation insurance. Well that, and the metal saws. Hot lead is as unforgiving as molten lava.
I remember the old pressmen. They were a hard-bitten lot, and were usually missing at least one finger. I learned arcane skills like copyfitting, but I never got to operate a Linotype. I came in as a typesetter after the new photo-offset printing technology and computerized “cold type” systems did away with the old universe of hot lead.
About the time I reached the midway of high school, my life among the letters was about to be highlighted by three new characters on the scene: I, B, & M.

The noisy nasty Linotype had spurt its last gasp of scorching dragon fire, and sat dejected and rejected at the rear dock door, waiting for the scrap man. The gargantuan press had preceded the Lino in passing. No one mourned their demise for long, and in fact we saluted the occasion as a giant step-ahead in our production scheme.

… The IBM system would print-out photo-ready type for the new photo-offset printing process by striking a carbon ribbon onto a clean piece of enamel coated paper. It featured a virtual cornucopia of IBM golf-ball font-elements sized from six to twelve point -– bold , italic, or underlined. The clarity of the new typefaces were superior to the lead of old and didn’t wear out as fast. Plus the machine could be operated by any first-class typist. The operator need no more to be a mechanic, or for that matter, a man.
C’est moi!
[The IBM strike-on system was] like any other IBM Selectric typewriter of the time. The ever-recognizable keyboard was operated by a typist who was required to type the line once—push a button on the machine—and then re-type the line exactly the same as the first. At that point, presto, a justified line would print onto the paper in the typewriter.
I operated one of those things, or one of its immediate descendants. The image quality was excellent, but justification was a pain in the wazoo. If I recall correctly, the difficulty of getting the justification function to work on an IBM typesetting system was the reason The Whole Earth Catalog was typeset flush-left.
Our system also had a typist sitting at an IBM keyboard, but the letters (or keystrokes) that she chose were then memorized on a magnetic tape cassette that could be inserted into a second composing machine where the result would be a print-out of justified copy on enameled paper in any width.
That was a miracle: the same keystrokes used twice to produce repro copy in different widths and typefaces. The first several typesetting systems I worked on didn’t have any mechanisms for saving keystrokes. If something went wrong, you had to re-keyboard the copy. At the time, this didn’t seem as iniquitous as it would today, because we were all used to typewriters.
By the early 70’s an even newer machine had taken the place of our IBM system in what was now known as the newspaper’s computer room. This machine, the AM-Varityper 748 was paper-tape driven, affording the option of multiple operators, and featured eight different interchangeable sizes of photo-type from six point to 72 pt., and four different typefaces on-line, literally a choice of 32 fonts at the cost of a single keystroke. This was one of the first computerized photo-typesetters to hit the market and old Frank would have found it a wonder.
I don’t know about Frank, but I sure thought they were a wonder, especially the reuseable paper tape. We had a little device like a skeletal pencil sharpener for spooling up finished tapes, after which we paper-clipped the loose end, wrote the name of the story on the endbit, and hung them on a nail hammered into the wall.
When you lifted the gull wing-like doors on the top of the machine to gain access to the inner workings you would have thought you were looking back into the machinery of the old Lino: watch-like, mechanical and electronic working together. But this gear was driven by four large printed circuit-boards, and outfitted with more chips then a high-tech woodchuck. To set type, an intense magnified xenon light was activated by the operating system. The light source would be directed through an spinning Mylar disc that contained film of four different fonts of type, usually in the same family. The discs were simply removed to add a new disc with a different set of fonts. It was magical.
The internal workings looked like an orrery turned on its side. The system I learned on used mylar strips, one per font, that looked like elongated photo negatives. They were solid black, opaque, except for the letter forms, which were clear. You’d fasten the strip to a spinning wheel inside the machine, and as you typed, the wheel would rotate to position a letterform where the light could shine through it and onto a piece of photographic film.
This all took place in the matter of instants and the leaps in production time were mind boggling. Sixty lines a minute was normal in most sizes. In the unlikely event that old Frank’s Lino was operating at optimum speed, he could have expected no more than two lines in that same minute.
Faster, cheaper, easier to learn, and you could own lots more fonts. Publications used to be stodgier because so much effort went into just getting them out.
Once the story was typeset, a cassette containing the exposed paper could be removed from the machine and developed in the nearby newly constructed darkroom. The result was perfectly set copy, smudge-proof camera-ready type in virtually any size or face.
Oooh, fancy—they had a darkroom. We had a boxy tabletop machine that would feed in, develop, and spit out the photographic paper, and spit out a lot of fumes along with it. Then the paper would be hung on a line to dry, like Gutenberg’s laundry. By the way: that smudge-proof, perfectly set copy? If you were lucky, it was. Lightstrikes would produce solid black bars and patches. Misalignments in any of the moving parts could create very strange effects. But generally speaking, it worked.
With this machine the publisher could create his entire newspaper, headlines to obituaries to classifieds, and save cash. Input was through all the paper-tape producing keyboards your enterprise required. This machine boasted 16K of memory and went for sale at just under $40,000.
The next big jump was the Macintosh plus laser printer: faster, cheaper, and easier again. People sneered at the type quality—but it was good enough for a lot of uses, and typesetting shops started going out of business by the dozens. I’ll never forget the day I first saw Pagemaker pour text into page after virtual pasted-up page. Patrick and I stood there with our mouths open and our arms around each other, dazzled by this patent miracle.
These days we are all the operators, the compositors. In our day now there is not a thing that we could do on the Lino or the IBM machine or even the 748 that we can’t do right from here on a $2,000 (or less) Dell or Gateway home computer. In fact this very machine could have easily produced our entire sixteen page weekly newspaper, headlines, copy and advertisements in about one day had we possessed it in 1970. But of course that’s what technology is all about. In our simple home machines today we have a practically unlimited selection of sizes and type faces right at our very fingertips. We can toggle to boldface or italic on a whim. No drawer to open, no ink to dry, no Linotype to scrape. My keystrokes on my keyboard are the same letters that you’re reading at this moment—the process has become more personal between writer and reader—save the editor’s fine suggestions.
All true.

Linotypes were a cool piece of working technology. They hardly changed from the 1880s to the 1970s. When you consider what an advance they represented over the system they replaced (a guy with a type stick in his hand, setting text letter by letter) and the complexity of the task they performed, it’s mildly amazing that they came along when they did. In combination with faster presses and cheap pulp paper, they were transformative. When I see one in a museum, I feel fondly nostalgic. But I wouldn’t go back to hot type if you paid me.

Comments on Typesetting: when it changed:
#1 ::: Adam Rice ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 06:11 PM:

I come at this a generation or so later. Admittedly a technophile early on, I had been using computers from middle school on. When I got my first job that I took seriously as a job, in a translation agency, we had a Varityper that used a CRT to expose the photgraphic paper (we had a refrigerator-sized developing machine). To get text into the Varityper terminal, our typesetter (a young Japanese woman with an uncanny sense for English hyphenation) would either type it in by hand, or we'd hook up a null modem to one of the TRS-80 IVs that the rest of us worked on. (Except for the one guy married to his TRS-80 II -- for that, we'd first need to modem it to one of the model IVs, and then to the Varityper. Don't ask me why.)

One day I was poking around and found the type wheels used by the previous-generation Varityper. That rocked me back on my heels a bit: as kludgey as it seemed (hell, generating the image on the CRT and passing that through a lens onto photographic paper already seemed kind of kludgey--this was in 1989, well after laser printers were established--but it did produce beautiful output), I realized that when it came out, those type wheels must have been a Very Big Deal.

My boss had a laser printer, and actually taught himself a little Postscript so that he'd be able to produce nicely formatted text. I eventually brought my Mac into the office, and earned the job of DTP guy for my trouble.

#2 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 06:12 PM:

When I went to work as a proofreader in the production room at MCP in 1989, they still had a Linotronic spitting out camera-ready repro, but by the end of the year, all the books were being done on Macs running Pagemaker, and we proofed everything on laser prints and sent disks to the printer. Supposedly, we were the first shop in the country to go to a fully electronic prepress operation. (So the press releases claimed, but I've heard others say the same.) About a dozen people lost their jobs, too.

Now that I work for a software company, nothing goes out on paper. Everything is authored and edited in XML, and then sent to customers as either HTML or PDF. I think I might like my work better if there were something solid you could hold in your hand at the end of the day.

#3 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 06:28 PM:

Then the paper would be hung on a line to dry, like Gutenberg’s laundry.

Just to let you know: I loved this line best of all.

#4 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 06:31 PM:

1989 must've been a watershed year for changes in the printing/publishing business.

#5 ::: Nancy Hanger ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 06:37 PM:

I entered the typesetting world in 1980, when I took a job at a small typesetting shop on Rt. 1A in South Hamilton, Mass., just across from what is still undeniably the best roast beef joint in the Northeast: Nick's Roast Beef. I gained 10 lbs. working there, but Nick knew me by name and sight.

We had to punch out to go to the bathroom. We had a second bathroom we'd set up as a darkroom for that paper-developing strips from the Vari-typer (or a relative to it, my memory fails here). I remember being a favorite of the owner, a hard man who literally docked your pay by the minute, if you failed to not come back from the bathroom or lunch "on time" (3 breaks a day, 5 minutes each: if you couldn't pee in that time, you lost money). He often winked me in and out if I was a bit late: I was his "perfect" keyboarder/typist; alas, a trait that has slipped over time, with the introduction of the Mac in 1984 -- which we gobbled up and adored when it premiered in the office.

Computers changed my life, quite literally. But then, most people here know how closely connected my entire life has been with computers. (Someone ask me sometime about that -- my life has consisted of standing among giants.)

PCs, Macs -- Ventura (originally Xerox Ventura for Windows 3.1), Quark, Pagemaker, and now Indesign. Conquered, loved, cursed at, and worked with them all. I'm setting a book in Indesign today, and there are still some quirks to it that make me wonder if the people who develop typesetting programs actually do typesetting. [she shakes her head and pinches the bridge of her nose...]

My love for type hasn't waned: Elric refers to me -- sitting in bed with a type catalog, matching type for a book -- as Nancy reading "type porn."

Out of curiosity, how many people here play "match that type" at movies, during the credits?

#6 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 06:42 PM:

My highschool's printshop teacher still requires students to hand-set an entire page of text before he lets them even look at the computer for any typesetting.

I'll say this-- I laughed when other students spent >$200 on graduation announcements, when the printshop teacher gave us run of the pressroom, "as long as we paid for the supplies."

#7 ::: John C. Bunnell ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 06:55 PM:

Heh. My college paper bought a brand new phototypesetting system -- Lord, it would have been in the summer of 1981, between my sophomore and junior years -- Compugraphics it was, consisting of one tall blue box (half the size of a TARDIS, but about the same shape) and two "mini-disk terminals" for typing in stories -- these looked rather like oversized Kaypro computers, consisting of a box with a small monochrome CRT, a vertically set diskette drive, and a keyboard sticking out of the front. The blue TARDIS pylon was much as Teresa describes -- you'd walk the diskette across from the terminals, stick it in the drive in the pylon, and shortly thereafter the font-film would spin, the pylon would hum, and presto! (I forget now whether you had to take the paper drum off to the darkroom to develop, or if typeset copy issued forth wire-service-like out of the pylon in a stream of black and white glory.)

The college in question being located in Walla Walla, miles from anywhere, they sent us the machine, a stack of 3-ring binders with the manuals, and a lady who spent a couple of hours telling us very generally how the thing worked; we thereupon pretty much taught ourselves to use the machines.

All of which turned out to be useful several techno-generations later, when I realized that the HTML I was formatting for Web pages bore a striking resemblance to the markup language the Compugraphics machines had been using way back when.

#8 ::: Charlie Stross ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 07:09 PM:

I did a career shift and found myself, a novice technical author, in charge of typesetting my own manuals in 1990. On an IBM PC AT with a hercules monitor, a Laserjet Plus clone (no postscript!), and a copy of Ventura Publisher 2.0 ... for GEM on DOS.

Probably the only reason I didn't freak and run was that this was a big step up from my fanzine publishing kit (24-pin dot matrix and a Gestetner 260).

My next job, circa 1991, was all high tech -- 386's and even a 486 running Xenix and UNIX (from SCO, back when it was a software company), plugged into a Varityper VT600 -- a 2 page per minute 600dpi postscript printer that cost more than I earned in three years and seemed to come with a built-in field service engineer. That's where I learned troff macros. Interestingly, some of the typesetters in our team had switched from hot lead (in Fleet Street newspaper offices) only a couple of years earlier.

I'm still not sure the GUI tools everybody uses these days are actually a step forward. It's probably the false assertion that "what you see is what you get" that bugs me (although I'll concede that a Mac running OS/X, with display PDF, talking to a postscript printer, is a lot closer to it than most previous systems).

Yeah, the 1980's were a watershed. I suspect I may belong to the youngest generation to be familiar with stencil duplicators (as opposed to mopiers) ...

#9 ::: Bob O ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 07:16 PM:

"Why, when I was a lad, we used to compose on sticks,
and use great big mallets to set our pages.

"But you try and tell the young people today that,
and they won't believe you. "

#10 ::: Mike ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 07:19 PM:

It's interesting reading here about the lead and the slugs.

In 1977 I attended a high school which had a cast-off Varityper-like machine, yet the Journalism class had to send out the school paper for typesetting. This was part of a month-long production process. A friend of mine organized an alternative school newspaper. We typed up our text in narrow columns, pasted it up with line art and photos and used a scanning version of a mimeograph. We could have coverage of Tuesday night's basketball game in a paper distributed Thursday morning, even though we did things like sleeping and homework.

I think I prefer blogs.

#11 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 07:21 PM:

I set type by hand in a shop class in Jr. HS, back in the mid-60s. Later on I was with my father on a trip in Maine, and got to see a linotype in action, and he caught the hot slugs with our names on them with a folded newspaper, to spoil the operators fun. Around the same time I took a boy scout trip to the Boston Globe plant, and saw them layout a page of linotype, make an impression with fancy paperpulp, roll that up inside a drum, and cast an impression drum for the printing press from hot metal.
In the mid-70s working for Digital, I supported some of the in-house typesetting folks on their PDP-11 based system. The coolest computer terminal I ever worked with was the typesetting version of the VT20, a sleek fiberglass case with a deepset screen, and the function keys on the side of the keyboard were individually backlit with little incandescent lights, under program control. It was pretty easy to make a simple assembler program for light shows. It probably used a variant of runoff for typesetting (my memory fades, grasshopper), and the justification-and-hyphenation process was a batch job that would be left to run overnight for about a brochure's worth of text. It then went to some version of a formed-character optical system for output. I also worked on some interface code for an early xerographic printer. Pre-laser printer technology. It was a variant of a Computer Original Microfilm printer with a CRT as the imaging device, and since memory was still to slow or expensive to do it dot-by-dot for 132x60 pages, the characters were on a shadow mask near the neck of the CRT, and a fuzzy electon-beam was deflected though the appropriate character, and then deflected to the apropriate position.
A year or so later, DEC and Xerox collaborated on a laser printer. Then they shrunk. Then shrunk more. You could even eventually put one in an office, if you had a dedicated 20amp outlet.
Then early inkjets that were messy when they broke.
Software - runoff (basic formatting), Scribe (text as objects, you labeled something as a footnote, and decided whether you wanted footnotes or endnotes when you ran Scribe on your formatted text), then TeX, MetaFont, LaTeX, WordPerfect, AmiPro - the whole electronic Tower of Babble.
Uphill. Both ways.

#12 ::: Damien Warman ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 07:26 PM:

I started "setting type" using a Mac Plus and Ready, Set, Go! in 1990, then jumped to Quark and Illustrator in 91, working cash in hand for an "advertising company" that mostly did signage: most of my time was spent matching or redrawing type and logos; Nancy, I still play the "which face" game at the cinema. Fanzines were all laser-printed for me, although quite early on in my fannish life I was privileged to learn from John Foyster and Allan Bray how to get my knees purple, and I still recall the smell of the electrostenciller cutting away. I have a manual Gestetner duplicator in storage, and a few tubes of ink and some paper here somewhere... I guess that means I'm in Charlie's generation.

#13 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 07:28 PM:

My father, a designer and artist, had dozens (maybe hundreds) of type books in his studio; some were so old that when I cleaned it out they were lost to mildew (the hazard of having your design studio in the lower level of a barn). I grew up tracing letters from them for school projects (or occasionally swiping his Press-type, but on the whole tracing yielded a more satisfactory result). We had type trays around the house as objets d'art, and bits of type littered here and there. I feel like I always knew that the words got onto the page through considerable labor.

My brother became a hand-letterer for comics, and only in the last five years went over to Macs to do his lettering--more labor to put someone's words on the page.

When I tried to teach my father about computer type, we foundered hopelessly over terminology. What I called a font, he called a face, what he called a font was something else again, and we finally shook hands and decided not to discuss it any more.

#14 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 07:29 PM:

Oops.
I forgot an apostrophe.
I also forgot to mention TECO. The text editor that worked mostly character-by-character.
TECO BLOG.TXT
3l32ci'$ex$$
[Go down past the third linefeed then 32 characters in. Insert the string "'". Exit, yanking pages and writing the buffer as you go.]

#15 ::: Damien Warman ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 07:32 PM:

(Can't edit comment, alas.) nroff and troff and groff, and then, oh joy, TeX. As a mathematician, it was nice to be able to do arithmetic in troff, but TeX is practically Turing-complete! Now it's pdftex on my (old, dated, behind the curve) G4 powerbook, and nothing ever gets printed at all.

#16 ::: Erik Wessing ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 07:33 PM:

Most of all that is familiar to me.
By the time I was in college, the laser phototypositor was a huge machine that would spit out exposed film into a cartridge, which then was loaded into a developing machien and out came plate-ready film.
But then when I became a printer I took a step back into the past: I was a letterpress operator; and we didn't have anything as fancy as a linotype. I set my copy by hand, one lead letter at a time, or with a Ludlow automatic slug machine: I would gather about 18 picas of matrices together in a compositing stick, put that into the machine, and it would cast a very short slug for me.
once the page was all composed and locked up, I would load the typeframe into the gigantic challenge press. When running, it would make 1 impression every .75 seconds or so. In the time it was open I would reach in, pull out the just-printed piece with my right hand, while at the same time positioning a fresh sheet with my left, and getting both hands out of the way before the 3/4 ton press closed.
I still have all my fingers. But I was only at it for a year.

#17 ::: Damien Warman ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 07:36 PM:

John, I guess you played the game where you tried to find out what TECO result your name would cause? I used to edit all my CS homework with ed, because nothing else would survive the 100bps I could squeeze out of my home-built modem, trickling down from a Sun 3 to my Commodore 128. Ah, the terror of needing to type 1,$p because I'd forgotten where something was...

#18 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 07:39 PM:

I shall pat my copy of TeX fondly, but I do have a copy of a booklet from the 1950s containing instructions to authors regarding how to write mathematics in ways that made it easier to typeset. Most of the information about what symbols are available in what sizes (and how some of them -- such as a couple of the Greek sub-subscript-size) are available but weren't in stock when they were printing up the example rows in the booklet, and yet others can be special-ordered if its really necessary) is obsolete, but it does have some useful information about composing equations that are easy-to-read.

As for "WYSIWYG" tools -- aside from the questions about the truth or falsity of that acronym, I find that it's nearly absurd as a paradigm for creating typeset equations. There isn't any way to directly type what I want to see on screen, which means that what I'm typing is going to be commands to create the equation, and I'd rather have a tool in which I can see and edit the commands, thanks.

I don't know whether this will bring back memories for anyone, but I've recently been helping scan some of the back issues of the TeX User Group's TUGboat newsletter, including the advertisements. See, for instance, this one from 1985. (Main contents at http://www.tug.org/tugboat/contents.html; we're up to mid-1987 on the scanning.)

#19 ::: Brooks Moses ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 07:45 PM:

Damien - there's no "practically" about TeX being Turing-complete; it is, full stop. In the original pure forms it has hangups with 8-bit input and that sort of thing, but it's fully-functional as a programming language.

#20 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 08:04 PM:

John C. Bunnell - SGML is perhaps the proto-indo-european of that style of markup language.
Madeleine - to him a font was probably a face in one size. A numbercruncher was a mechanical device for sequencial numbering sheets in a letterpress. I could lead you on a merry chase.
Damien - that game was like the game of finding my name on a piano keyboard (many rests, one G). Jump and Open a file named "hn Houghton". Even inserting escapes wherever you want doesn't make it much more interesting.

#21 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 08:10 PM:

The internal workings looked like an orrery turned on its side. The system I learned on used mylar strips, one per font, that looked like elongated photo negatives.

We got a Mergenthaler brand "Linofilm Superquick" machine as a tax writeoff in 1972 or so. It looked more like a windmill, with four photographic glass plates for vanes. Each plate had about 100 characters, and changes between roman, italic, and bold required the windmill to turn. At about 30 characters/second (plus a half-second for each plate change) we couldn't call it "Superquick" with a straight face, so we called it "Merggy".

Initially Merggy ran off paper tape, and managed to avoid the need for memory by reading the tape for each line twice: once to scan for the number of spaces and the amount of linear space to divide up among them, then back up to the beginning of the line and expose film on the second pass through. Later, we interfaced it to a computer so it didn't need paper tape. But the interface gave it the line, then the line in reverse, then the line forward again, just as it would get it from the paper tape. I think we didn't have to give it the whole line in reverse, though, just enough to tell it it got to the beginning of the line. Quel kluge, but it beat paper tape.

We set the Faculty Directory on Merggy from 1972 until at least 1976, and I don't know how long after that. I did get a chance to visit the hot-lead plant that we inherited the job from, but I don't remember if their Linotype machine was running at the time.

#22 ::: Wendy Hauck ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 08:18 PM:

I'm a graphic designer by trade, but I learned to set type through necessity. My first several jobs were at printing companies, and if the typesetter was sick, or couldn't work late, or if you screwed up the type when you pasted it up, you had to jump in and set your own. I first learned to set type on the IBM Selectric, changing the balls to get bold, italic, etc. I could then quickly paste up the business cards and flyers that took up the valuable time of the typesetter.

Then I upgraded to the Compugraphic with filmstrips of letters and numbers. We wrapped this strip around a drum, closed the door, and began to type. Of course, you gave the computer codes at the start of a line or paragraph to tell it what size, font, leading and justification you wanted. The screens were just lines of codes and the typed text, so you had to visualize in your head what you were doing and what you hoped you'd get. If you were good, you got what you wanted spit out of the processor the first time. You'd hang it up to dry, then run it through the waxer for paste up. And as a designer, if you wanted something funky done to the type, you were better off doing it yourself than trying to explain it to the busy typesetters.

Then the MAC came in all it's "what you see is what you get" glory. My first experience with a MAC was at a financial printing company at night. I knew the owner and worked out a deal to use his MAC at night, learning as I went along, in return for teaching his typesetters how to use it. The perfect marriage for a designer that knew typesetting--explaining the layout and design functions to the typesetters, who had explained typesetting to me so many years before.

#23 ::: NelC ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 08:37 PM:

On my Printing National Diploma course in 89-91, we were trained on Compugraphic phototypesetters, which had to be loaded with two fount-strips (usually roman, italic, bold, and bold italic on each, some other arrangement for the colophon strip), a pair of ROM-cartridges for the character spacing and a lithographic film cartridge. Oh, and an 8" floppy drive to save our typesetting to.

I loved setting on those old things. Lots of calculation was needed to get stuff to come out set in one piece. Or we could do it in separate columns and boxes, and paste it up manually, but that wasn't nearly as much fun.

In the second year, the IT manager (not part of the Print department) let us use his nice new 80286s with Ventura Publisher and 5.25" drives. They were horrible. DOS (no Windows then) would pull some dirty tricks like reformatting a floppy without warning. So I set my Final Major Project on my own 512K Mac and a -- ahem -- borrowed copy of PageMaker. (Then made the plates and printed it myself on a four-colour press.)

Went on to a Higher National Diploma in Design for Electronic Media. All Macs and Pagemaker this time. Thing is, this stuff was new, and I knew more about either than our lecturers, and thanks to my Printing Diploma, knew more about type than they thought we should know. (I'm less of a monster of self-confidence these days.)

These days, though, I'm still meeting a lot of designers who were trained on Macs, and can do very pretty stuff, but don't know anything about type, or colour theory, or practical application of the Nyquist Sampling Theorem, or anything I'd regard as basic, necessary knowledge for a designer. And by not knowing anything about type, I mean can't even seem to tell the difference between one serif face and another, or just don't care. I hope it's just the circles I work in at the moment, and not a global phenomenon.

#24 ::: Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 08:39 PM:

Back when I was at MIT in the mid-70's, the official student newspaper, The Tech, claimed to be the first college student paper to use computerized typesetting. It was widely known as "the right-justified paper for right-justified minds."

(MIT also got one of the first big Xerox laser printers, the Xerox Graphics Printer, and I remember someone in the little science fiction writing group I was in showing up with manuscripts printed on the XGP -- they actually had boldface and italics in them. I never had the heart to tell him that editors probably didn't want authors doing their own typesetting....)

I never worked with a linotype, but I owned several phototypesetters, IBM Composers, and platemakers, not to mention an A.B. Dick 360 offset press. That was back when I was part of Off Centaur (the first filk songbook and tape publisher) and going to print shop auctions on a regular basis. (I didn't bid on the 6-color web press that went for $1.25 million; it wouldn't fit in the garage.)

(In the truly obscure trivia department, did you know that the very first IBM word processors with memory used magnetic tape with sprocket holes? The tape would advance one hole and then a tape head mounted on a rod would zip sideways across the tape to read or write a character.)

OCP's first books were typeset using TROFF on UC Berkeley's phototypesetter -- the very one for which TROFF was originally written. I'd go down to the computer center to pick up my rolls of typesetter output. Then OCP got a Varitype (IIRC) typsetter, with the film-strip fonts, and did quite a bit with that. Shortly before the company broke up, we got offered (for free!) a Merganthaler Linotype phototypesetter, which was about 8 x 5 x 4 feet and weighed the better part of a ton. Getting it moved was, um, interesting. But it was wicked fast, and had IIRC 16 fonts on line (on 4 font disks, mounted on a bizarre turret arrangement) and continuous scaling from something like 4 to 72 point type. It also had a builtin minicomputer and a high speed tape reader. We got two punch-tape terminals and a cabinet full of spare parts with it. I think my favorite feature was the way you edited a punch tape: you'd read the old tape and simultaneously punch a new one up to the point you needed to make a change, then type your change and carefully advance the old tape to the right point to resume copying.

For several years, you'd see slightly pathetic ads in Printers Trader and similar printing equipment classified ads offering complete font-disk phototypesetting systems at steadily decreasing prices.

I still have a few font disks (and some honkin' big stepper motors) from the last of my typesetters, the one I gave up on selling and converted to scrap. Ah, those were the days...

#25 ::: Bill Blum ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 08:42 PM:

Damien wrote:
Now it's pdftex on my (old, dated, behind the curve) G4 powerbook, and nothing ever gets printed at all.

I use TeXShop on the G4 Powerbook issued to me by my employer...

It's a fairly nice front end to pdftex.

#26 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 09:11 PM:

I got into the computer biz because I started out as a Navy radioman using teletype equipment with paper tape. Shameless self-promotion: I wrote about that experience a year ago.

#27 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 09:46 PM:

Long ago, in a kingdom far away, my last year of college, I took a Book Publishing class in one of the two last semesters of my Journalism degree. The teacher took us to KU's print shop, and I actually got to see bank after bank of Linotype machines, used for the U. Kans. Press books. And going, gee, how complicated is that. They also had started working with one of the first, neonatal computerized typesetting processes that they were proud to show us. But they weren't sure how this would change their lives, just yet.

Fast forward. I currently work for a trade show publisher. If you asked me to do my job with a typewriter, I'd slit my wrists. And I imagine our layout artists, as well as our printers would feel the same way (well, there 's only one layout person over 30 and she remembers pasting stuff up... rather than composing it all in a page with Quark). And I only work on the front of production, I get stuff ready for layout artists, mostly databases provided by the clients.

Jim has a lot of the history of the changes in typesetting since his first Compugraphic experiences (that's when he started in layout).

#28 ::: Mary Tabasko ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 10:03 PM:

Memory lane!

I worked as a copyeditor and typesetter at my college newspaper. When my liberal arts degree failed to land me a job, I did a lot of work as a typesetter 'til I decided on grad school. I'd have starved otherwise. I still annoy my friends with "name that font!"

I remember the IBM typewriter-typesetters; I thought they were much cooler than their little brothers, the Selectric typewriters. (Mmmm. Maybe I could find one of them on E-bay.) The ones I used could only set body type, since the fonts were on Selectric-like balls, and we had a real torture device for setting display type: a primitive phototypesetting unit. This device -- not really a machine, little more than a light-safe spool of paper on one side with a take-up reel on the other and a light-safe chamber in between with an exposure light -- used fonts on film. Each size and face combo was a different film strip. Type was set by hand. Imagine setting LetraSet press-type in the dark.

You slipped the film strip between the paper and the light source, centered the letter in the exposure chamber, and hit the light, exposing the paper. You then advanced the paper enough to avoid overlapping the next letter. Of course, you couldn't see the letter on the paper until it was developed, so it was an exercise in visual memory to "see" the letter on the paper, "see" where the next letter would be (does it need to be kerned?), and advance the paper appropriately. The font strips had little tick marks to serve as clues, so if you moved the font and the paper together, you were supposed to get the right spacing. Needless to say, the two never moved together smoothly, so you usually just did it by visualizing. And if you needed to change the face or size, you had to switch strips, which really made it easy to lose the visual memory.

Then you developed the paper and hoped that you didn't have any overlapping letters; big spaces could be excised with the power of X-Acto, but overlaps had to be reset. With practice, you could set perfectly acceptable type this way, but it took a lot of practice.

And I loved the computerized phototypesetters. I used both Compugraphic and Varityper machines. The blue Compugraphic machines had the fonts on big filmstrips that you clamped to a drum inside the photo unit. (On the one we had, the drum squealed when you applied the brake to change the font. Ugh.) The most annoying thing about this system was that the fonts and the font metrics were stored separately. You had to insert a metric card corresponding to the font into the computational unit, and then have the machine count the type ("rejust" was the command, IIRC). If you forgot to swap the card when you changed the font strip, you'd get a mess of ugly type, like bad font substitution on a printer. As I recall, these strips typically included two or four faces, so you'd have a light, an italic, a bold and a bold italic, but you couldn't mix, say, Garamond faces with Helvetica faces in the same block of text. While this was rarely an issue in body type, it made setting display type a pain. You set all the Helvetica type, then all the Garamond, and the actual assembly again required the power of X-Acto.

The Varitypers had the fonts on the plastic wheels, with the metrics also on the wheels. This was much nicer; you just had to change the wheel. Each wheel could hold four faces, and the machines we had could take four wheels, so you could actually set camera-ready copy in mixed fonts. I really loved these machines; most of the operators knew only the bare minimum. My official job was copyeditor, and I wasn't supposed to play with the typesetters, but I knew those machines could be used better than we were using them, so I used to take the manuals home and study them, amazed at the stuff you could do with them. I'd sneak time on them to play, sending home elaborately typeset letters on photopaper. Eventually, I became the unofficial Varityper guru, and I got to set all the "hard" (fun) stuff for our weekend magazine.

We also had that table-top developer unit, which was a real pain. The chemicals were smelly enough on their own, but if you bumped the unit, the chemicals would mix, resulting in this white, kinda egg-whitey mess. Then you had to take the whole unit apart and clean it thoroughly -- especially the rollers, since the paper feed seem to be where we had most of our problems. The paper goes in but it doesn't come out. You open the box, and all your paper is neatly accordioned up, again mixing the chemicals.

I hit grad school just in time for the digital/desktop-PC revolution, but I was so frustrated with the early stuff. Ugly Machintosh fonts, and the awful documents by people who seemed to believe that they had to use every font they had. For a while, I despaired for the future of typography and the legible printed page. I even wrote a paper on the history of typesetting that was eventually published as an entry in (I think) the Encyclopedia of Information Science. Then I discovered TEX and the various roffs, and the good digital type foundries, and life was worth living (or at least formatting) again. But I still miss the phototypesetters, except that one.

I never got to use a Linotype machine, and I've always regretted it. Someday.... You can occasionally find Linotype machines on E-bay. I have seen several, although only one has been within feasible transport range, and the seller never answered my mail (fool). Someday, one will be mine. (See Heavy Metal Madness: The Horrors of a Global Marketplace for the adventures of someone who saw it on Ebay and couldn't resist.)

#29 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 10:06 PM:

My experience with typesetting runs across about the same range of technology. Ah, nostalgia.

I remember touring the Shreveport Journal as a cub scout, seeing the linotypes and being shown how the type was used to create rubber mats for the big web presses. (Trivia side note: if I remember correctly, linotypes did not use lead, they used type metal, an alloy of lead, tin and antimony that expands as it cools to fill in cracks and stuff, like bronze and other copper alloys. It helps to have had a sculptor for a roommate briefly. I think you could actually use straight lead, but it would not work as well.)

The first system I ever got to use was an IBM, owned by my college, which I used after hours to set political pamphlets. Got to play with all the lovely CG electro-optical stuff, and I can still smell the hot wax we used to stick the strips of copy to the layout sheets.

It felt strange in the 80's to see the systems that I had lusted after being scrapped in favor of the Mac based systems I was designing and installing.

#30 ::: Michelle A. ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 10:37 PM:

That takes me back to the days when I was working in a small bookbindery during the early nineties. All of the covers were still printed using foil and heated lead slugs.

The lead slugs were made up one at a time, using a composing stick and a box full of type. Just to give you an idea of the age of this machine, the manual assured you that "the machine was so simple, even a woman could use it!" This was amusing in a black sort of way, considering that I was the only one in the shop who seemed to be able to set type at any sort of speed.

The fun job of repair also fell to me, something that would have no doubt shocked the writer of the manual. I never minded setting type, although uneasy thoughts about lead poisoning passed rather frequently through my head. My enthusiasm for fixing the machine waned somewhat, however, after an accident involving a failed safety catch and a spray of hot lead that narrowly missed my eyes. I still have the scars on my arm.

#31 ::: James J. Murray ::: (view all by) ::: June 18, 2004, 11:17 PM:

I grew up with a small clamshell press and a short ton of type in the basement, which were used for birth announcement, Xmas cards and the like for many years. In college, my first 'zine was dittoed, the next two mimeoed (the corflu, the corflu!), then we got money from the student senate and could get it Xeroxed (I still had to sit up way too late typing two column pages on a manual typewriter).

I entered the typesetting world in 1984, on a Compugraphic system of dumb terminals hooked to the computer in the climate-controlled room, which also had the imagesetter, which produced slicks for paste-up.

The most amusing computer-related memory is from 1985-86, while I was working a 5.30p-1a shift for a company typesetting Western Auto tabs and, on slow nights, entries for the "Contemporary Authors" books, including occasional sf/f authors (I tried to convince them Michael Moorcock had far more books published than were listed, but that wasn't our job). We had dumb terminals for typing code and could hit the "h&j" key to check the position of the type (by looking at the x/y coordinates displayed at the end of every line). We also had a special screen which would show the overall positioning of the elements on the page, so we could make sure nothing was out of position, before sending it to the film machine in the cold room, where the computer itself also resided.

During a slow couple of evenings, I read Tracey Kidder's "Soul of a New Machine," finding it quite fascinating in its discussion of the development of a new computer system. But it seemed kind of familiar, too, and when I finished it I went into the cold room and confirmed I was, in fact, working on the Penta system described in the book.

From there, to a Compugraphic 200 all-in-one box for a Kwik Kopy (and lots of pasteup, in the cold and the rain and snow and burning sun, with broken glass and gravel for lunch), and then to the blessed Mac.

Thanks to pdfs, Quark and the internet, I was part of a group that went from "Let's publish an original anthology for the 13th World Horror Convention" to "here's your book" in 7 months.

KaCSFFS Press would be more than happy to talk with you when you're ready for your next publication, Teresa.

#32 ::: Lenny Bailes ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2004, 12:13 AM:

I learned to do typesetting with a stick in my high school printshop class. (Part of our study included a lot of time sorting pied type back into California job cases.)

I was a beta tester for Digital Research, in the GEM Xerox Ventura Publisher days of the late '80s, and early '90s. I went from beta testing GEM Desktop Publisher (a junior version of Ventura) and publishing fanzines with it to providing GEM Ventura support for a major Bay Area publication. A number of people preferred Ventura to Pagemaker, in those days, for its frame-based approach, indexing capabilities, and ability to handle large documents. As I recall, Ventura had true kerning before Pagemaker, too. I had a lot of fun urging Digital Research to develop a font editor that would allow serious users to configure better correspondence between Ventura screen fonts and Postscript printouts. GEM was also much more elegant and efficient than Windows as a desktop interface. Apple was frightened of it, and sued when Digital Research included sizeable, moveable windows and a trash can in the interface.)

#33 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2004, 12:55 AM:

I originally came across that page when I was looking for instructions on how to make a pressman's paper hat--which can be found at:

http://hotlinecy.com/images/hat.pdf

(a pdf file--requires Adobe Acrobat)

(I made one successfully from these instructions, but it's too small for me; instructions include size adjustment, so I'll make another, bigger one.)

And the reason for that was that i saw a picture of Eric Gill wearing a paper hat (but is his a different style?--not sure) in the marvelous book Type: the Secret History of Letters by Simon Loxley (Palgrave, 2004). Nancy, you wanna talk about type porn... I'd seen them before and always wanted to make one--and now, in the day of the Internet, I can essentially say, "Hey, how do you make one of those?" and get the answer...

At my first job as a proofreader in about 1976, I occasionally had to read type set on a linotype. At that point it was used mostly to print supplemental pages for old lawbooks that had originally been set in hot type. We got to see the machine in the basement (the publishing co. had been set up above the printing plant). I had read such Fredric Brown stories as "The Angelic Angleworm" in my teens and was fascinated to see the ETAOIN SHRDLU keyboard for the first time.

I worked with those phototypesetters with the developing box a lot at small newspapers. And I've done lots of stuff with exacto knives, slicing and dicing those waxed strips, chopping out typos, carefully positioning strip-in correction patches, even editing out sentences at the last minute to copy-fit...a skill I've seen used quite recently when big publisher A bought little publisher B and, to save costs, used multiple copies of B's typo-ridden rack-size books, onto which they would strip big running heads, chapter heads, and drop caps, to fill a trade-size card. They would also slice and dice the pages themselves to correct typos, only at the last resort setting clean pages to match...

Now they outsource keyboarding to India or Ireland...

#34 ::: S. Mitchell ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2004, 01:26 AM:

This reminded me of my first job many, many years ago. I worked at the Lawrence Journal, a tiny little community newspaper, circulation maybe 5000 at the most. The staff consisted of an editor, a photographer, a salesman, and me- the do whatever has to be done girl. (That's right, no staff writers- I spent most of my time whanging press releases into article form, and sometimes, if I was lucky, they'd let me call the mayor's office for a comment on this or that.)

Anyway, my first week there, they taught me to do the layout for newspaper: first, I would type out each story on this slightly waxy, sour-smelling paper. Then, I would cut them out out as carefully as I could. These had to be affixed to the layout boards, which we painted with a hot wax gun to make the articles stick. The masthead always stayed on the boards, but it was part of my job to carefully arrange every article, every ad, and every classified until we had no empty space and the pages were visually appealing.

After that, the editor would box the boards up and take them to the printer- I had no idea how they became newspapers, but reading this, I think I've got a slightly better idea.

And to think I thought my job was a pain in the butt!

#35 ::: Elton Byington ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2004, 03:45 AM:

Brought back a lot a memories. Thenks, Teresa!

#36 ::: hamletta ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2004, 04:47 AM:

I've skipped over all these stories, because mine is better! I worked on an underground paper in Nashville, and we had to print down in Lewisburg, because the publisher had run out of printers in Nashville and owed Tommy a buttload of money.

We did our lameass layouts on our $10K MacPlus/LaserWriter combo, but there were no decent scanners in the late ’80s, so we schlepped our photos and had them stat-cammed/PMT-ed. Grouping them by relative scale was the height of efficiency.

That paper was all done with Pagemaker 1.0.

Later, I wangled my way into a job working with Quark at a Gannett outpost. I did some flop-sweating.

But that didn't last long, because I got a job as an editor on one of those music magazines that your local cool radio station gives out.

I wound up doing four-color press checks at Gannett. As much as I love press checks and the smell of solvents, it was hard keeping that shit in register.

#37 ::: Kip W ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2004, 07:23 AM:

I particularly liked the line about the high-tech woodchuck. I expect this answers the seldom-asked question of how much lead a woodchuck would chuck, if a woodchuck could chuck lead.

#38 ::: Barb ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2004, 11:32 AM:

From where I sit at my G4, I can reach out and touch a California job case (Bodoni 24) which contains linotype mats I picked up from the ashes of the Brewery Gulch Gazette in Bisbee, Arizona. When I learned printing--at the elbow of a grizzled master printer--we prized our Model 8 Linotype because it was so fast! Nobody mentioned that the Linotype operator spent hours polishing mats, because if some type metal stuck to the mat, it would not snug up to its neighboring mat, and the text would have tiny hairlines between the letters.

You know how you decry electronic books and such because you like the feel of the paper book in your hand? That's the same feeling I get setting type on my Mac. It gets done, but the feeling of solid lead–of course it was an alloy–type in hand is missing. I also miss the substantial feel of putting the galleys of type in a chase, makeup rule in hand, and leading the stories out to fit Pounding a justified page to make sure you'd get an even impression produced a sound of accomplishment and finality. (What I don't miss is having to keep track of stereotype mats for ads.) Production skills that I taught in 27 years of Journalism I and II changed from headline schedules and counting heads to tiling pages on Pagemaker.3. All the steps in between were hailed and farewelled, miracles each one in its time.

Now if I could just figure out how to index a book with Indesign--anybody know a good book or manual on the subject?

#39 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2004, 02:48 PM:

Interesting nostalgia trip. I learned to set type on a composing stick as a small child, because my father had (has) an 1800's-era letterpress in his basement. Reading about linotype and monotype was an oooh! aaah! experience for me. I can still hardly believe the idea of casting your type on the go.

There's footage of a monotype machine on http://www.katranpress.com, by the way, on the "Eldon Press" and "Ephemera Club" pages. If anyone knows of any footage of a linotype machine, I'd love to see it.

Isn't it ironic, though, that Gutenberg's innovation is being reversed? His movable metal type replaced the practice of carving entire page images from wood. But now we're back to whole-page printing solutions, and all those clever little bits of lead, antimony and tin are obsolete.

#40 ::: Liz ::: (view all by) ::: June 19, 2004, 10:46 PM:

Wonderful nostalgia. In 1956 I wrote a school column for a little weekly in Florida. I got the assignment because the editor observed me on the sidewalk with my nose pressed against the glass window staring at the linotype, and invited me inside to look around. Much later I operated a Model 1250 Multilith for a community newsletter, and a good old Varityper for the headline copy. I set the body text on an early OSI computer with a proprietary text editor, and printed it on a NEC Spinwriter, serial number 3. That thing was built like a tank; a fluorescent light fixture fell on it one night and broke the cover. I called NEC to find out how much a replacement would cost and was told that "our printers don't break." They sent a replacement cover free of charge. Sheesh, those were the days.

#41 ::: Lee Hauser ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2004, 12:44 AM:

I graduated from journalism school at Washington State University in 1978 and immediately started work at a weekly in southeastern Washington. I'd done plenty of writing and photography/darkroom work, but had no experience with actual layout and production. We had two Compugraphic machines -- one for articles, one for headlines/display copy. Two days a week we'd have this lady come in and set the stories and ads. She hardly ever talked. She just came in, took the copy, and her words flew over the keys for a few hours, producing long strips of paper with my writing on them.

Every Tuesday night, after the city council or school board meeting, I'd come in and set my articles myself, as well as the headlines on the other machine. I think the Compugraphics had at least a single-line dot matrix display, which would have been essential since I typed even worse then than I do now.

We shared space with a print shop, but not the shop that printed our paper. A crotchety but lovable old Crankshaft of a fellow ran that business, and he did all his typesetting on a Linotype. I can still remember typing away at my Olmpia manual typewriter in the front window and hearing the whirs and clanks from the rear as Rollie ran his Linotype and ran his presses.

I ended up hating being a journalist, but I wish I'd spent more time looking at -- and listening to -- that Linotype.

#42 ::: Randolph Fritz ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2004, 02:00 AM:

Somehow it seems to me that half the story of the computer tools has been left out; the story of the early, purely text-oriented software tools like Knuth's TEX (1979?), the source of InDesign's line-break algorithm, and Ossanna's troff (1973). Those had no GUIs; the systems they ran on might have 128K of core, maybe. Grand typographic achievements were difficult with them--but they could produce very nice books and still do, sometimes.

#43 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2004, 05:51 PM:

Wow. Lots of fascinating stuff here.

I do pre-press for a company that owns lots and lots of small-town news weeklies, and today it's fully computerized and all that. I can't tell any stories of the way typesetting used to work, but I have memories of photostat cameras, waxers, the imagesetting machine that takes a 24-inch roll of film on one end, spits out page-size negatives on the other. (or paper positives; at one stage we were pasting the almost-complete page onto a flat and putting ads into the blank spaces, before the database for ads got fully integrated.) Now that's not in my building any more. No more courier to take the paste-ups to the plant in a taxi, we just send PDF's to the building in the other town on a company-wide server network. Lots of servers for handling ad art, and Macs at the design end and PC's at the data entry end.

#44 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: June 20, 2004, 10:02 PM:

Ghu, there are a lot of people here with long experience of typesetting!

Like many of you, I made a field trip to the local paper. (The Washington Star; the Post was a better paper, but the Star may have been friendlier to visitors and/or had more stuff happening during the day as it was an evening paper.) My high school art teacher was Barry Moser, who has a particular fascination for fine printing; he persuaded them to buy an 18" clamshell press, with a fair range of type, that printed student projects and the posters for the shows I built and stage-managed.

In the late 1970's I lived around the corner from a DIY type shop that taught people to use A/M Varitypers (possibly a generation after Johnson's -- I recall a 4-digit brand number). Noreascon Two did its progress reports and program books by creating text files with typesetting commands on various employers' computers; these were proofed as text (printer paper was free), converted to the typesetting codes by a TECO script that punched a paper tape, which was read onto 8" floppies at TypoTech, where we'd run it through the justifier and give back to them to make galleys ($2.50/foot up to 3.5" wide, $4/foot up to 7.5"). (Later, they actually got a modem! and could phone us up to download files, although they dropped a bit here and there.) This still had to be broken into columns and pasted up with little tiny strips of running heads; it so aggravated your obt and low-dexterity svt that I wrote a program to simulate the justification process, allowing us to edit in heads with proper spacing (and break the pages into small-enough groups to fit -- the front ends liked files 12K or smaller). This system did several of the small-size NESFA Press books; its last gasp (as scanners, Macs, and the associated software became usable) was the collection of Grand Master work, edited by the Noreascon Three GoH (Andre Norton), that came out as a convention hardcover and a Tor paperback. (That was when I learned how much lead time publishers work with when they have a regular queue of books to get out....)

It was not suitable for the intensely tabular needs of the NESFA Indexes (to SF magazines and original anthologies); when those were revived in the early 1980's, we used a ]descendant[ of the software Houghton describes, doing nroff-like justification and inserting page breaks (which it couldn't do) before feeding to the phototypesetter, which feed through the sidewall of a darkroom whose entrance reminded me ominously of a Star Trek episode (the one where citizens reported to be disintegrated when the computerized war said they were dead...). This all happened \way/ after-hours, at some distance from Boston; I remember seeing an aurora on the way home one night, some time after 2am.

And somewhere in there I learned enough nroff to produce an acceptable resume and an early issue of The Compleat Anachronist; I've since forgotten all of it.

There's a short film "Farewell to Etaoin Shrdlu" about the last night of hot-metal typesetting (and what replaced it) at the New York Times; worth seeing if you get a chance. And for those of you coming to Noreascon Four -- there was a museum of printing/typesetting equipment that was supposed to open north of here, in Andover, some years ago; might be worth an expedition if it has sorted out funding problems.

#45 ::: Bruce E. Durocher II ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2004, 01:01 AM:

Anyone ever work with MacPublisher? I was doing part-time work for a small publisher (that vanished in the middle of the night with three complete issues of their magazine that I'd edited and laid out for them), and spent $99.00 of my own cash for what proved to be an alpha release in an attempt to progress beyond a Selectric and waxers. It was the *first* DTP package for the Mac and died for a number of good reasons, the strongest of which was that it sucked.

#46 ::: David Dyer-Bennet ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2004, 02:34 AM:

My encounter with actual typesetting was while I was in college (that was 1972-1977; I think this was in 1973). The student newspaper had bought jointly with the alumni publications office a Compugraphic headline-setting machine and a Compugraphic body-setting machine (the second would do justification and such, and you could actually erase mistakes up until you hit the end of that line). I think maybe "Compugraphic Jr." was the model of the body machine?

Anyway, I was bookkeeper for the newspaper for some reason I no longer remember (probably because they asked and I hadn't discovered convention running yet), and they asked if I'd take on training and maintenance for the typesetting machines. Still not having discovered convention running, I agreed.

Our maintenance contract was parts plus phone support.

They had very good phone support (having intended to sell into environments like this). So one day I got to diagnose, in collaboration with the guy on the phone, that the large electric motor buried in the middle of the body setting machine was dead. A new one arrived shortly afterwards. And I got to gut the thing out, replace the motor, and put the rest of it back together again. In collaboration with the guy on the phone. I was really surprised; it worked, the timing was even still right (letters appeared in the correct positions both horizontally and vertically). That was one *long* phone call.

They already had a darkroom for the newspaper (shared by the yearbook). It contained the stabilization processor used for the paper used in the two typesetters. So I was also partly responsible for that.

Since I was also working with the Photo Coop (student group that ran the student darkroom) and the main photographer for the alumni publications office (which gave me sole control of the best darkroom on campus), that gave me 3 out of 4 of the darkrooms on campus. I never even set foot on the science one, or knew where it was; I'm not sure it was much used.

#47 ::: Sue Mason ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2004, 07:40 AM:

I've got several Linotype matrix keys lying about the place, one is a keyring, set in resin, my Dad and my maternal Grandad both worked at the Lino in Timperly.

The factory closed years ago but it was a huge employer round here, you would hear the horn go off at lunchtime and 5pm and all the men, Dad included, would stream out on their bikes.

I have a brass horse, Grandad made in the foundary, someone would bring something interesting in and the men would make a cast and make their own copies. He was a foreman on the shop floor where they made the Lino machines.
Dad was a clerk in the offices.

#48 ::: Amy Proni ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2004, 09:31 AM:

My father, Harry Bollinger, was the proprietor of Talponia Press, in Alden, Michigan (1978-1986). We had a Monotype caster, a Vandercook SP15 proof press, a Chandler & Price 12x18 clamshell press, and a Heidelberg production press. My stepmother keyboarded all of the text; Dad would use tweezers to fix typos. The advantage of a Monotype over a Linotype was that individual characters could be replaced quickly - you didn't need to reset the entire line.

IIRC, Merganthaler, the guy who invented the Monotype, spent his last years in an insane asylum. The machine was fascinating in its complexity.

I went from working with Dad on projects to the printing program at Ferris State College in Big Rapids, Michigan. I remember now that I got a B in the Typesetting Class, and the teacher said that I'd never be a typesetter... of course every job I had for 5 years after that was typesetting. Later still I apprenticed with Paul Hayden Duensing at his Private Press in Vicksburg, Michigan. Paul also had a Monotype caster and several double-cases of type. Working with hot lead was always an adventure: both Dad's shop and Paul's had streaks of silver (the lead mixture, actually) glazing the shop lamps, walls, and furniture. I always wore long sleeves and a leather apron, and usually sensed when the machine was going to squirt lead out instead of into the matrix. Gosh, that was exciting! It'd really get your heart racing...

Tullio [Proni, my husband] always said he liked me because I was into heavy metal... and because I could gauge measurements down to two-thousandths of an inch.

#49 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2004, 02:48 PM:

Interesting to read about those phototypesetters with fonts on moving pieces of film. One commenter remembers a hand-controlled one (where you moved both the font-bearing film and the film to be exposed by hand. Many computer-controlled moving-font-film machines also described.

Were there by any chance any in-between versions out there? For example, mechanically-controlled moving font films or moving font films controlled by more primitive electronics?

#50 ::: Dan Hoey ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2004, 05:05 PM:

Erik: ...Were there by any chance any in-between versions out there? For example, mechanically-controlled moving font films or moving font films controlled by more primitive electronics?

On Merggy, the Linofilm Superquick, there were mirrors controlled by stepping motors that acted to guide the light shining through the glass plate onto the correct spot on the photographic paper. The paper didn't move, except that after every line it advanced from source cassette to destination cassette. And the glass plate with the fonts didn't move either, except when switching from one plate to another.

#51 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: June 21, 2004, 05:44 PM:

Amy wrote: We had a Monotype caster, a Vandercook SP15 proof press, a Chandler & Price 12x18 clamshell press, and a Heidelberg production press.

A vintage Heidelberg press. Drool.

#52 ::: David ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2004, 08:45 AM:

My nickname at Taranaki newspapers in NZ was "chaos -son of bedlam" because like you I was the mug - well apprentice in his first job - who had to take the punched paper tape spools and feed them through a 1st generation Compugraphic typesetter - there was 6 operators placing the tapes in a rack on one side and subeditors and compositors screaming for stories on the other, with me in the middle taping together the torn ones and untangling others - I've since moved onto Macs and ask why doesn't anyone know the difference between a Berthold or Bauer Bodoni anymore.

#53 ::: Derek Lowe ::: (view all by) ::: June 22, 2004, 10:33 AM:

Yep, that must have been a Varityper we used on the college newspaper (Hendrix, in Arkansas) back in 1982. Fonts were on thick plastic arcs, four to a wheel, as I recall. Paper output, hot wax strips on the back - I was digging in a box the other day and found some of the stuff, now with lines showing through the paper where the wax has seeped over the years.

After I graduated in 1983, I got a call that summer from the two folks who were taking over the editing job. They needed everything I knew about running the machine, so I dumped out my stock, telling them that they were lucky they hadn't waited a couple of months because I was surely going to forget it all (as I have.)

The Mac revolution in my field, chemistry, was led by an outfit called Cambridge Scientific, with a program called ChemDraw. Since we organic chemists speak in structural drawings, this program was an immediate revelation for anyone who saw it in use.

My second-year continuation exam from grad school (fall of 1985) was prepared with plastic templates and rub-on letters. That was my first (and last) exposure to the stone-ax method of prepared publication-ready chemical structures. I still have the originals in my files to impress/bore my younger colleagues.

#54 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2004, 04:33 AM:

Australian Computer Museum Society in crisis - Does anyone know what the situation is in your countries with preserving some of the older technology -- after the Linotype?
I've heard that some archivists are worried about how we, our descendants (or perhaps others?) will be able in future years to have access to our art & other records on obsolete media formats. Maybe even more than some of the lost cultures of our past, like Easter Island, where we have some art & artifacts although we can't read their writing.

Crash goes that computer museum
June 23, 2004 - by John Huxley

Its proud motto was "Command - Alt - Preserve"; its vision, to create a nationwide network of interactive museums to showcase the men, the women, the machines and the history of the Australian computer industry. But just 10 years after its formation by a group of academics, consultants and other information technology enthusiasts, the Australian Computer Museum Society is poised to press the "Delete" button, consigning itself to extinction and more than 100 tonnes of IT heritage to the rubbish skip.

"I'm afraid we've reached crisis point," David Hawley, the society president, admitted yesterday ... he intends tabling a motion at this week's annual meeting, winding up the society and disposing of any items not reclaimed by donors ...

Negotiations over a possible museum site ... have stalled. And the society owes several thousand dollars in back rent on ... the 2500-square-metre warehouse at Homebush ...

Indeed, the "good bits" - which include parts of a 1940s totalisator, developed by George Julius almost 100 years ago, a machine used to operate "The Dish" at Parkes and the computer that helped to compile the first Macquarie Dictionary - are "buried under tonnes of rubbish".
From the start, the society was trying to capture the hardware, software and oral history of an industry that effectively began in the 1940s with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research Automatic Computer (CSIRIAC), which was developed at Sydney University ...

As the society's treasurer and curator, John Geremin, says, "Basically, my brief has been to catch it, whatever it might be - before it disappears." ... The sprawling collection now runs to more than 50,000 items, ranging from piles of microfiche sheets to mountains of analogue training manuals, from the little MicroBee school computer to the first DEC sold in Australia, which, he says, "resembles five East European fridges bolted together" ...

Matthew Connell, curator of computing and mathematics at the Powerhouse Museum, sympathises. "Computers are the defining technology of our lifetime. Many of the items in the collection will be items of wonder in the future. Absolute rubbish can become cultural icons."

But which rubbish?

#55 ::: Zizka ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2004, 09:09 AM:

When I was in Taiwan in 1983 there still was in use a "Chinese typewriter" which was basically a typesetter. There were about a dozen (?) drawers each of which contained several hundred different characters (20x20, I think). The "typist" would have to have memorized the location of each character -- something like "Drawer 6, 19-06". There are about 3-4000 characters in common use.

#56 ::: Zizka ::: (view all by) ::: June 23, 2004, 09:09 AM:

When I was in Taiwan in 1983 there still was in use a "Chinese typewriter" which was basically a typesetter. There were about a dozen (?) drawers each of which contained several hundred different characters (20x20, I think). The "typist" would have to have memorized the location of each character -- something like "Drawer 6, 19-06". There are about 3-4000 characters in common use.

#57 ::: Robert L ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2004, 01:58 AM:

A Japanese friend recently showed me how she types Japanese on her computer: first she types in the phonetic script, then highlights several characters at a time. This gives her a pull-down menu of possilble kanji (the Chinese-style characters) for the sound in question. She selects one, and voilà.

Chinese were allegedly very skillful typesetters in most of the Western languages, even if they understood nothing of the text. With only 26 or so letters to deal with, they had no problem, not only with Roman characters, but with Cyrillic, Greek. etc....

#58 ::: Nevenah ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2004, 03:48 PM:

What a wonderful history of typsetting you've given us here, and obviously a wander down memory lane for many of us. In my typesetting and graphic design class I learned to set type on a composing stick and make up pages on the press bed using furniture and locking it up with quoins (sp?). It was a very valuable lesson in design. When you hold a piece of leading in your hand, or have to insert tiny strips of foil in between individual letters for letter spacing or even, ghod forbid, hand cut two pieces of type for custom kerning, you gain a little more insight into the whys and wherefores of good design.

We progressed from hand-set type to a computerized system, probably a CompuGraphic (I remember you had to code each change in type style or size, and then send something off to the developer who would then return with a lovely shiny strip of paper with (hopefully) your type on it), and then we were allowed to use our own computers if we wished or had them. This was in 1990, so I used a friend's Mac with Design Studio to produce my final project, which was a short short story etched into glass. (I set the type, created films of it in a big vacuum bed exposure unit that used a carbon-arc light, then coated the glass with a photoresist, exposed that using the vacuum bed, then developed it and sandblasted to get the final image. The letters are surprisingly sharp.)

What is really interesting, though, and the point I wanted to come to, is that I had a temp job on Long Island in the mid 80's at a company that made promotional materials: hats, calendars, mugs, pencils, pocket schedules, safety booklets... a whole slew of items you could get with your company's logo or information printed on it. They had made the transition to computers, and there was a whole room full of them upstairs, with people busily setting company names and addresses in little rectangular blocks. I was in charge of scanning and cleaning up logos as well as organizing all the fonts in a more efficient system. The pressroom was downstairs, and I sometimes had to go down to fetch film or proof things just before they went to press. The computer system sent the type to a machine that produced a roll of exposed glossy paper, which then went to someone who made printing plates from it. It took a long time, used a lot of smelly chemicals and you ended up with an etched metal plate that went into these hand operated vertical presses (sorry, I don't know any names--I'm bad with names). But off in one corner, there were two linotype machines. And one old man who ran them. He was devoted to his machines, and both were in tip-top running condition. He could turn out press-ready type in a matter of minutes, while the computer system took up to three hours to get to the press-ready stage. I loved those machines, and I loved watching the type come out. I have a slug with my name sitting on top of my computer. During my short tenure there, the question was raised as to disposing of the linotypes. I knew I didn't have any clout, but I made my case as eloquently as I could on the merits of keeping them running. For the operations at hand, the linotype was quicker, more efficient and cleaner than the computer. I didn't see the need to get rid of it simply for the sake of keeping up with technology. I often wonder what happened to them, and to the man who ran them and obviously cared for them very deeply.

#59 ::: Mary Tabasko ::: (view all by) ::: June 24, 2004, 10:19 PM:

I purchased a bunch of old Linotype books (manuals and such), and I found a slip of paper tucked into a copy of I.T.U. Lessons in Printing: Linotype and Intertype Unit VIII: Secrets of Success as an Operator, published by the International Typographic Union Bureau of Education, c. 1931. (This is basically an operator's manual, with keyboarding lessons and such.)

The paper, from some other source, is printed on parchment. I have no clue as to the source, but it's obviously much later than 1931. It contains this (sentimentality alert!) text:

The Epitaph of the Linotype Machine

Many words have passed through me, but now all fail as confusion takes over and grips the very heart of my every moving part.

In all the years I have resided in the many places I was forced to live, I have fought off the elements of man and nature only to become less wanted everyday of my remaining life.

Time moves past the window of life but for me the window becomes more cloudy every day. There are still some places where I can honestly earn my pay but there are those who think I'm living on borrowed time...no matter what I say. Yet, in the past I have kept the world informed of news both good and bad and made some intelligent who read the words that have passed through me. My wish is that they be quality and be for eternity.

Now my future is truly dim, for I cannot keep pace with this progressive world, nor can I be trained for a new job as the end nears for they tell me that I have too many cogs and gears. No matter, I think I'll be around for many more years.

I'm really thankful to all mankind for making my life so long and good. I've always done the very best I could.

I don't know where I'll finally lie when the day comes that I must die, but no matter still for I have printed all of my will and left with man. So let speed come, go as fast as you can and I hope your future is as good as the past for if it is we will achieve our goal at last.

I have no regrets, there is always the remote chance that someone will keep me, just for a pet. There are those who like to reminisce and are sorry the world is moving as fast as this.

#60 ::: Marilee ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2004, 01:37 AM:

GW is closing their printmaking studio (including lithography) to put in a digital lab.

http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A1068-2004Jun23.html

#61 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2004, 03:25 AM:

Hmmm, Pasadena's Art Center College of Design (perhaps most renowned for their Automotive Design program) has a print shop where they teach use of traditional wooden and metal type. I thought it was in Old Town Pasadena, but http://www.designbyfire.com/000071.html has a photo suggesting they've moved it to their new south campus (in a former wind tunnel facility). That page also talks about a conference at Art Center where Ricky Jay gave one of the keynotes. Man, nobody ever tells me what's going on in this town until it's over!

#62 ::: Tim Walters ::: (view all by) ::: June 26, 2004, 09:17 PM:

The San Francisco Center for the Book teaches letterpress printing, bookbinding, and many other wonderful things. I've taken two classes there and enjoyed both thoroughly.

#63 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2004, 01:26 AM:

When I was in high school we set our own copy (as as paper, not each writer) for the paper. We had a pair of compugraphics, and so we learnt to swap films, remember what was behind the left side of the screen and (because I was geeky) when our shop was down for painting, and we had to use the shop up the road, I set a couple of stories on the lino-type.

It was a glorius pain, and if I did it regularly the twin keybaords (upper and lower case) and the seperate set for dingbats and punctuation made it so that I'd have been pretty fast.

I loved the damn thing and wouldn't mind having one, and a small press to go with it.

The lead, BTW was about 650F, and had 3 percent antimony, for hardness.

But, that week, lets me claim to be a printer, and, in a weak way, I can even claim pressman, because Mousey made me proof the stories, and the page we locked up.

#64 ::: Adam Ek ::: (view all by) ::: June 29, 2004, 09:23 PM:

I never used a Linotype, only saw one at the local paper when I was in high school. Personally, I started out in desktop publishing at IPBM with a Macintosh, a Laserwriter, and Pagemaker 2.0.

I've heard a lot about typesetting, but only a few comments about images.

We didn't have a scanner when I started, so I spent a lot time in the darkroom making halftone prints on the stat camera. Then I'd use the wax machine to paste the prints into place on the page.

We tried one of the first scanners Apple sold, but 16-bit scanning and laserwriter halftones weren't quite up to our print standards. I did use it a lot to create templates for Illustrator. (Trace the scanned image and then place the b/w line art into pagemaker.)

#65 ::: Jeremy Leader ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2004, 02:33 AM:

Hmm, I wonder if my parents still have the line of type I got as a souvenir from my junior highschool field trip to the Daily Home News of East Brunswick NJ in the early 70s. I also had a semi-cylindrical piece of papier-mache like material with an impression of a full page (or was it 2 pages) of set type. This was used to cast a drum which was then mounted on the press. I remember the press room was quite impressive, even though most of the machinery was idle at the time of our visit (which makes sense for a mid-day visit to a morning-delivery paper, I think).

#66 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2004, 07:51 AM:

Ah, yes; flong. I love it. A great word. Usually difficult to drop into conversation, so I'll just fling it in here where it might just fit in.

#67 ::: Daniel Martin ::: (view all by) ::: June 30, 2004, 09:12 PM:

You know, I was just reading about another change in the technology of how books get made on a tech. blog I check occasionally. The person behind that blog is a programmer turned author and then editor and co-founder of a small publishing venture. He writes about the experience of being an editor for someone else using an electronic collaboration system he and his business partner had used in the past for large software projects.

The basic summary is this: no physical representation of any of the text exists until the finished book returns from the printers. Editor and author work simultaneously on a shared electronic copy using standard version control software. The closest thing to paper that ever exists is a pdf for checking how the pages look.

To quote the author this editor was working with:

We were able to work fast to get this book out to you in a timely manner, but because there's no intermediate re-entry of the content, we're less prone to transcription errors. And when it comes time to make changes, I'll work on the master copy directly, rather than asking someone to make the changes for me.

On the surface, it seems very similar to some of the wide-eyed "digital changes everything" wishful thinking that the XLibris folks were guilty of. However, the book did make it all the way to the printers, and you can actually walk into some Borders stores and pick up previous books in this series off the shelves.

Granted, this was a non-fiction technical book, which is a bit of a different world from fiction of any type, and the author was already comfortable and familiar with all the tools involved. However, technology advances, tools get better, and it may happen that even the days of emailing electronic versions back and forth will come to an end.

#68 ::: Joy Freeman ::: (view all by) ::: August 18, 2004, 05:36 PM:

Somebody posted on COPYEDITING-L a link to a short film about the letterpress printing done by Firefly Press in Somerville, MA. Definitely worth watching.

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