We use the term ‘point’ today without worrying just how big it is. We all know that a point is roughly 1/72nd of an inch, but at the turn of the century the point was anything but standard.
I look here at just how big a point is and how we arrived at this figure.
When typefounders were small and spread over the United Kingdom it was natural that printers would use a local foundry.
Founders used their own names — and not point sizes — to describe how big their type was. Names like Brevier (c. 8pt), English (c. 14pt) or Great Primer (c. 18pt) were used but the sizes were not standardised between founders.
You might buy 40lbs of Brevier type from Miller and Richards in Edinburgh and find that it would not be the same size as Brevier type from Stephenson, Blake in Sheffield.
While printers used local founders this did not matter too much, but at the turn of the century when printers wanted to use American types or continental types difficulties arose.
At the same time the Metric system was taking hold in continental Europe: British founders had to do something.
The British Printer from 1901 ran a series of articles covering the discussion; and it gives a good insight in to the attitudes of the different foundries. The question was simple: why do British founders not standardise on the American Point?
The American Point had come in to being because the Mackellar, Smiths and Jordan foundry in the United States had joined the American Typefounders Company and they had the largest stock of type and matrices.
Their point was adopted by the whole group and was embodied by a piece of steel with a flat, overhanging strip bolted to the top and bottom. This piece of steel was 288pt at 62° and the gap between the two overhangs meant that the base piece would not wear.
The size of one point was defined as 0.01387″ or 0.035146cm.
The manager, Mr. Benton, made the remark that the British Standard Point (remember that type was sold by name and not point size) at 1/72nd of an inch was so close to the American Standard that a little accumulation of dirt would bring the two sizes together.
The feeling of the British Printer was that we should all use the American point. This would mean type, materials and other printers’ requisites could all be used interchangeably: no doubt that this would be good for the printer in the long-run.
The British Printer canvassed opinion from the UK founders, and their responses illustrate the perspectives of those firms –
Messrs. V & J Figgins said: ‘…in our opinion there is no prospect of the printers adopting any point system whatever, and those doing so will only add to their difficulties.’ The BP commented only that this quote served a purpose by ‘…shewing the attitude of the foundry’.
Stephenson, Blake said that they were moving to the American Point system and would — for a time — be running both named sizes and the point system
H. W. Caslon were noted as a ‘progressive firm’, and said that adopting the system would be a ‘…great advantage’.
The general view was that most UK foundries had adopted a point system; and most used the American Point. Once all founders moved to the system, Caslon had said they would ‘…rejoice to know that a great reform has been accomplished.’
A term not labelled on this diagram is the kern, the part of the face which extends over the side of the type body and rests on the shoulder of the type next to it, or on a special, high piece of spacing material.
Kerns are often found on the letters f and j, among others.
The pin mark was an indentation originally made by a feature of the mold used on the earliest type casting machines.
With improved casters the indentation wasn’t functionally needed, but the mark was sometimes kept to identify the foundry that made the letters.
The People’s weekly served the largest of the Yorke Peninsula towns, Moonta, for almost 80 years.
Although, like the other Yorke Peninsula newspapers, it included some coverage for the surrounding towns, the Weekly concentrated mostly on the activities and interests of the people of Moonta.
In 1891 the newspaper claimed to have the largest circulation on the Peninsula, with 1,000 subscribers in Moonta alone, as well as in the other towns. From late 1943 the newspaper’s coverage changed to include more Kadina news.
Throughout its life, the newspaper reflected the importance of the local copper mining industry which was the reason for the existence of Moonta and the other copper towns.
Detailed mining reports were regularly printed in the newspaper up until the last small private mining operations ceased in 1938. A series of interesting letters in 1895 by ‘Inquisitive’ described the working of the mining contract system.
In 1891 major industrial action took place, with a miners’ strike which lasted for 18 weeks.
This was widely reported, gaining the support of workers, newspapers and church groups across the state.
The Weekly was not convinced of the strike action being the best choice (26 September 1891), but nevertheless gave its support to the men.
Samuel Hartlib, (pictured above) who was exiled in Britain and enthusiastic about social and cultural reforms, wrote in 1641 that “the art of printing will so spread knowledge that the common people, knowing their own rights and liberties, will not be governed by way of oppression”.
For both churchmen and governments, it was concerning that print allowed readers, eventually including those from all classes of society, to study religious texts and politically sensitive issues by themselves, instead of thinking mediated by the religious and political authorities.
It took a long long time for print to penetrate Russia and the Orthodox Christian world, a region (including modern Serbia, Romania and Bulgaria) where reading ability was largely restricted to the clergy.
In 1564, a White Russian brought a press to Moscow, and soon after that his workshop was destroyed by a mob.
In the Muslim world, printing, especially in Arabic or Turkish was strongly opposed throughout the early modern period (printing in Hebrew was sometimes permitted).
Indeed, the Muslim countries have been regarded as a barrier to the passage of printing from China to the West.
According to an imperial ambassador to Istanbul in the middle of the sixteenth century, it was a sin for the Turks to print religious books.
In 1515, Sultan Selim I issued a decree under which the practice of printing would be punishable by death.
At the end of the century, Sultan Murad III permitted the sale of non-religious printed books in Arabic characters, yet the majority were imported from Italy.
Jews were banned from German printing guilds; as a result Hebrew printing sprang up in Italy, beginning in 1470 in Rome, then spreading to other towns. Local rulers had the authority to grant or revoke licenses to publish Hebrew books.
It was thought that the introduction of the printing medium ‘would strengthen religion and enhance the power of monarchs.’ The majority of books were of religious nature with the church and crown regulating the content.
The consequences of printing wrong material were extreme. Meyrowitz used the example of William Carter who, in 1584, printed a pro-Catholic pamphlet in Protestant-dominated England.
The consequence of his action was torture and hanging.
The widespread distribution of the Bible ‘had a revolutionary impact, because it decreased the power of the Catholic Church as the prime possessor and interpreter of God’s word.’
The Tramp Printers: Forgotten Trails of the Travelling Typographers by Charles Overbeck at Eberhardt Press.
Overbeck’s book takes a look at the rise and fall of tramp printers at the turn of the Twentieth Century.
Tramp printers were the original freelancers, traversing the country and sometimes even the world looking for work.
More often than not, tramp printers were union members. Union membership guaranteed printers a job at any shop with a union contract, allowing them the freedom to travel as well as the stability that comes with employment.
The rise and fall of the tramp printers is intertwined with the rise and fall of the bargaining power of labor unions.
Overbeck even argues that printers were integral to the success of labor unions.
Printers formed the first national trade union, the National Typographical Union, paving the way for others.
The strength of these unions delayed the modernization of the print shop, but not enough to keep the tramping tradition alive.
There were definitely a lot of ups and downs to being a tramp printer.
The job itself was not the easiest—printers worked long hours under grueling conditions, often leading to health problems.
Printing culture was also rampant with alcoholism and sexism.
The Tramp Printers tells the story of how printers have been integral to the development of literacy and labor struggles.
In a way, printers are the unsung heroes of the modern age