Sunday, December 5, 2010

Composing type the old way…

For a definition of composing type, see this page. And here are Gary Mawyer's reminiscences of the machines used by a company he worked for many years ago.
I certainly remember the linotype, and George [Beetham Jr.] is my witness. The old Michie Co. used linotypes for their city codes (state codes were still set by hand in wooden frames, and the type was rectified by a guy with a wooden mallet). As George will recall, the row of linotype machines was on the right-hand side at the top of the stairs when you came to work. Those things were shatteringly loud, and there were enough of them to vibrate the floor. The smell of hot lead fumes was no laughing matter, and we used to speculate what it would be like to pull an entire shift in a lead fog. There was some splatter associated with the type too.

We proofread city codes, and the difference in quality versus case type was stark, I would say. But for utilitarian printing, the machines were fine. I do not think these were late-generation linos. In fact they were probably quite early ones since the Michie Co went back to the 1870s. I would hazard a theory that the linotype was what made the incredible profusion of local newspapers that used to exist possible. For instance, as late as 1970 a place as small as Point Pleasant, WVA, still had 2 local newspapers.

The film by Douglas Wilson is right. As machines, they were incredible, and when the Michie Co dropped the not very lucrative city codes to concentrate more on new federal case reports, the old linos were broken up and sold for scrap. We saw them lying there, and we remarked on the way home from work one day that if we had as much as $10 between us and a basement to put it in, we could have picked up a perfectly good linotype. However, it might have been a challenge to keep it running.

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