Before offset and digital printing, the text on a page of printed material had to be composed by hand. Later, this was done with a keypad and a machine; but right up until the 1800s there were teams of specialised craftspeople called ‘compositors’. Their job was to pick up each individual letter and punctuation mark; position it, with spacing, to form a word and fill out a line; and in this way construct a sentence, a paragraph—and, finally, a whole document, newspaper or book. When you think about those huge broadsheet newspapers they had back in the day, all in 6 point font, you’ll see this was no small task!
A classic image of a printer inspecting the set and ‘locked up’ pages (or ‘the forme’)
Compositors at work for The Brethren Publishing Co, typesetting for ‘The Wellington Enterprise’ in Ohio in the late nineteenth century.
Aside from the type…
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