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A Letterpress Lexicon, Part 2

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A Letterpress Lexicon, Part 2

Hi, Friends of St Brigid Press!

Here is the second installment in our occasional blog series about the words and phrases that identify printing's particular tools and processes ~ A Letterpress Lexicon. Enjoy!

(If you missed Part 1, you can find it HERE.)


Today's 3 words are

TYPECASE, TYPESETTING, and COMPOSING STICK


TYPECASE:  A typecase is a wooden tray, divided up into numerous small compartments, in which the letters, numbers, and punctuation of a font of type are organized and stored. 

TYPESETTING:  This refers to the action of composing words from the individual pieces of type. A printer reaches into their typecase, picks up the desired letter, and literally "sets" it in place beside the last letter placed. 

COMPOSING STICK:  This is the tool that holds the pieces of type that are being set (or, "composed"). Usually made of brass or steel, the composing stick is held in the non-dominant hand while the typesetter lines up each desired letter. The stick is adjustable, according to how long the line of type needs to be. 

And here's a little video to put these three words together!

Thanks so much for joining us on this journey into the World of Letterpress!

If you haven't already, take a second to sign up below for our occasional newsletter, which features posts like this one, as well as updates on our printing projects here at St Brigid Press.



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So, what IS "letterpress printing" anyway??

An American-made handpress from the late 1800s, a descendant of the style used by Gutenberg.

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Before eBooks and all-things-digital, before laser printers, before photocopiers or typewriters, how in the world did the written word get into print? Well, slowly and carefully, letter by hand-selected letter.

Printing office, circa 1560.

In the Western world, we usually associate Johannes Gutenberg with the development of the printing press in about 1450. Other cultures, notably in Korea and China, had also developed printing techniques by this time. The brilliant idea that Gutenberg also employed was moveable type. By casting, in relatively hard metal, multiples of each letter of the alphabet, the printer could set the text for a given project, print it, redistribute the metal letters  and spaces in their cases, and set another text. This was, like the invention of paper itself, REVOLUTIONARY.

Setting the type for the Introduction in

In the centuries since Gutenberg, letterpress printing has continued to evolve and innovate, but its hallmark has remained the same -- the tactile, lush kiss of type upon paper, the physical sculpture of language that becomes manifest before our eyes. At St Brigid Press, we are committed to practicing and to passing on this craft tradition, working with hand-set type and elegant old presses to bring words into being.

If you'd like to know more about the history of printing and about the letterpress process, there are a host of great websites to learn from. Here are a few to get you started:

Thanks, and all the best,

St Brigid Press

The gentle impression of inked metal type upon paper.
Yours truly printing with an iron handpress at Penland School of Crafts. (photo by Lari Gibbons)
Rolling the ink carefully over the type forme.

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