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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:  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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Minding Our "P"s and "Q"s

Setting the type for the Introduction in "A Commonplace Book," letter-by-letter and space-by-space. Not to mention our "b"s and "d"s!

There are a host of everyday words and phrases that have their origin in the printing tradition. Here are a couple of fun facts from the Press today:

"Minding one's 'p's and 'q's" began as an admonition to the typesetter, to look carefully at which letters he or she was choosing when setting a text. Since moveable type (for more on this, see Here) is set upside-down and backwards, the cast-metal "p" looks like a "q" and vice versa, sometimes causing confusion at best and misspelled words at worse. Lowercase "b" and "d" offer the same challenge, though I'm not aware of a phrase commemorating these letters ;-)

Can you guess which letters I'm holding in the composing stick? Type is set upside-down and backwards, so the brain has to do a bit of gymnastics to read this: from left-to-right, the letters read "p", "q", "b", and "d".

And here's another set of words from printing history ~ "uppercase" and "lowercase."

"Uppercase" and "Lowercase"

In traditional printing, the individual metal letters with which words and sentences are composed are stored in carefully organized drawers called cases. Originally, one case held all of the small letters and was positioned on a rack near the printer; another case held all of the larger letters, for the beginnings of sentences, titles, and such, and this case was placed in a rack immediately above the small-letter case. Thus was born "uppercase" and "lowercase."

Upper- and lowercases filled with type, at the Government Printing Office, circa 1910. (Photo from glass negatives by Harris & Ewing, courtesy of

So there's our little dose of printing history for today. Now it's back to the Shop to set some type!

All best to all,

St Brigid Press