Is this what is ment by a “pica stick” and how do you read it?

I would like to learn how to determine the point size of a sort. I included a picture so that perhaps someone would be able to explain how to read it and am I using a “pica stick”?
Thank you for your help,

image: 011.JPG


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sorry about that, I can spell and I meant to say meant…..always in a hurry.

Gail, the inch is 6 picas, each pica is 12 points (72 points to the inch) what you have is 4 picas which is 48 point type. Hope this helps, good luck Dick G. ps some call it a pica stick

Thank you! I appreciate your fast response and I am glad to know it is that easy. I have several cases without names or sizes, this helps a lot!

CGB, actually it is 36 point on a 48 point body.
best james

most type has a little space on the bottom incase you have a lower case j or g that hangs down, its 48 pt., although the face of this type measures 42 pts. not 36 pt. Dick G.

The type face you have is 48 point. Type is measured from the ascender to the descender. I have attached a photo.

image: type size.jpg

type size.jpg

image: type size.jpg

type size.jpg

CGB, I stand corrected. Nelson Hawks is the father of the American point system. Richard Hopkins wrote a great book with the very same title, and I will qoute him ” It is noted that the standard line established only common base
line for all letters.Today more than ever before, there is great discussion over the fact that point sizes primarily refer to the sizes of the metal bodies; they have no direct relationship to the height of the letters on those metal bodies as measured from the tallest ascender to thedeepest descender.” In thirty years of printing I have seen 16 point type on 18 point body as well as 5 point on an 8 body. best james

We call it a line gauge. Not only essential to accurately measure type, but they make darn good back scratchers as well. You can always tell if someone knows what they are doing, by the way they put a line gauge in their pocket.

I’ve also heard it called a pica pole

Line gauges can be used to get into your car, don’t it look like what police use. Dick G.

The line guage shown also shows agate lines down the middle. This was a measurement used mainly by newspapers and is pretty much obsolete now.


Well thank you all for your responses. I hope I can get it right when I list my type. I will include a picture that way printers can see for themselves as I don’t want to lead anyone astray. Foolproof546, thanks for the info about the agate lines, it makes sense. My dad set type for the Bisbee Daily Review in the early 1900’s and I have several of these line guages, wondered why he had so many.
Thanks again everyone!

Yes, agates were used mainly in newspapers; they are the only printer’s measurement (at least before the desktop point of 72 to the inch) that translates exactly to the inch. Ads were sold by the column-inch of 14 agate lines, without confusing the buyer with points and picas.

I was a linotype operator that used to set a lot of agate at the newspaper, the agate is five and a half points, someone figured out they could get a lot more lines on a page, do the math, the paper made a lot of money on each page of classified by selling agate lines. Dick G.

One point (no pun intended) to clarify. 72 points DO NOT equal one inch. Damn close, but not quite an inch.


No, traditional points are not 72 to the inch, but on the computer they are, unless you change the preferences in graphic programs (to something like 72.27 pts per inch, can’t remember exactly). Schaedler sells rulers with traditional points found on a line gauge, and others with DTP or desktop points where 6 picas = 1” exactly. People printing digital type by letterpress should be aware of the difference: not much on a 3” form, noticeable on a 20” form.