Research who you are learning Letterpress Printing from.


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Kim, nothing new under the sun. “Thems” who can’t….teach. I first heard that saying in the 1960’s when I was a student at San Francisco City College. I was enrolled in the Graphic Arts program there and sorry to say I knew more about printing than the two instructors that were teaching it. They both made me a Shop Assistant, I gave the grades and showed the other students the ropes, this went on for two years. I was very disappointed in the class but went on to find my place in printing. So I can relate to what you are saying. There are a lot of folks that like to play the roll, but in reality can’t walk the walk. Be aware, Carl.

I agree with what your saying. Google has nothing on me.
I’ve always questioned some of the knowledge, whether they really knew anything. Certainly nothing from the commercial production side.
But I will go further with some of the ridiculousness and if it makes people mad, sorry they resemble my remarks.
I’ve been printing since 1981 and I’d never call myself a MASTER PRINTER.
Never earned a so called degree for printing or print making, there was no such thing. It was a Four Year Apprenticeship.
A Master to me would be, they know it all. I am learning something everyday.
If you haven’t ran anything but a Proof Press and a Hand Fed, that’s not a Master Printer. A term that was given to me by my bosses at the time after the 4 years, was a Journeyman Printer. That would be a term I’d look for if you wanted to learn anything correctly. It’s a Journey to learn printing, not two or four years.

In my learning days, I was an Apprentice for 4 years, till I was told otherwise. It was not a self or institutional granted certificate, that isn’t worth the paper it would be printed on. It’s all smoke and mirrors today, there is more to Letterpress than just art. I earned my knowledge and I am willing to share it with anyone who wants to learn.

I am not some old cranky pressman, I just started early and now I enjoy my commercial offset, digital & letterpress shop.

I will say one last thing, While staying home and working, I wish I would have saved all my set-up sheets from every job. I could sell it for ART and call them limited editions.

I agree with Theo Bell,

“It’s all smoke and mirrors today”
Especially Google. On it, anyone can pretend to be an expert. That should not come as a news to anyone, this is the style the society is heading to. But let’s face it, there were plenty of dishonest people in the past too. We call their stories anecdotes. They are cute now, but the incidents were a pain, way back then.

What qualifies someone as an expert is quite subjective. As one bonafide printer told me ” Louie, you are lucky that you are not a printer by trade ( I am a tool designer ), you don’t have “blinkers” to prevent you from seeing new options for doing things”. An another bonafied printer could not unstuck my Heidelberg because he was working 40 years in an unionised environment, and that was not his job! But he could run two Heidelbergs simultaneously in my shop and talk to me at the same time.
I don’t know how to use the Pica Stick, and I don’t want to know/use it, I just recently gave away my last tray of lead type!

I don’t use Tympan paper either! Pointing fingers at someone does not necessarily make the pointer an expert either.

BUT on the brighter note:

“I wish I would have saved all my set-up sheets from every job. I could sell it for ART and call them limited editions.”

Theo, we have to talk business, you have some excellent ideas !!!

Wow, you guys are harsh! NEVER teach a class with six years of experience? People get PhDs and teach college after six years of study. You might not call yourself a Master Printer —or Journeyman for that matter — but you can honestly state your qualifications and let your students decide. Where I live in northwest Arkansas, master letterpress printers don’t exactly grow on trees so you have to get help where you can find it. Indeed, I started out with a great workshop from Katie Harper, but since then it’s been Briar Press, the LP Listserve, Ladies of Letterpress, and trial and error. I’ve only been printing a couple of years but I’ve helped several friends at least get their toes wet and they know themselves when they outgrow my expertise level. Don’t pretend you’re something you’re not, but if we want this craft to thrive then we need to share our knowledge regardless of our skill level. Kim — teach a class!
Greg M.

On this forum, we don’t know each other personally and we should not look for Perfection either. It would be wrong to push someone in the direction they don’t want to go, but at the same time it is wrong to put down someone who took the courage and the initiative to do something.

Louie I am going to have to come see you. You don’t seem to let old ideas get in the way.

I thank those of you that seem to understand what I was trying to say.
I thank those of you that offered criticism of my post as well. I am always learning something about myself.
I don’t have nearly enough knowledge to teach.
I will continue to do what I can to preserve the history of Letterpress Printing.
I still think that charging hundreds for dollars to teach a class on Letterpress Printing should require that the teachers at least have a basic knowledge.

Any time Mike, call ahead and I will make time. We can grab a bite and talk unconventional! I am entering my slow season now.

The definition of what people ( Millennials ) understand and want by letterpress is changing. The world is soon going to rest upon them, so they have a right to re-define words as they see fit.

Here is a fresh look on the subject, mentioning both sides:


Louie - we need more of that perspective around here!

Wow! This a fun discussion but a very important one regarding learning to be a letterpress printer. As a stern professor of letterpress (Ha!) I would flunk a student who called their Line Gage a “Pica Stick”! And yes I said “gage” not “gauge”…

gil, I am curious,
what qualifies you to be a professor of letterpress?

Amen to Theo Bell’s comment.

What matters is not how long you spent learning, but who you learned from. If you spend 40 or 50 hours a week doing real work nonstop, in an environment dominated by people who’ve spent decades doing the same, you’ll be an expert in five years or so if you have a reasonable amount of intelligence and drive. That doesn’t mean you have nothing left to learn. But you will be able to handle without much thought the issues that dilettantes make a big deal of as things that they and other “experts” have to wrestle with and write articles and books about. You will also be able to do much better work much faster.

If you spend a lifetime among people who have spent a lifetime in an an environment dominated by dilettantes, and openly hostile to people who know more, you’ll be a faker. (To be a successful faker, you’ll have to learn to work the Big Lie.) There are hundreds like that around, and a lot of them claim to teach letterpress. (With typography, make that thousands, and it’s been like that for fifty years.)

Louie asks “gil, I am curious, what qualifies you to be a professor of letterpress?”

See 3rd paragraph above: the fact that he knows only one spelling of gauge, and that by far the least common, and the fact that he doesn’t know that “pica stick” (or “gauge”) is at least as orthodox as “line gauge,” less ambiguous, and was perhaps more widely used. “Line gauge” goes back a long way too as a term for the “backscratcher” with a pica scale, but it can also mean something else: any gauge with scales to count lines at various leadings. It may not even have a pica scale on it. (I’ve seen graduates of letterpress classes taught by “experts” become very confused by line gauges with only, say, 8- and 10-point scales. One of them was teaching letterpress a few months later.) In my twenty years in type shops (digital, but dominated by lead guys), we used them constantly, and I don’t recall ever hearing them called line gauges.

A line gauge was what I used when I was proofreading galleys and page proofs for publishers. (That was before I found out that type paid multiples of what publishing did—if you knew type.) That work involved counting lines. The well-known yellow Haberule was a line gauge. In the type shops, we usually used film gauges with a few ticks each for many different leadings—not for counting lines but for checking lead. We didn’t need to count large numbers of lines very often. I’d guess that “line gauge” was more common in newspaper typesetting departments, and referred to gauges showing the paper’s standard text lead (which the most common pica gauges wouldn’t show), and perhaps especially to the agate scale that was used in newspaper shops and nowhere else, and is still found on most pica gauges. (Agate lines were standard for measuring ad space, in particular the classifieds that once made much of a paper’s money.)

My reply to Louie re professor of letterpress: here goes: I enrolled in 1968 at Fullerton Junior College (CA) in their printing program. I have 21 College Units in printing almost half those college units are in Letterpress. My mentors there were Mr. Al Van Beenen and Dr. Ben Castro. My press instructor was Mr. Phil Crispy - we called ourselves Crispy’s Critters. All members of the ITU union of printers. Our equipment inventory then would knock your socks off today.
I later transferred to U.C. Long Beach (CA) with a major in Vocational Education. So I am a printer with a Degree so you can call me the professor or just plain Gil the Printer…

Re - Ken’s comments on Line Gauges and some of it on me but I noticed that Ken closed his remarks by calling a Line Gauge a “Pica Gauge”. Here we go again. On page A-5 of the Kelsey Printers Supply Catalog it’s called a Line Gage.
Ken is right on with his discussion of the “Agate” - I worked as a Linotype operator for a newspaper and the agate and the pica were the rule of the day. So now is it a Line Gage, Line Gauge, Pica Stick or Pica Gauge?

I’m surprised that someone has not used the term “Pica Pole”. That was the jargon I found used in one shop in which I worked.

As a beginning letterpress printer in the 1960s, I struggled through various texts and articles to lead me into the dark art. I’d have to agree that a good and knowledgeable teacher/guide helps one, but great work has been done by many “lone wolf” printers who were isolated from others, and had to go it on their own as they learned what did and did not work.

Use of terminology is just one aspect of learning a craft, but is important if you wish to communicate with others with mutual understanding.

Folks who are teaching the craft today come from many and varied disciplines, technology, literature, art, craft, history, etc. It is not surprising that all the teachers are not trained in the same basics that are a part of a commercial apprenticeship undertaken fifty years ago. I guess little differences are not really so important. Teaching only goes so far, much can be added by individual work and reading to enhance a real craftsperson’s expertise through doing.

So, no matter what you might call that ruler, it is the spirit and enthusiasm for the craft that will keep it alive and vibrant.

John Henry
(at one time a professor of Printing Technology and Letterpress Printing)

Different words/terms for the same thing not a big deal. Only having one word for an item is limiting. Often you must describe the process to a layperson. for example numbering machine or box or head or device, Houghland bottom and 1 2 3 bottom. side flaps or dust flaps etc.
An instructor with only one word for an item is not really a master. btw in the olden days the Master owned the shop the Journeyman was skilled enough to earn a living and reside elsewhere hence the journey. So if you don’t own a shop you are not a master.

Well said, John Henry.

I was one of those “lone wolf” letterpress printers 50 years ago. Learning on my own as I went along. It opened the door to a good job in an all-offset shop while I was in high school, and as the letterpress department head in a captive shop owned by an ad agency after high school. I went full-time with my own shop at age 19 - and have been encouraged and helped by a few great “masters” over the years, while developing valuable, life-long friendships with them.

A little encouragement can go a long way. It makes me happy to know there are younger folks who have an interest in letterpress printing. Let’s encourage them.

Michael Vickey
Nickel Plate Press

Let me see if I understand the main gripe here-

Someone might be able to teach the ACT of printing, but be unable to teach about the history or the communication of printing; too many would-be practitioners these days seem to be more concerned with the ACT than the traditions; this is problematic if one is interested in preserving the tradition, rather than simply operating a ‘lost art’.

Every DAY I am on this website, I encounter a fount of knowledge- people who know more and have done more than I have.
I think it’s worth pointing out that there is always going to be someone who knows EVEN LESS than you do. No matter how humble (or not!), we are all teachers giving knowledge to others if we are trying to preserve this tradition.

This person may not have known terminology, and that is a common problem these days- it’s not abnormal, it has become the norm to lack the vocabulary. But that is not a question of ‘able’ or ‘ability’.

I think the best way to “gauge” someone’s abilities is to look right at their printing and see what it is. It represents the depth of their abilities.

But there is a point you have touched on that may be being lost to the average press owner at this point, and that is that tradition- and the vocabulary of tradition- is getting lost.

Re - John Henry - I liked your addition of the term Pica Pole, I should have mentioned it but was getting too much flak for the word Professor. And you will too… The mark of a great professor is not just academics but real world experience. As an example why would I tell my Linotype students to wear a long sleeve shirt in the middle of a hot summer? Now getting back to terminology a pica gauge is not a type high gauge - so how do you order one from your printing supply house?

@ gil:

“Here we go again. On page A-5 of the Kelsey Printers Supply Catalog it’s called a Line Gage.”

I’m aware that some catalogs call it a line gauge—that was the basis for my note that both “line gauge” and “pica gauge” go back a long way. (Neither probably has much history before the point system was standardized in the 1870s and 1880s.) The 1923 ATF catalog also calls it a line gauge (with a ‘u’). But the only scales shown or described on the gauges in that catalog were agate and 6- and 12-point. So the only thing they could measure were lines of agate, nonpareil, and 12-point, and dimensions down to a half pica.

The 1968–69 American Printing Equipment & Supply catalog shows nothing like the line counters in the 1923 ATF catalog. They show only, as “type gauges” (with a ‘u’), the same gauges we commonly see now, with 6- and 12 point scales, and various combinations of points, inches, agates, and, on some models, 8- and 10- point scales for counting lines. (How come I never recalled “type gauge”? But then, I’ve always used it as much for layout as for type. Picas are the common element.)

(A Kelsey catalog was my bible when I was a kid, starting from 1963. But I never had the impression that it was the final authority on terminology. Until now, I’ve never met or heard of anyone who did. Kelsey’s market, after all, was hobbyists, not professionals. Professionals, from the 1920s down to the end of the metal type era, would have turned first to the ATF catalog, or that of a supplier—most likely APE&S—that sold the whole range of equipment needed by commercial shops.)

So it seems that the tool itself changed during the 20th century, to a gauge adapted for a different, and often more precise, set of measurements. Perhaps the terminology changed also, though this would have happened much more slowly than the change in hardware. “Line gauge” never disappeared, but perhaps “pica gauge” or “type gauge” became more common, or even prevalent. After the standard point system prevailed, it took years for people to learn to make the most of it, with tools and typographic material adapted to the finer and more useful scale of measurement. The process wasn’t complete by the 1920s, but it didn’t take much longer. The practices I learned in the 60s, dependent on the gauges still standard today, were old news by then. Those practices, then, and the gauge and perhaps the terms for the gauge, were prevalent for the last two generations of the letterpress era. They represent the last and most refined and practical development of typographic practice during that era. Why shouldn’t they be the standards for letterpress today?

As I mentioned previously, this may also be a question of terminology used by people with different backgrounds, in two different specialties within the type and printing field. There is a traditional distinction between “book and job” work and newspaper work. This is mentioned in England in the 1800s (by Southward, if I recall correctly). In the ITU, at least in the New York local, there was a division between “book and job” work and newspaper work—they required different skills, and perhaps had different certifications. An ITU Sixer once told me that there was very little crossover between the two divisions. Gil mentions that he worked in newspapers. My background is job and ad work (ad work fell under “book and job” for the ITU), with editorial work for book publishers, plus magazine and financial work in type. (Plus all sorts of presswork in my youth, from Kelseys to Windmills to half-web newspaper presses. Having been an itinerant or freelancer for nearly all my working life, I’ve worked in over 90 printing establishments, type shops, ad agencies, design studios, publishers, and corporate type departments—which gives me some perspective on common terminology, at least in my region (New York) and specialties. Plus undergraduate and three years of graduate studies in philosophy. One of the most insistent lessons I learned in grad school was that Ph.D. professors of philosophy at famous schools could be staggeringly lacking in even the most basic knowledge and skills. My high-school vocational certificate in Printing means more to me than my M.A.Phil.)

Outside of newspaper, magazine, and book work, people who work with type have to do a lot more than count lines. As I mentioned, they don’t actually do much line counting. However, they, and I, constantly measure layout and type dimensions in picas and points, and for that sort of work you’re almost helpless if you don’t have the point scale (two-point increments) which is found on a many pica gauges. Gauges useful for this work also had scales for exotic measurements such as inches and centimeters, which were used by the shop’s clients. People with any pretensions to skill also had loupes with scales in points and half or quarter points, and 0.005-inch scales. (The “type size finders” on those loupes were worthless. We used film gauges of various typical faces in a range of sizes for that, or measured with the 0.005” scale and figured proportions from showings of known size of the face in question from the foundry in question.)

So picas, and their subdivision, points, were constantly in our heads, and since we used the gauge mainly to measure them, it was commonly referred to as a pica gauge. This term also has a precise and self-evident meaning, unlike “line gauge”, which has a clear denotation only where lines of a few standard leadings are the norm, along with relatively coarse measurements in picas. (That’s in addition to the previously mentioned fact that “line gauge” means something else in the related field of publishing.) This is why “pica gauge” is also used in trade literature, though “line gauge” also appears.

“So now is it a Line Gage, Line Gauge, Pica Stick or Pica Gauge?”

The answer to that question is, of course, “Yes.” But, in my experience at least, “pica gauge” or “pica stick” is by far the more common among actual professionals who actually use them. As for “gage,” it may well be the normal spelling in some fields, but not in general usage, and not in printing. (Probably “gage,” like some similar simplified alternative spellings with limited circulation, dates from an effort at spelling reform by the Government Printing Office under Theodore Roosevelt. Those spellings remained standard for government work for some time.) A skilled professional typesetter must be very well aware of general language usage. People who are familiar with general usage may well correct someone who doesn’t appear to be, even if they are aware that a less common spelling is current in certain fields. So insisting on the spelling “gage” means one of two things: either the person has only a rather narrow experience of English, not including much reading, or that he is being pointlessly provocative by deliberately using an uncommon spelling that people will inevitably, and reasonably, correct, giving him a chance to display his “abstruse” knowledge while counting on the fact that people will normally not spend time arguing with someone who is clearly playing games.

I wouldn’t normally waste my time on that either. But this sort of thing is a major plague in any field connected with type, thanks to designers (who stopped learning from type people 60 years ago) and self-taught letterpress masters (who generally get what learning they have from designers or each other). HavenPress notes that “This person may not have known terminology, and that is a common problem these days- it’s not abnormal, it has become the norm to lack the vocabulary. But that is not a question of ‘able’ or ‘ability’.” The thing is, nobody’s saying it’s a question of ability. There’s nothing wrong with honest ignorance. Ignorance says nothing about ability. We all started out ignorant. It’s a question of attitude. Some learn, and some refuse to make the effort as long as attitude is available as an alternative—much less a widely approved alternative, as it is in the graphic arts. (The “art” in graphic arts dates from a time when “art” meant the same as “trade.”) With the latter attitude, nothing is ever learned, even in a lifetime of “experience.”

As HavenPress points out, “tradition-and the vocabulary of tradition-is getting lost.” This loss of the tradition and its vocabulary is a problem not because they have some mystical value in and of themselves, but for critical functional reasons. With the letterpresses in use in the craft today, you can learn enough to get very nice results by spending enough time on trial and error with the machine—preferably along with help from others farther along in the process. But a knowledge of tradition and its vocabulary is still essential for effective communication, especially in writing, and will enable you to go beyond nice results in the limited area of work still being done.

Where type and typography are concerned, however, the loss has entailed the loss of all but the most rudimental functionality, so that practitioners can do very little of what the professionals once did, and that only quite poorly, and with a degree of effort and aggravation that is a serious deterrent to even attempting all but the simplest—and commonest—types of work. They also destroy a lot of irreplaceable typographic material. They can’t communicate effectively among themselves. (“New school” terminology tends to vary from person to person or clique to clique, and its advocates often don’t even attempt things that can be learned only by means of clearly communicated detail.) They also can’t convincingly or consistently communicate the nature and value of the field to those outside it, either in words or with their work. If there were no more to letterpress than wedding invitations and souvenirs, it would be about as important as macramé. (Remember macramé?)

Too many letterpress people think that the press is the whole thing, and that the type is just a minor adjunct that a class or two will cover fully. The reality is that printing and typesetting, outside of small shops, have been separate trades for over a century. (This is why they’ve had separate unions for much or all of that time.) There’s a lot more to even the basics of type and typesetting than most classes or curricula, in craft environments or universities, ever cover anymore. With type, you need competent teachers, either in class or in the shop, and teachers who accept no excuses. And it takes a long time to learn at all thoroughly. In the ad shops in the 80s and 90s, under optimal conditions, I’ve seen smart and reasonably motivated people do it in about five years. (Those conditions included 40- to 80-hour weeks working faster, and putting more into the work, than anyone without a professional trade background would think possible. You not only learned it, you learned to do it while half asleep.) But that’s just learning one specialty—ad work in this case. To learn others—book or magazine work, or technical typesetting, as well as less important or less prominent specialties or subspecialties—requires further work experience, and some expansion of perspectives.

Understanding why typographic practices, equipment, concepts, and terminology have developed the way they have—which generally means understanding why they were and often still are the best practices, concepts, or even terms—requires some understanding of how all these specialties have influenced this development, alongside of changing influences from technology, business, and culture.

I’ve seen many teachers of letterpress, not to mention their former students, who couldn’t even move type without frequently spilling it. (Chase of fingers, anyone?) They don’t know how to use spaces to make their type look good (and so don’t see any reason not to mix the spaces up). They don’t know enough to prepare their copy before setting—never mind knowing how to determine in advance if their copy will fit the piece, or to spec type in any way—so lots and lots of do-overs and wasted time, before they decide not to attempt half of what they had in mind. They don’t even know what points or picas are—and often actively resent being reminded, however delicately, of the existence of those units. (I suspect that this is one reason for the present popularity of “line gauge.”) The same sort of thing is true of digital typography. So they can’t really do, and don’t understand, the work that makes the field important in itself, rather than as a minor adjunct to something else. In almost any other field, that level of ignorance, that widespread, would be considered a matter for urgent action if the field is to survive. I think that this is one important reason, though not the most important, for the “decline of print,” and also for the decline of typographic function and awareness in post-print media, and thus for the decline of reading in general.

Encouraging participation is one thing. Encouraging nonsense is another.

jhenry mentions “pica pole.” My impression is that the term was originated to refer to gauges that actually took the form of poles: graduated wooden sticks with square (and perhaps also triangular) cross sections, perhaps 3/4 inch on a side). I’ve seen these in printing equipment catalogs from the late 1800s or very early 1900s. I’d guess they took this form because they were rigid over long lengths, unlike flat gauges, and/or perhaps because when gauges became widespread after the point system was standardized, these were easier to manufacture at first. But they seem to have been superseded by the proliferation of flat metal gauges, at least where a long rigid gauge wasn’t needed to measure large forms. My impression is that use of the term “pica pole” declined at the same time, and may have survived mainly in books and on the Web, where it may be evidence of cut-and-paste scholarship. But it wouldn’t surprise me to find that it stayed more common in some parts of the country, or that a few professionals carried it on, in one place or another, right through the 20th century.

For those interested in reading about this stuff, there is a large annotated bibliography on my website. It includes links to free PDFs of many early books, especially catalogs and trade manuals (from John Moxon to the 1920s), and information about obtaining the printed books, new or used.

Hey! Could you hand me that thingsmajig please.

Dennis, the smartest printer in the room is stirring his coffee with it. Bud

From my vantage spot on the sidelines, I have sold maybe 8000 or more Line Gauges / Pica Poles in the past 20 years through my business and not once until reading this discussion have I heard them called Pica Gage—that’s a new one on me and I purchased my first Rouse what ever aluminum thing back in 1954 new from Kelsey as a kid living in Virginia and have worked in letterpress/printing ever since. We have consistently sold from 400 to 600 every year since 1996. Gage or gauge, or pica pole, which we called them back in my college days getting a degree in printing, pica pole had nothing to do with anything other than the flat metal ruler we all use. The ones Caslon Ltd. sells in England come from us, we ship them all over the world.

I always regarded Pica Pole as more a slang term with Line Gauge being the more proper term. R. T. Porte’s Dictionary of Printing Terms, published in 1923, says “line gauge—A printer’s measuring rule, usually graduated into nonpareils and picas on one edge, with inches on the other, so that the comparative measurements may be seen at a glance. Also called Measuring Stick.” Porte was a significant person in American printing back in the 1920s up until his death in 1936. He established the Franklin Estimating system which is still published.

Hmmm…been thinking about this subject….I gave been very fortunate to learn from mates at Amberely museum….before I could just about cope…after watching a teacher work with students for few days, then told next year that I was doing it as then they did not have to pay the teacher…..this a Graphics course.T hen of course bought the old books eg Southward etc and practised when I could.I do not profess to offer anything more than basic principles of letterpress and only salaried as a “printmaking technician” what ever that means not an associate professor or even a teacher. Last year students wanted to learn letterpress but were told by a teacher that as there was not enough time to learn it properly then they would not be permitted to do it.
But you have to start somewhere surely? So I do 2 days working on the Columbian Albion then if someone is picking it up then the Western proofing press…then students who wish to move on can of course return and assist as much as I can.I do do photopolymer too(check out Amanda Couch Reflection in Digestion book made as a continuous text 9 metre accordion book took about 6 weeks from initial idea etc)….not often.It is not a completely specialist dept.that I have built up, but enough so I believe to do show the basics and be a bit experimental as how much that succeeds is down to imagination, preparation, and ability within the limitations of what we have.A and it is quite s jump from two days to doing an artist’s book etc. No teacher actually works with me and assists with the student.
There are universities in the uk with extensive facilities fonts etc etc, but checking these out I have not found another offering photopolymer with appropriate machinery so are they just preserving tradition for its own sake but denying students the opportunity of participating hands on (rather than farming out) within a modern industry and a career there and the huge possibilities of combining text and image?
The few students that have gone onto working professionally with letterpress I have -hopefully-“educated” as best I can seem to have appreciated the opportunity they had.

Presumably websites have lists of courses , university departments, book arts centres etc that have established their own sides and reputation .Maybe the colleges universities letterpress association you have over there could set up lie a customer review section, or establish a ranking system , student satisfaction system or “star”system for their sector….could something similar be set up for the private sector???? But if you live somewhere where there are not many options you have to accept what is possible, assisting yourself with youtube, Briar etc, taking courses where and when you can?

Meanwhile my biggest annoyance today is dealing with such sweet f.. a…predictive text on the tablet….imagine how much that is messing up the world.

Gonna finish with another….hhhhmmmm.

PAGE GAUGE, in Ems Pica of course.
Possibly peculiar to Letterpress Print (make up in the U.K.)
Most *Houses* small to medium and upwards, where the through-put involved repetitive Book Work, most Comps used a purpose made >Page Gauge< specifically cut, (usually from Pica Rule-Lead) to the precise *made up* depth of the publication in question, i.e. to include the precise number of lines of text, + 6 Pt/ lead top & bottom, + Running Heading(s) and Folio(s) with 6 Pt. lead,s respectively Below & Above,!!!

The Gauge ensured that which ever Comp, on which ever shift, made the pages up, all would be precise, occasionally backed up with
F A G/Cornerstone style Pre-make ready Galley.

From apprenticeship days, even the Menials/Apprentices were instructed in the use of Page Gauge,s (not trusted for
D.I.Y. construction, usually borrowed/lent)

Apprenticeship house, Printed, - U.N.T.I. - United Nations Trade Index, publication, virtually never ending, out of ten Double sided composing frames, 2 were dedicated permanently, for U.N.T.I. also tied up 2 BIG American Meihle,s for 2 days per month, (publication dates), 3 shifts around the clock.

Fantastic Time(s) on *the* Journey and *the* Learning Curve,! just a little sad for the New Generation, for what has gone before, but B.P. doing a good job.

Flaming heck… my last post…predictive text and proof reading both need to improve….I am usually better checking student’s work…….

I’ve been away from electronic media for a week or so, but I’ve been farting around with this stuff for over 40 years and Pica Pole or Line Guage are the two most common terms I have always dealt with. And I about fell out of my chair when the suggestion that Pica Pole originated as an actual pole. Please!!!!!!!!!!!!


I’ve been away from electronic media for a week or so, but I’ve been farting around with this stuff for over 40 years and Pica Pole or Line Guage are the two most common terms I have always dealt with. And I about fell out of my chair when the suggestion that Pica Pole originated as an actual pole. Please!!!!!!!!!!!!


I’m sorry my comment was too long for anyone to actually read. Fritz’s and Rick’s points are answered there.

I was aware when I wrote that Fritz calls it a line gauge, and his observations carry a lot of weight with me, because he is a professional.

But nobody seems to have noticed my points about the possibility of differences in usage between regions and subspecialties, and the fact that the tool itself has changed since the 1920s.

I also noted that I have been around this stuff for 54 years, 20+ of them in type shops—intense production environments dominated by trained professionals, generally former ITU Local 6 Book & Job men, who even without the union earned two or three times what most people with the same job titles did. (And who had extremely poor opinions of the typographical pretensions of the Art Directors whose messes they cleaned up every night.) This was recent experience (80s and 90s), and may reflect more recent professional usage, at least in one region or specialty, than do books from the 1920s which may carry more weight with people—and regions or specialties—who rely largely on books.

In that time, I do not recall ever hearing it called a pica pole, or seeing that term outside of books. As I said, I would not be surprised to find that it remained in use in some regions.

And as I said at least once, “line gauge” in a related field means something different from the gauges that Fritz sells. Isn’t it likely that some professionals would want to make the distinction clear? And the usage of some professionals might well be influenced by the fact that they used it incessantly for picas and rather rarely for lines. Many had another gauge that they used for counting lines, which were not always 6 or 12 point. Guess what they called it.

Rick says: “I about fell out of my chair when the suggestion that Pica Pole originated as an actual pole. Please!!!!!!!!!!!!”

I was talking about the 1890s. That was a long time ago. Some things were different then, and the differences, often forgotten as changed forms become taken for granted, are a continual source of fascination to tool afficionados. Things changed a lot after the point system was standardized. Read what I wrote. (My guess is that, when almost every foundry had different standards, insofar as numerical standards were used at all, tool makers didn’t see much point in investing in the manufacture of metal gauges, so wooden ones, thicker for rigidity and durability, were seen more frequently, as they certainly were in other fields. This may then have carried over for a while after the point system came in. Printers, on the other hand, would have been more likely to use single-purpose ad hoc gauges like Mick’s page gauges—just as woodworkers and bookbinders do today with the relatively wider dimensional tolerances of those crafts.) Here and once elsewhere, I’ve seen that you fall out of your chair very easily. The remedy is a much wider acquaintance with professional literature, practice, and history than you seem to actually possess.


The closest reference I have at hand is the 1912 ATF catalog, the older ones are at home, where on p. 1210 it shows the “New Star Line Measure,” offered in 3 lengths of 6”, 8 1/2”, and 12” available in aluminum, brass, or German Silver (also known as nickel silver). In the description, it reads “This is a most efficient, complete and handy tool, graduated to ems by halves. Its great merit is most convincingly shown by its practical use. A form being composed on the galley is easily measured on both edges, while the line gauge is in the same position for each edge… . ” It was two sided with standard inches.

The Star Tool Mfg. Co was located in Springfield, Ohio and also made composing sticks. On the next page is shown a Boxwood Triangular Type Measure” and also there was the “Lincoln Type Measure,” a 30” long tape measure. In every instance, they used Type Measure as the descriptive name but we can see also the reference to line gauge.

Hamilton, then later Thompson, and maybe other wood goods makers made these out of wood. Hamilton in their 1951 catalog 27 on p. 183 shows “Line Gauge No. 8049C02 for Type Cabinets.” Not to play the how many years of being a letterpress printer game, my copy has a label pasted in the back cover showing the catalog was sent to me from Hamilton (see: ).

Back to the original posting, I have been talking to Paul Moxon and Dave Seat about conducting, at some point, a class for Instructors in the basics and advanced techniques of letterpress. When my new shop finally gets done, while all three of us are still alive, mobile, and still aware of our surroundings, we may put on such an operation. No beginners, etc., only those who teach others how to print on some professional level, like colleges. We see a great disparity in techniques, operation of equipment, use of vocabulary, etc. In the “good old days,” in this country, one could walk into almost any shop and start to work immediately as it was all done the same way. This was mostly true because of the apprenticeship programs run by the various unions. We are not there yet, but it will have to be relatively soon.

Unless you wrote your “thesis” on the “Pica Stick” as a self gratification, you lost your Millennial audience after 140 characters, and you lost my interest after the third paragraph …

Seems to me that there was always a division between the “Comp Room” and the “Press Room”, they even had separate trade unions. Looks to me that on this forum the “Comp Room” is trying to impose. LOL … they do have the imposing stone! Perhaps because Letterpress is in the “Press Room” and not in the “Comp Room” and they are loosing out on the ride, and have nothing else to do than criticize!

For the Millennials this is Letterpress:

No Pica there, unless it is a misspelled Pizza and can be bought with Bitcoins. Face it “Comp Room” your time to shine is over. In the mainstream you’ve got replaced by the digital technology. The “Press Room” is back for a while with Letterpress …

“Comp Room” the world is changing around you:

The only use I could find for the “Pica Stick” in the “Press Room” is to nudge my plates in to position on my magnetic base which is not even 0.918” high and not even parallel on purpose. To check parallel lines I use a Hem Gauge. Most of my alignments are by folding the digital printout and comparing it to the impression. And yes, my Xerox Color Qube does print to scale.

This horrible news was brought to you by Louie the Terrible from Eagle Print Letterpress

image: Pica-Stick.jpg


image: comparing-position.jpg


image: Hem-Gauge.jpg


Oh Boy here we go, In the “Press Room” I have used the line gauge for many things, but above all in make ready and making sure the copy is square to the page. But other uses I have done with this wonderful tool.”In the Press Room”
are; back scratcher, an inside the boot scratch,shoe horn, you can use the mushroom head to clean under your finger nails, I have used it to tuck my shirt pockets down. I have used it to fish out sheets from the press after the run.I have used it to open envelopes and so on. One thing I have not done with it is write a james

How about something as simple as good Olde Fashioned *Type Scale*.!!
Mick on Monotype. (possibily) one of several Custodian,s for the Future, maybe, from the Sadly >disappearing Too
Fast< Past.??
Instead of sending *Gold* Discs, to rendezvous with Aliens from other Galaxies, How`s about the odd *Time Capsule* here and there .!!

Author,s - M o M,s input, would only need a 5 Pt. One Liner, scroll in a piece of Amber AGATE ! piece, grain of corn size.

NO prizes, if anybody gets down to that level of Eccentric >PUN< Mick.

Welcome to 2017 gotta get a Hem Gauge thanks for the tip Louie. btw gave away a few line gauges in my time they were no good for die layout. I prefer the 24” Starrett but most days its Viacad as AutoCAD got to be too expensive.

Holly Toledo! I did manage to disturb some Agate around here. Before it hits the fan let me say this:

This discussion forum most certainly smells mouldy enough to qualifiy as a time capsule. Future generations will read and perhaps laugh about our comments. We might have to limit ourselves to a 140 letter posting because that is the attention span of the current generation. Aside this forum there are active and passive places exhibiting the history of printing. Schools have courses catering to the same subject. The supply and demand for your work is in dynamic balance. Dynamic because:

Letterpress in today’s terms, performed by Bella Figura, Smock Paper, Hello Lucky, Boxcar Press, Ajalon Press and the rest of the gang, increases awareness about YOUR work of preserving the history of the Relief Printing. Without their work and internet presence there would be far less interest and perhaps less funding in what you are doing.

It seems to me that some close minded people on here are hammering away on this symbiotic relationship.


Happy Canada Day and Happy Independence Day to all !

image: Eagle_Print_Storefront.jpg


Louie that gets a big facebook like I should make a die.die cut some and sell them

Fritz’s “Boxwood Triangular Type Measure” sounds like the sort of “pole” I was talking about. A class for instructors by him, Paul Moxon, and Dave Seat would be a very good thing.

Louie, the 140-character crowd is a bit handicapped for dealing with issues that require connecting two or more ideas, so there’s no point in worrying about them unless you’re selling something to them. The place for sales talk on BP is in the Classifieds. I’ve been making my living with digital type, including fontwork, since the 80s, so I do sort of know where things stand. Letting the pressroom do what works for it is fine by me. I’ve spent plenty of time there, as you would have found out if you could read well and had been interested in knowing what you were talking about before you reply. I don’t reply to what I haven’t read; I can’t think of a respectable reason to do so.

Maintaining that the pressroom is all that counts is pure bunk unless you have no metal or wood type collection that needs to be maintained for others and don’t even claim to know or speak about type. But in fact, such humility is rare—sometimes it seems that every Letterpress Master and graphic designer in the neighborhood is laying down the revealed truth about type, including metal type. They seem to think it valuable for self-promotion. (For instance, I know they don’t use pica sticks for much in the pressroom—unless they do more than the simplest kinds of lockup—so it’s odd that some pressroom-is-all types never think that maybe somebody else knows more about that tool than they do.)

As usual with revelations, their doctrines tend to conflict, and correspondence with reality is often an issue, leading to immediate functional problems.

If a school or institution has a collection of metal and/or wood type for use—in other words, a composing room—it will quickly become dysfunctional unless there’s someone around with composing room knowledge to keep it in order—knowledge that few Letterpress Masters have today. For the last three years, I’ve been putting such a room in order at the Minnesota Center for Book Arts, and gotten a lot of applause from press-oriented people who are happy about how much easier it is to work with, and how much more they can do with it. That’s why the composing room has to speak up.

As for the funding and popularity issue, a good collection of type counts for something there, too, as I’ve seen. Such collections are a whole lot less common than typical letterpress printers, and you can learn more from them. (Not to knock typical letterpress printers—I think many of them produce gorgeous stuff.)

Reprise on terminology:

My point above was that, over decades after the point system came in, people who worked a lot with type, especially in the expanding areas of ad work and similarly intricate specialties, only gradually learned how to make full use of it as a precision tool. As they did, the line-counting scales were generally displaced by a point scale (or by an inch scale, for working with layouts), resulting in the gauges familiar to us today, which have been standard since before most of us were born. The tool changed, and the terms used for it—especially among the people for whom it was reshaped—may have changed also. So for this question, earlier catalogs are irrelevant, and even later catalogs need not be assumed to reflect current shop usage, since people who write catalog copy do not generally work in the places they are selling to at the time, and may not be aware of changes in usage in one or another specialty.

For a thread just over a week old, I spend half an hour just scrolling down to the latest revelation. Newspapers typically measured agate lines of advertising, picas used by comps, inches in the bindery, points for amateurs who can’t tell 12 pt type from 14 pt, etc. They are multi-use throughout a shop even if a one person operation. Plus used as a letter opener, back scratcher, pry bar, etc. And we sold 5 of them today which makes me feel good. The strangest sale was for 50 sold to the CIA in Washington a few years back, and I even sell one or two to the GPO, now the Government Publishing Office or some such digital age nonsense name.

Ralph W. Polk, The Practice of Printing, 1st ed. (1926), p. 63-4: “The standard measuring tool of the printer is known as a line gauge, or line measure. In some shops, the term ‘pica stick’ is used.” On the testimony of Fritz and Rick, I assume that “pica pole” was also in use in Polk’s time, in at least a large part of the country. But Polk either 1) never heard of it, 2) thought it too little used to mention, or (my favorite) 3) thought it too slangy for use in a textbook.

Polk’s book Elementary Platen Presswork is still well regarded in the letterpress community.

A point scale must be used constantly for fine work and odd measurements, such as in ad work, which can’t be eyeballed and cannot be done by amateurs. Measure twice, set once. Also to tell quickly and beyond doubt that you’re not mixing 9-point type with 8-point. (I have a case of that to clean up. Or I may get a bunch of people on it, so that someone will learn the importance of one point.)

It’s also a lot handier than inches for all sorts of digital work.

Anyway, since nearly everyone working with letterpress type today is an amateur, and will likely stay that way, I woudn’t recommend doing without a point scale.

As to what the CIA wants with them, I can’t even speculate.

Perhaps it is time for some name calling.

Ken Dezhnev, you might have not noticed but I was very careful not to mention names in my previous posts ( except the question to Gil ). You volunteered as a target, but you are not the only one capable to write lengthy posts. In this topic you did manage to write the longest one. We do have a differing opinion on what is the optimal length of a post to get the idea trough to the audience on a discussion forum like Briar Press. I do not wish to discuss it on this topic, because I believe it does not belong here.

Also, I don’t believe that the discussion on the thingamajig belongs here. I apologize for that I actually joined in to it. Those interested in it should have started a new topic about it. There you could over-shout each other’s opinions to your hearth’s content. I would not even click on it to check out what is it all about. Simply, I am not interested in it.

mnmom64, with whom I did have a run-in before, regarding the definition of the term Letterpress Printer and is the discussions about Letterpress-Lite allowed on Briar Press. It seems that her and few others have the “my way or the highway” motto instead of the “live and let live”. Her unsubstantiated post about this woman is more like a gossip.


mnmom64’s post did bring up some issues worth discussing. One day we might find ourselves in the situation like she did.

- this forum’s mandate is to promote the knowledge about printing, as a member, did mnmom64 had a moral obligation to offer tips and help to this woman with her attempt to teach Letterpress?

- if after 6 years of experience mnmom64 is unable to offer help, would mnmom64 be obligated to offer to link her up with someone from Briar Press?

- the mandate of Briar Press is to promote. Who is promoting here? The “loudest” person? And I am not talking self-promotion!

- who would determine on here who is the “Master Printer Teacher” and who is not? Maybe Gil is a stern professor of letterpress (Ha!), maybe it is Ken?

- or we take her picture, shame her on the internet and “burn her on the stake”?

It is unclear from mnmom64’s post what kind of a teaching was this woman set out to do. My guess would be a small group of interested people in a hobby of Letterpress. Slapping some ink on the press and: “look, a potato-print”! Nothing wrong with that! After the initial exposure, some of the students would seek out more information from Museums or perhaps “qualified teachers”. Some would even order prints from professionals like mnmom64 !

Did it occurred to anyone that this woman might be reading this discussion in dismay. Let me be the first to say to her that I was not dead serious about the burning at the stake. Those who can showcase only their technical knowledge and have no sensitivity towards others do not qualify as Teachers.

Self governance does not work and the lack of moderation on this forum will probably put this topic on an autopilot towards anarchy mainly by the trolls.


Nuts, they are all nuts. I associate with another group of fringe lunatics called railfans or train enthusiasts and they are all as looney as many letterpress people. The worst ones are called rivet counters or the top classification is “foamers.” I live in a railroad town visited by thousands of these people every year who come to see and ride our local railroad. I ran a restaurant for 32 years here and learned to keep my mouth shut when over hearing countless discussions by these people discussing things that were quite frankly, nuts. I try to do the same on Briar and offer a comment or two only if I can back it up with factual knowledge or personal experience in the industry, not the amateur part of letterpress. The continuity to the past is through personal experience, though my age group now has a tendency to drop dead, books, trade journals, and equipment / type catalogs. Any information on the internet is suspect in my mind unless citing historical sources.

It seems that I created quite a discussion of the Line Gauge or what you want to call it here at Briar Press when I said I would flunk a student for calling it a Pica Stick or whatever.
The point of this discussion began with those that teach and those who can’t regardless of their background or how many years of experience. I apologize if I ruffled some academic feathers here. Our job, craft or art is to put ink on paper or some other substrate using a technology whose time has come and gone. My next topic will be the Make-Up Rule…





In my 6.5 years on Briarpress I have read that there is no need to worry about ill effects from lead-dust, and seen a great many posts complaining over tougher regulations on type-wash solvents.

Sometimes I wonder, though…

Re:kimaboe - I don’t think lead-poison is part of this discussion, however, since you brought it up and it was always a serious matter to printers using lead type over the years I can tell you that I have no ill effects from 60 years of handling this stuff. However, in the days of yore I saw printers with lead in one hand - and a sandwich in the other hand - not good! All I can say is wash your hands before eating and don’t lick your fingers when eating that KFC or barbecue ribs - okay?

Gil, I was hinting that certain people come across as being a few sorts short of a font based on their recent posting history, including going back through several years of another person’s threads to antagonize them.

Always tell the truth that way you don’t have to remember what you said.


That has been my credo my entire adult life. You will offend lots of people, but you will never have to try to remember what you said about things. Two tours in Nam pretty much took care of any fear factor in my life.

As a bonus, it usually shocks the wizz out of some folks.


As a rank amateur, I thoroughly enjoyed this discussion…

I refuse to read more than 140 characters of any reply though, so I probably got the wrong end of the Line gauge stick thingy.

More seriously I was printing in my early teens (the 1980’s) with my Father on an Albion. We did the typesetting by hand, he did all of the layout… And we printed things together as a hobby. We were not doing this as a business venture. It was fun, and I learned some things.

He was also an amateur but knew a lot about the history of printing and related trades. He was responsible for the SBTI among other things (Scottish Book Trade Index) and I own a couple of serious texts on the subject with articles by him… Amongst many others.

I think that everyone has something that they can teach someone, and while the original post has gone I don’t care what someone calls themselves, or whether they know the current technical term for a watchamacallit. I care more about whether they can communicate clearly and explain well.

Just my 2d

Having had a press of some sort since 1948 or so, and spent 40 of those years in the trade I often get asked questions. I’ll let you into a secret, I often say ’ let me think about it’, and
discreetly look up either Southward’s Modern Printing, or
better yet CharlesJacobis book (he the Works Manager of the Chiswick Press in the great days) And I always advise looking at ‘Printing for Pleasure’ despite its rather out of date, but carries the sense of fun.