Ever worked on “dead horse”?

I wonder if anyone who regularly enjoys this site, with it’s interesting facts and discussions has ever actually worked on “dead horse”. That is reproduction, to you folks that are not acquainted with ITU terms and conditions. This is the way of keeping a paycheck coming during bad times, when work was slow. I also wonder how many former or current ITU members, that remember the hey day of hot metal read this. Your feedback would be great.

James Carpenter
Chattanooga #89, Dalton, #936, Denver #49, Atlanta, #48

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Hi Jim,
While I’ve never been a Typesetter, my father was a member of the ITU. I don’t think that he ever did this kind of work but he had told me that in the old newspapers they had what they called “bogus work”. It refered to work that had been done by some other means but was supposed to go to the union typesetters. So during slow times they would set this work. I hope this information helps you.

I worked on two ITU staffed daily papers in the fifties that were owned by the same publisher. Ads were often set and made up by one composing room and then stereo’d for use by the other, for the sake of expedience. In lean times these ads were dragged out and re-set, made up, proofread, corrected and then dumped into the hellbox.

I did this kind of work quite a few times, and although it kept me working in the post-Christmas slumps, it was demoralizing.


Hello, I have heard the term “horse flesh” which was bacically
padding your hours.I assume horse flesh comes from a dead horse.

In the “Dictinary of Printing Terms” fifth edition 1950 Porte Publishing Company it lists the following horsing—-To charge for work before it is executed, as compositors and pressman who secure advances on their wages befor they are due, or who pad their time in order to receive more than they have earned. funny what you find in books. Howard H

Updated. Don’t know about a dead horse but similar practices can be found in many industries. During my college summer months I pulled pulp sheets off of a kamyr. 75 pounds of wet paper pulp needed to be dropped to a pallet every half minute. Great for the biceps. Once the pallet was about five foot high you had to drag it over to the elevator and get it out quick as no one was manning your station, and the pulp was quickly piling up.

When the mill shut down for repairs, they ran all the pulp back through the kamyr just to keep you busy.


I looked up ‘dead horse’ in The American Dictionary of Printing and Bookmaking (1894). They give:
Dead Horse - Matter charged for before set. It is now difficult to do this; but formerly when compositors made up their own matter it was custom to charge by pages. To make sure that the weekly bill would include all that might be done till Saturday night, this portion was estimated. It can easily be seen how abuses could grow out of this. In Moxon’s time, this was known as horseflesh, the compositor abating it until his next bill. Savage entitles it a horse.

Thought y’all might be interested.

My Father relayed this story to me regarding working on dead horses. He had a friend who was a compositor for a New York newspaper. Management wanted to switch over to offset printing and didn’t want to reset camara ready copy that came in from ad agencies. My fathers friend would work all week setting type for papers that had already been distributed (working on dead horses). The letterpress union fought the change and went out on strike. The New York Times and the Daily News never missed an issue as they immediately switched over to offset. The letterpress union virtually destroyed itself. They never had another strike. So the “dead horse” was very influential in printing history.

Nostalgia here I come!!

I worked in 1959 as a linotype operator on a newspaper in New York state.

I was a member of the ITU. In order to keep guys on the job we used to set “bogus” which, of course, was resetting ads that came into the paper already set and plated, from the ad agencies.

I retired in 1997 from the New York Times and I was still a member of the ITU. In the interim, I managed to own my own typesetting plant for 25 years and lived through the evolution of four typesetting system.

I still miss the clickety-clack of the mats dropping into the magazine.

Sammy G.