Layout cases?

Hello everyone, I graduated last September in Graphics, MA in Visual Arts and New Expressive Languages at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. I am really keen on the layouts of the different typecases because I am doing some research on the relationships between the printed culture and the digital one, between paper and pixels, inspired by McLuhan’s book “The Gutenberg Galaxy. The making of Typographic Man”.
I cannot understand which kinds of typecases are the most important ones, from which I could start my studies. Also, I cannot understand why the letters have specific positions inside the cases.
Particularly, I am looking for some downloadable digital files of the cases’ layouts to carry on my research.

Thank you in advance for your attention to this matter.

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You could look at the Alembic press page on layouts…

I used a Scottish Double Case when I was starting out but I have no idea which variant it was.

Hi Zwack, thank you very much for your answer. I know this website but, sincerely, it’s a bit complicated and confusing for me, because it is full of information. I am trying to find the “right method”, if it’s possible, to carry on my research. But maybe I must start from a certain case in order to understand the complexity of the layout cases :)

I suspect that there is no one “right” case layout.
You might try getting a handle on the challenge you have set yourself by selecting one case —-say the California Job Case—- and running a comparison of letter location against English language letter frequency.
Quite frankly I gave up on the “be careful driving elephants into small Ford garages” mnemonics and settled for the Dearing or Jumbo Job Case whose layout suited my slow typesetting behaviours.
So each layout may well have benefits for a particular circumstance.
Good luck.

I think the best answer about case layout would be found by going as far back in time as you can for the predominant case layout of that time. Because printers are inherently conservative about change, the initial case layout persists, with minor variants from efforts to “improve” efficiency, even today. That layout probably is predominantly derived from the German language usage of the letters and words most frequently used in the texts of the day, as modified by early English usage.

I would be inclined to copy two or three most common case layouts from 400 years ago, and then standardize the size and make layout diagrams for successive cases most commonly used, to compare the letter positions and compartment sizes, which both reflect frequency of use in the language of choice.



The “standard” case in the US has been the California Job Case layout that EucyBruce has mentioned. It certainly provides a good place to start from this end, then go back if you wish, or as Bob has indicated, you may wish to make the trek in the opposite direction.

My Masters thesis (Rochester Institute of Technology, 1975) was a study of character count frequency in the English language, breaking the use into various sub groups, fiction, non-fiction, scientific, etc., with an object being keyboard design. Of course character frequency was the basis for much of case layout design in this country, but what fits English usage certainly may not be true for other languages.

John Henry
Cedar Creek Press

Eucybryce has a good point. I never learned from a mnemonic. My dad put a sheet with the layout on it on the corner of the case and I gradually remembered positions from practice.

Bob has a very good point about the conservativeness of printers. J and U are a perfect example. In many layouts they are at the end because they didn’t originally exist. Who else would avoid changing the layout for this long.

Dania… The subject of cases is addressed by Richard Gabrial Rummonds in his 2-vol book “Nineteenth-Century Printing Practices and the Iron Handpress”. In the chapter titled “Composition” he gives a synopsis of case layouts along with expanded reasoning(s).

Another point about the conservativeness of printers is that originally, American printers got their equipment and types from “the old country”, so that they were very conditioned to them even before the addition of J and U and the change to “short s” and those effects on the case lay. Once the English case lay became widely used in the colonies, it was hard to change; the California case is basically a merger of the traditional upper and lower cases, eliminating the small caps and “smushing” the boxes together to make it all fit the same width. In spite of the numerous efforts to improve the case lay, they still essentially are the same as the upper and lower cases used by old Bill Caxton.


Hello everyone! Thank you very much for all your answers! :) It is really such a pleasure for me to read all of you, your ideas, your experiences! I am sorry if I answer you late but I got a fever during these past days.

EucyBruce1, thank you for sharing your experience with me.
I sent an email to Tipoteca, an Italian Museum about typography, in order to have some information.
They suggested me to read this book: Unfortunately, it’s in Italian, but it seems very interesting.
I think it’s really interesting what you said about the relationship between the letters’ location and their frequency because I usually feel writing as a sort of rhythm. Also, it’s very interesting how this kind of rhythm is related to human behaviors.

AdLibPress thank you very much for your considerations. For me, it’s really interesting your consideration about the importance of time and context. Have you ever read “The Gutenberg Galaxy” by Marshall McLuhan. Your words make me think about this book.
I love this book, I really suggest it to you! :)
It’s not about cases and typography, but it’s about the printing and writing culture and how it has influenced our lives and thoughts. It made me become more aware of our Western culture.

Hi jhenry, thank you very much, what a wonderful idea for your Master thesis! :) Wow! I have never heard something similar.
Are you continuing to work on these kinds of issues?
In my dreams, I hope to create a group with other people to work on these kinds of topics, because I strongly believe that they are very important for our culture, to understand media and how they change our lives.
In fact, I would like to visit MIT:
Do you know them?
Have you published your thesis’s work?
Sorry, I am so curious :)

Hi Zwack, thank you very much. For me, it’s so interesting to compare all of your reflections and experiences.
Yes, in the beginning, I learned gradually the letters’ position from practice with the layout’s sheet next to me, as you said. Repeating this practice made me start to reflect on writing, letters, language and so on because I studied traditional printing techniques and the digital ones at the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence. Hence, I am keen on comparing the printed culture and the digital one.

Hi Butch Baranowski, thank you very much for the title of the book, I will look for it! Wow, I can’t wait to read it! :)

Hi thomas gravemaker, thank you very much for the pdf. It’s so beautiful and inspiring for me! :) Also, I love the pdf’s graphic design! Wow!

Hi Dania from the UK. We too over here mostly used the California Job case ,here usually called a California Double.
Its not just that Ben Franklin spent time over here as a comp, (in Saffron Hill, right near Farringdon Underground station) its that our two literary cultures were as one in many if not most respects. The flow of teachers to the US to replace those lost after the Rev. continues unabated, and until a little after WW2, a large proportion of the books read by Americans were produced in the UK. Its no co-incidence tha tthe proof correction marks are standard throughout all the English speaking world. Moreover the
standards for micro-fiche layouts are also the same.
In practise the comp room standards of case layout
varied a little from firm to firm, depending on the work specialised in. But that was only true of the ‘outers’, the central core of the case was the same everywhere, and had been for many hundred years. ( Give or take a long s
here and there. )

Further, the differing sizes of the boxes relates to the frequency of the character occurring in the language. Big box for e and tiny one for z. That character frewequency is a vital component of code and cypher cracking by the way, the frequency differs for all languages. On the other hand second class citizens within the UK with their own language,the Welsh for example (for heavens sake don’t tell them Ii said this!) in their print shops had a very ordinary California Double, with a little separate box alongside, often called a barge, with the accented characters needed. A lovely example of English arrogance is that our typefounders were asked for a fount to set, say, French, they supplied an ordinary English fount in its packet and told the client to order the special characters separately at a special rate.
I’m speaking here about true typefounders, the Monotype Corporation of blessed memory, had a much more civilized approach. ,

I once set a few Welsh hymns in a wedding order of service from a well-stocked pair of cases, and soon came close to running out of lower case L and lower case Y.

In times past printing offices that specialised in Welsh would surely have evolved their own font synopses as the letter frequencies in Welsh are significantly different to English. However I have never come across a published font synopses for Welsh despite having read through numerous nineteenth century printers’ manuals, nor have I ever seen a Welsh font offered commercially by a UK type foundry. This leads me to assume that printing offices that specialised in Welsh had to order sorts to make up their own font synopses.