A typographical interlude

I’ve recently signed up for a letterpress printing course at the Bodleian library, and so I thought I’d depart from quilts in this post and write about a different craft.

So far we’ve been setting the type of the text to be printed, building it up in the composing stick before transferring the lines to a galley. As with a lot of crafts you enter a state of flow during the setting, and the hours sped by. There are exciting moments though, such as italics, or an interesting ligature!

One reason for taking the course was to gain an insight into what happens between the manuscript of a text and the final printed product. By setting the type, you come to realise the deliberate actions and decisions which are made and how errors and variations can arise.


The stands on which the cases rest were made in 1669 for Oxford University Press. In the 19th century, their height was raised as compositors had grown taller over the centuries. I’ve already had dreams about setting type, including anxiety dreams about all the letters falling out of a line. I like to think that compositors from the time of Caxton have had such dreams and that, as with the stands, they form a link between past and present.


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