Standing type

Standing type – a solace

Years ago, when I first wandered into the mysterious workings of the printing press, I recall having read Moxon’s Mechanick Exercises.  I was particularly fascinated by the workings of the chapel, and the elaborate system of fines applied for the various transgressions that might be committed in the printing office.  Brawling, swearing and drinking were only a few of the reasons a member of the chapel might be fined.

What I found especially interesting was the term applied for the fine.  “The penalty for any breach of these laws or customs,” says Moxon, “is, in Printers Language, called a Solace.” Chapel members would purchase their solace (i.e. pay their fine) based on a predetermined price for the severity of the transgression.  Leaving a candle burning at night, for example, was a particularly serious offense as it posed a very real fire risk.

In ‘contemporary’ printing, one of the most egregious sins a compositor can commit is to leave type standing in formes after a job is done.  Type left undistributed is worse than useless; you’re prevented from taking on new projects (and jobs) until the type is distributed and available for a job once more.

With the events and grief of the past few weeks, I’ve somehow managed to purchase solace in my little print shop. But it’s an interesting conundrum. While I once had all kinds of interesting ideas for new printing projects, I’ve lately found myself listless and unenthusiastic. The composing stick is heavy and lifeless in my hand these days.  And yet, still I find myself drawn into my little print shop.  I find my fingers are tidying up stray spacing material; pulling out galleys and distributing little bits of standing type; cleaning and sorting cases of previously untouched type.

Somehow, the act of restoring order – in my print shop as well as in my life – is slowly helping me come to keel.  The world is slowly slipping back into focus.  The need to tidy up things is strong as I attend to the last details of my mom’s estate – and sort through her things.  So too do I clean and tidy in my print shop.

For now, I’ve put aside my enthusiastic plans to become a rich and famous printer through my little etsy store.  I know from experience that I can’t rush into a printing project, however small, however amusing.  I have to wait for the inspiration to take me.  Instead, I’m taking the time once more to organize things.  I laid down a case of Bembo type I bought a while ago. I’ve even managed to do a little research into some of the little used, unidentified type in my shop.

And so, time passes, grief begins to subside and my print shop offers solace.


2 thoughts on “Standing type – a solace

  1. Sue- Thanks for another reflective and informative post. Two parts of your post, in particular, struck me. First, “The need to tidy up things” in a letterpress print shop is a constant. There is always something to organize. You nailed the simultaneous senses of immediacy and purpose when something else in life prompts one to focus even more on what “needs done” as we say here in the southern part of the USA. My second observation is about standing type and repeat, or standing orders. It ties in with your observation about becoming “a rich and famous printer.” I have been happy to sell a few things through my own Etsy store, and I keep many of my little note cards, coasters and stationery on galleys as standing jobs. While I tell myself that I do this in the hope that someone else will purchase one of these items and I will save composition time, I think there also is an element of pride in what I have composed that factors into the decision to tie those printer’s knots on my types for all to see, and to wait…to become famous.
    Jim DiRisio
    The Norlu Press
    Fayetteville, NC

    1. Hi Jim,
      You’ve hit on it, I think. Yes, I’ve often thought I’d keep the forms “just in case” I need to reprint them for my store. (It’s never happened.) But they’re also beautiful evidence of a beloved job that is now complete. Thanks again for your thoughtful comments.

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