Monday, December 31, 2007

Common Screw Stick

Here's another very common model of stick from the 19th Century, although these sticks have many minor variations. This is called a Common Screw Stick, and consists of a body with several holes evenly spaced along the rail, a simple knee, and a screw and nut that attach the knee to the stick.
This particular stick was made by the Chandler and Price Company of Cleveland. It is 6 inches long, with a depth of 13 picas. It has one of the common variations - the part of the knee that runs parallel to the rail has a long slot rather than a series of holes. The brass nut into which the screw fits is machined to allow a portion of the nut to fit down into the slot, which allows the screw to be tightened very securely. The knee can slide the length of the stick to adjust to any chosen line measure. The screw can either be tightened with a screwdriver, or it can be turned by hand by grasping the fluted surface of the screw with the thumb and forefinger and turning.
Although very simple, this model of stick is quite practical and versatile. It can open to about 24 picas in length, yet is small enough to fit into the compositor's pocket. This is the kind of stick that many "tramp printers" would have owned and carried with them on their travels.

The First Contre Coup Press Hardbound Book - 1984

I thought that I'd do some postings showing the work of the Contre Coup Press from its beginning, at least as far as the hardbound books are concerned. So here's the first hardbound book produced at the Contre Coup Press. It is entitled Mrs. Ira Gale Tompkins' Journal and Record of Events Dec., 1874 - April, 1877. The book was printed when I lived in the section of St. Louis called University City - my house was just about two blocks outside the St. Louis city limit, and was near Washington University where I had attended graduate school.
I debated the title of the book. It was my great-grandmother's journal, and her name was Demaris Ide Tompkins. It seemed as though I should have used her name instead of calling it "Mrs. Tompkins'" journal. However, the actual journal had a hand-lettered title page that she had created, so I decided that it would be most faithful to the original to use the title that she had chosen, even though it wasn't politically correct. C'est la vie.
The book was printed using my first press, a Chandler and Price 8 by 12 platen press. I had removed the motor and belt and had obtained a treadle. I didn't get the treadle because I wanted to be more authentic or anything; I got the treadle because I didn't like racing with the motor. I could kick the treadle at a very slow speed, which is what I wanted to do because I liked going slow and also because I usually interleaved the printed sheets, having suffered some unfortunate offsetting problems previously.
I set the text in the Van Dijck typeface, which is still one of my very favorites. I think that I obtained the type from Harold Berliner, although it's possible that I got it from MacKenzie and Harris - I really don't remember.
The book is 7 inches tall by 5 inches wide, and has 56 pages. Included is a brief notation by my grandmother, and an afterword by my mother, describing a little bit about the lives of the people mentioned in the journal.
The original of the journal had quite a few photographs pasted into it. My great-grandfather, Ira Gale Tompkins, was a photographer in the 1860s and 1870s, so many of the photographs were taken by him. He was never able to make a go of photography, having been minimally successful with a studio in Grand Rapids, Michigan before moving to western Wisconsin. He had hoped that he would be able to market photographs of local sites and homes with little competition from other photographers, but the pioneers were too focused on putting food on the table to be spending money on photographs, so he had to try to make a living as a farmer, a profession for which he was ill suited. He finally gave up and moved to Chicago, where he lived the rest of his life.
My friend, Kay Michael Kramer, proprietor of The Printery, suggested that I have some of the photographs reproduced by the Hope Press in St. Louis, and they did a very nice job, using an ink that gave the photographs a sepia-tone look. The pictures that I've shown here are of Ira Gale Tompkins, Demaris Ide Tompkins, and Mabel (Birdy) Tompkins, my grandmother. Demaris Tompkins started the journal for the benefit of my grandmother, because she wanted to pass along a record of her childhood and some family history. My grandmother, in turn, did a great amount of journaling herself, filling at least three large volumes with as-yet unpublished writings.
I had the marbled paper for the binding made by Jim Reed, another St. Louisan who was heavily involved in marbling. A young man in St. Louis who was interested in bookbinding bound the book, but regrettably I can't remember his name. He wanted to make the binding have a period look, so he waxed and polished the marbled paper.
I printed the book in an edition of 100 copies, using Ragston paper, which was a really nice letterpress paper that is no longer being made. At the time, I didn't have any extra money to put into the production of a book, so I asked members of my family to front me $100 each in return for five copies each of the finished book. My brothers and parents kindly did so, which allowed me to complete the book.
My great-grandmother was a good writer, and the journal is very well-written, particularly in comparison with the typical journals and diaries of the time. Often they were little more than a recitation of the weather and the activities of the day. Ira Gale Tompkins also did some journaling, but his journal is quite uninteresting. Demaris Tompkins poured her heart out in her journal, and it is a wonderful view into the life of the time.
However, while she was a good writer, she was not a particularly good speller. So just for fun, I printed up a little sheet that I called "Non-Errata", being a take-off on errata sheets that printers sometimes add to point out typographical errors in a book. My Non-Errata sheet pointed out mis-spellings that were not typographical errors, but were mis-spellings in the original.
This book was actually reviewed (positively) in Fine Print and The Devil's Artisan.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Golding Adjustable News Stick

Here is one of my very favorite sticks in my collection. This is a Golding and Company adjustable Newspaper Stick. The stick is similar to regular fixed measure News Sticks - it is five inches long and is quite deep, 15 picas. However, the stick is adjustable from a 12-pica to a 15-pica measure, so a compositor could take this stick to various newspaper shops and be able to adjust the measure to whatever column-width the newspaper used. The adjustments are accomplished by loosening a screw that is in a slot on the rail and another in a slot on the body. The screw on the body is necessary because the knee does not have the long brace that most knees have that are parallel to the rail and keep the knee rigid and the measure equal along the entire depth of the stick. The second screw on the body holds the knee in place.
This type of knee, with the adjustments requiring the use of a screwdriver to loosen and tighten the screws, is the most basic form of an adjustable stick - in this case, the screw fits directly into the knee, rather than fitting into a nut of some sort that is separate from the knee itself.
This stick has a wonderful feel to it - it's a joy just holding this one in your hand, being relatively hefty for its size and with a beautiful balance. It likely dates to the mid- to late-19th Century.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Fixed Measure Newspaper Stick

Here's the most basic stick - the fixed measure newspaper composing stick. These sticks were extremely common before the invention of the Linotype machine, and were used in newspaper offices across the U.S. to set type in the standard column-width of thirteen or fourteen picas.
The stick pictured here is a typical 13-pica stick, with an overall length of 5 inches and a depth of 14 picas, which allowed the compositor to set more lines of type before dumping the stick - typical sticks of today have a depth of twelve picas. There is no manufacturer identification stamped on the stick, which is also typical - these sticks were made by many companies, and pretty indistinguishable from each other. This type of stick was used extensively during the 19th Century, but phased out fairly quickly when newspapers started using linecasting machines in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. A few sticks may have been used for setting of headlines, but most were probably scrapped. I have several like this one, and also a wonderful adjustable newspaper stick that I will show in a future posting.
As usual, if you can provide additional information on this model of stick, please email the information to

Friday, December 28, 2007

Improved Standard Job Stick

As mentioned in a previous posting, here is a description of the so-called "Improved" Standard Job Stick. This model was made primarily by the H.B. Rouse Company of Chicago, but was also made by Golding and Company of Boston. They are sometimes stamped with the manufacturer's name, but are sometimes not stamped. I will note the way to tell them apart later. This particular stick is a Rouse stick, 7-3/4 inches long. I have no information as to when this type of stick was introduced. If anyone has additional historical information, I'd be happy to hear it at
Anyway, the Improved Standard Job Stick is very similar to the Standard Job Stick, with one major difference. Instead of having a row of tiny rectangular holes along the rail into which pegs in the knee fit, the Improved Stick has a row of small round holes along the rail. The clamp, which is not attached to the knee but is a separate piece, has a small round pin that fits through the hole in the rail and then into one of several holes in the knee - the clamp is then closed to hold the knee firmly in place. The knee has several holes into which the pin can be placed. Depending on which hole is used, the measure can be set to a full picas, half-picas, or smaller increments - apparently two additional increments are possible.
While the adjustment system works well and adjustments can be made fairly easily, the flaw in the system is that the pin on the clamp tends to be quite fragile, and the pins become loose or even detached - one of my Improved sticks has been welded, apparently due to the pin having broken loose from the clamp, thus requiring a repair.
Now, as to discriminating between the Rouse and Golding sticks, if you look at the last photograph, you will see the clamp from a Rouse stick on the left and the clamp from a Golding stick on the right. The bottom edge of the clamp on the Rouse stick is straight, while the bottom edge of the clamp on the Golding stick has a curved section.
One would be hard-pressed to explain how this stick is an "improvement" over the Standard Job Stick. The only advantage that I see to this stick is that there are a couple of additional fine adjustments that can be made to the line length, and perhaps it is easier to make line-length adjustments by taking off the clamp and placing the pin in a different hole in the knee than it is to turn that tiny lever on the knee of the Standard Job Stick (which is often pretty difficult, as the levers tend to get frozen). But I confess that I always set my line length to a full pica measure, so it doesn't do me any good to have the ability to make the finer adjustments.
Speckter notes that the Improved stick is commonly used on the West Coast of America, while the Standard Job Stick is used more commonly elsewhere in the U.S. He speculates that this is purely because the Improved stick had some wider acceptance on the West Coast, and since printers are notoriously resistant to change, people have continued to use them. It's much like computer software, I think. You learn how to use a particular word processing software, or spreadsheet software, and you then insist that it is the best, because you don't want to have to learn a different software. I still use the option in Microsoft Excel, for instance, that allows you to use the keystroke commands from Lotus 1-2-3, which I learned about thirty years ago. Let's face it - humans fear change! Don't make me learn something new when what I've been doing so far works just fine!
Update: Steve Saxe kindly sent me updated information regarding this stick. In fact, the Rouse Improved Standard Job Stick was copied from the Golding Standard Job Stick, which was designed by Henry L. Bullen in 1886. Steve sent along a scan of the Jan. 1886 issue of "Bulletin of Novelties", a trade publication of the Golding Co., and I am adding the scan to this post. Note that the original Golding stick had a knee that was not braced. All of my Rouse Improved sticks have braced knees, while the two Goldings that I own have knees that are not braced.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

An Older Contre Coup Press Book Still Available

I turned up a few copies of a book that I did several years ago. The book is entitled My Watch, and is an amusing little story written by Mark Twain, printed at the Contre Coup Press in 1999. The pamphlet is 6-1/2 by 5-1/4 inches and has 7 pages. It is bound in wrappers, and was printed in an edition of 50 copies (actually, I didn't bind that many - probably more like 40). Anyway, here are a few pictures of the book, which is available for $20.00 postpaid from Timothy Hawley Books, P.O. Box 5277, Louisville, KY 40255-0277.

Rouse Standard Job Stick

Some of you probably know that I have a keen interest in letterpress composing sticks. I'm going to post information on some of the sticks in my collection, giving the information that I have on the stick and hoping that anyone who has additional information will email me with it at There is very little information in the literature about the history of composing sticks and the companies that manufactured them. Probably the best book is Disquisition on the Composing Stick, by Martin K. Speckter, published by the Typophiles of New York in 1971 as their Chap Book No. 49. It gives a good broad overview of the history of composing sticks, but was not intended to present a lot of detailed information, much of which may be lost to history at this point. I have over 120 sticks, although many of these are simply different lengths of the same model - I have upwards of 60 different models and designs by various manufacturers.
So anyway, I'll start with the good old Rouse Standard Job Stick. The stick pictured is the one that I generally use when I'm setting type. This happens to be a twelve-inch stick (actually 11-3/4 inches in total length). It has gradations along the top edge of the bed to 58 picas, but in a pinch, you can actually set it to several more. This particular stick is made of stainless steel, but this model also comes in regular steel. You probably can't see it in the pictures, but there is a number stamped on the knee, under the clamp, and also a number stamped on the bed at the far end near the rail. It is very important that these numbers match. When fabricating these sticks, the little posts in the knee that fit into the rectangular holes along the rail are on a separate piece of metal, and are adjusted carefully so that when clamped the measure is set in exact picas. Different knees will have these posts in a slightly different position, so the measure will not be exact if a knee from one stick is used on a different body.
The picture of the knee shows the small lever under the clamp that can be rotated 180 degrees - this moves the piece of metal holding the tiny rectangular posts exactly one-half pica distance along the rail, which allows the stick to be set to half-picas instead of full picas. The H.B. Rouse Company of Chicago also made sticks that had finer adjustments, and I will show some of these sticks in another posting.
This model of stick is the most popular stick ever made in America (at least, the most popular of the modern era), and is the stick most commonly used by letterpress printers today. The so-called "Improved" stick is frequently used by printers on the U.S.A West Coast, however (I will show one of these sticks in a future posting as well). I do not know when the H.B. Rouse Company began manufacturing these sticks, and perhaps someone out there can give me a date.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

New Book by Robert Schumann

Here is the latest from the Contre Coup Press. The book is entitled Musical Rules At Home and In Life. It was written by Robert Schumann to accompany his collection of short piano compositions entitled Album for the Young. The book is 12-1/2 inches tall by 7-3/4 inches wide and consists of fourteen leaves printed on rectos only. The book is beautifully bound in cloth-covered boards in a Japanese-style binding, the binding being carried out by the Campbell-Logan Bindery. A total of 32 copies were printed, and as of the present time, there are still a few copies available for $40.00 plus $5.00 for shipping.
Our previous book, Eleven Voices, is now out-of-print.