Thursday, December 27, 2007

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.

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