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March 4, 2011 3:30 PM   Subscribe

The process of publishing a book in 1947 was different than it is today.
posted by gman (27 comments total) 37 users marked this as a favorite

 
This was a big improvement.
posted by amethysts at 3:49 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]




ooh, neat video -- thanks for this! The old-fashioned method of composing type blows my mind.

While layout/typesetting is indeed vastly different today, much of printing/binding process (for non-on-demand books, that is -- i.e., for a conventionally published book with a press run of thousands or more) still follows the basic model in the video. When we're nearing the end of production on a book, for example, the printer sends us physical F&G's (i.e., folded and gathered sheets) so that we can do a final check to make sure all the pages are in the correct order, etc. before it goes to the bindery.
posted by scody at 4:00 PM on March 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


Yeah, that was totally awesome, I haven't seen anything like that since I took a class trip to tour the local newspaper printing plant when I was in elementary school. I still have a scar on my finger from touching a hot lead slug straight out of a Linotype. I mean, that was the exact same process my local paper used in the 1960s, even into the 1970s, with the exception that the "stereotype plates" they made out of wax and cut into slabs, were cast in a papier mache media and made into a cylindrical printing plate, for high speed newspaper presses.

And that was also of immense practical value. I haven't seen anyone chase and lock up type since my grandfather showed me when I was a tiny little kid. I have inherited his letterpress and about 800 pounds of assorted lead type, including some whole fonts in unopened packages. That compositor slapping that type into a chase makes it look easy. Of course he's chasing type that comes in full lines, not individual letters. Now I'm even more determined to resurrect my grandfather's old press and put it to work. But I'm sure it's not as easy as those pressmen make it look.
posted by charlie don't surf at 4:42 PM on March 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


That is why they call him The Readyman.
posted by randomyahoo at 4:49 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Why doesn't the wax melt in the hot copper?
posted by jnnla at 4:53 PM on March 4, 2011


How did one man do the narration for every documentary in the 40's?
posted by Felex at 4:55 PM on March 4, 2011 [5 favorites]


Some of those jobs look incredibly monotonous.

Why doesn't the wax melt in the hot copper?

I think it's a copper solution that forms chemically through electrolysis or something.
posted by delmoi at 4:56 PM on March 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


coper electroplating as narrated by an excited 12-14 year old.
posted by delmoi at 5:01 PM on March 4, 2011 [3 favorites]


I think it's a copper solution that forms chemically through electrolysis or something...coper electroplating as narrated by an excited 12-14 year old.

Absolute insanity. Why didn't I find chemistry this interesting when I was actually learning it in high school? Between that demonstration and watching Breaking Bad...I really want to be a chemist now.
posted by jnnla at 5:30 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had no idea that they poured molten lead into molds for individual lines, I'd always thought it was set letter at a time, not line at a time. I'd have thought the energy cost of melting an remelting each time would make it impractical, though obviously that wasn't the case.

I'm also interested in what has almost certainly stayed the same, leaving aside the POD stuff I'd be surprised if the post-printing parts of the process have changed much at all.
posted by sotonohito at 5:38 PM on March 4, 2011




It seems incredible that it took that much work and that many people to produce a book. It's an awesome process. All those good, skilled jobs now long gone ... this is a great little video and I love all the in-thread links, too. Thanks, gman.
posted by madamjujujive at 5:46 PM on March 4, 2011


Huh. I had *no* idea how this worked.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:02 PM on March 4, 2011


See Linotype Machine if you're curious and didn't get enough of that part. Also, this video is very nice.

It's a pretty fantastic machine, like an overwrought science fiction type writer. The basic way it works is through a large bank of small metal pieces called matrices. Each one is a character, or variations of a character like upper/lower, italics, etc. Spaces are handled by a clever system of expanding shims to deal with justifying the text. There's a pot of molten lead alloy on the back of the machine, and each slug of stacked and locked matrices gets loaded into a molding turret where it's cast in lead. After casting the matrices are returned to the magazine automatically by being shuffled down a keyed track that corresponds to keys in each matrice so it drops down the right chute in a stack of identical characters, ready to be deployed by the line-setter at each keystroke.

To change typefaces you load a whole new set of matrices.

I've always thought it would be cool to have a couple of cast slug lines from a favorite book, but they generally just remelted and recycled the cast slugs after casting plates or printing with them. You could probably keep a Linotype machine alive just selling molded slugs to people as a curiosity or keepsake. They're kind of pretty.
posted by loquacious at 6:15 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


The process of publishing a book in 1947 was different than it is today.

Probably! Thats why you didn't have that teen twilight vampire bullshit being in every store that had paper.
posted by hal_c_on at 6:26 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


Am I the only one who watched that and freaked out whenever a page was pulled out to be examined? "Gahhh, now it will be all out of order!"
posted by routergirl at 6:57 PM on March 4, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is fucking badass, thank you. What a great process. What an amazing achievement.
posted by tumid dahlia at 7:34 PM on March 4, 2011


Am I the only one who found the individual mechanical steps in the 2008 version excruciatingly slow when compared to the lightning-fast SMACK, WHAM, SLAP, SLICE of the 1947 version?
posted by tumid dahlia at 7:45 PM on March 4, 2011 [2 favorites]


@routergill They'd be printing the same pages over and over…so no problem looking at one.
posted by bobloblaw at 8:11 PM on March 4, 2011


Thats why you didn't have that teen twilight vampire bullshit being in every store that had paper.

Wha-? You do know that "pulp fiction" isn't just a movie, right?
posted by Xezlec at 8:31 PM on March 4, 2011


Am I the only one who found the individual mechanical steps in the 2008 version excruciatingly slow when compared to the lightning-fast SMACK, WHAM, SLAP, SLICE of the 1947 version?

Not the only one. Servo motors, stepper motors, and microcontrollers have made industrial engineers lazy! I'm always impressed to see how engineers were able to build complex motions out of constant rotation. Look at all the synchronized parts moving in step!

(just kidding, industrial engineers, these technologies have probably freed your minds to work on more interesting problems.)
posted by scose at 12:39 AM on March 5, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is neat! I went to the Gutenberg Museum in Mainz a few years back, they had demos of the original typecasting moulds developed by Gutenberg, which were used to cast individual letters. This was one of the key parts of the new invention. The process has gone from shop to factory to appliance ...

I think the book in the film is "Banner By The Wayside" by Samuel Hopkin Adams.
posted by carter at 3:54 AM on March 5, 2011


Thanks from me as well; that was wonderful. (I'm sure in 1947 people watched that and marveled at how automated it was; in 2011, I watch it and marvel at how labor-intensive it was.)
posted by languagehat at 12:49 PM on March 5, 2011


Wow. I'll never complain again when I have to wait 24 hours to revise a book I've published on Kindle.
posted by luvcraft at 5:36 PM on March 5, 2011


Wow, that is a little gem:

Letterpress Printing Vocational Film (1947)

Am I ever glad this didn't end up as my vocation. I remember my friend and I both applied for a job at the plant that printed our high school newspaper. The interviewer was demonstrating the hydraulic cutter that could cut huge stacks of paper. I joked "let me count my fingers before you turn that machine on." I think that might have been my downfall, my friend got the job. A few weeks later, I saw him with purple fingernails on both hands, every nail except his thumbs. He told me his fingertips got smashed in the press.

Am I ever glad this didn't end up as my vocation.
posted by charlie don't surf at 10:38 PM on March 5, 2011


If you are interested in Linotype, here is the promo for a film being made about it:
http://vimeo.com/15032988

At the Deutsches Technikmuseum in Berlin there is a whole room full of old printing machines, including monotype and linotype machines. For a small fee someone will set a line of type on the machine for you, print some cards, and you can keep the slug. The dude working there that day was quite happy for my five year old son to help him work the machinery. Said son was probably not as impressed with printing cards as he should have been - he has been working as my type-monkey in my letterpress studio, so he did not quite have the awe he should have. The old German dude running the show was not really put out though - he seemed to think that a five year old boy having a good working knowledge of how old printing technology works was a regular thing.
http://www.sdtb.de/Writing-and-printing.1129.0.html

(If you are in Berlin, go to the Deutsches Technikmuseum. It's freaking amazing.)
posted by Megami at 1:28 PM on March 6, 2011


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