if I had his nuts in a steel-trap I would...watch that trap till he died
January 3, 2018 8:33 AM   Subscribe

The Paige Compositor: The story of Mark Twain, James William Paige, and the fever-dream type-setting machine that ruined them both. Drawings from the (enormous) patent, and text, both courtesy this roundup on Circuitous Root.

- Twain eventually recovered, by writing more books.
- Paige never did, and died penniless despite having rather a lot of money at one point.
- The Compositor's cheaper, less elegant competitor, the Mergenthaler Linotype, went on to change the goddam world. Of which more previously circa 1906 and 1978.
posted by cortex (6 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite
 
The draftsmanship in those drawings is amazing. Does anyone still work this way or is it all CAD now? I would happily have it framed on my wall.
posted by adept256 at 8:54 AM on January 3


I saw the Compositor at the Mark Twain House in Hartford several years ago. It's a beautiful machine in person, but I wondered how he would have felt about it being there.
posted by chimpsonfilm at 9:13 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


The draftsmanship in those drawings is amazing. Does anyone still work this way or is it all CAD now?

It's mostly CAD or otherwise software-based now. Or hilariously bad line art, even from some of the world's biggest companies.

There's a big push to drive down the legal costs associated with applying for patents, including offshoring a lot of the initial prior art search and application preparation work. Figure quality has declined a lot as applicants don't want to pay for more than the bare minimum.

I would happily have it framed on my wall.

Good news!
posted by jedicus at 9:19 AM on January 3 [3 favorites]


Twain eventually recovered, by writing more books.

He also had to hit the road, doing the comic-lecture circuit, with which he had a love/hate relationship.
posted by Miko at 9:24 AM on January 3


Poor old Paige: rather than identifying what printers needed (a good-enough, quick-enough, cheap-enough way of setting type, three things the Linotype delivered adequately) he tried to replicate all the nuances of hand composition. He aimed for TEX when the world wanted dot-matrix printers.

Twain I have a bunch less sympathy for, though. He was always out to make a quick buck. I'm sure that, had the Paige compositor actually worked, he'd have used his connected friends and bully pulpit to suppress competition.
posted by scruss at 9:26 AM on January 3 [1 favorite]


Twain I have a bunch less sympathy for, though. He was always out to make a quick buck.

Careful, son, that's Mr. Twain you're talking about. And the article itself describes a decades-long ordeal that hardly fits the bill of chasing a quick buck.

Your claim reminds me of this line, courtesy of the master:

He told me such a monstrous lie once that it swelled my left ear up, and spread it so that I was actually not able to see out around it; it remained so for months, and people came miles to see me fan myself with it.
posted by ecourbanist at 1:08 PM on January 4 [1 favorite]


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