Tuesday, 27 September 2011

Printers' Pie part 1

Dan Snr. of Glasgow Press writes, I admit to having a weakness for pies – Scotch, steak, macaroni, apple, rhubarb, gooseberry, raspberry, cherry – yes, you've got it, give me anything encrusted in a nice-tasting pastry and I am hooked! So, last week I was in heaven when I heard our neighbour had given us four 'buckets' full of 'pie'  in which I could indulge myself.

For an explanation we need to go back to pre-computer days – the 1940s and beyond: I was an apprentice compositor with a company called Gilmour&Dean, of Fordneuk Street, Bridgeton, Glasgow. It was a fairly-big outfit who did quality colour work and had 'quality' customers, including a few large carpet manufacturers (who needed colourful, patterned carpet leaflets). G&D also printed for India Tyres, Babcock&Wilcox, and so on.

As an apprentice you'd be given the job of 'dissing' (distributing) Founders' type back into the proper box of the proper case. Founders' type was bought in from the typesetters, as against that produced in-house, e.g. linotype or monotype which would be melted down after printing, and re-used.

When 'dissing', you had to know the layout of the typecase, and be sure that the typeface and size matched what was already in the case, before 'dissing' the job.
Printers' Pie would come about if there was a mix of different fonts in the case or, more spectacularly, if you pulled a typecase out of a frame too far and spilled the contents onto the floor.

Caserooms were generally 'library-like' quiet, and a case of type spilling was not something that could go unnoticed. I don't recall this happening too often – but when it did, there would be loud cheering and jeering and stamping of feet from the unsympathetic fellow compositors – and even louder and more sensational if they learned that it was a case of 6-point Spartan.
Our foreman, who suffered from ulcers and had a perpetual worried look on his face, would be quick to try and calm the situation before the works' manager should happen past.
So, this is Printers' Pie; the result of an upset case (which might take a month to put right), or it may be a 'galley' of type going the same way as the case – scattering across the floor. Which leads me on to my four buckets of Printers' Pie – not for eating – but, strangely enough, something which I found very satisfying.

I enjoyed the nostalgia of going back to the 'setting-stick in hand' days and the dusty, real-feel of lead-type as against 'knocking-out' letters on a computer keyboard.
Wonderful as the computer may be, and is, there is nothing like a bit of Printers' Pie to cheer up the day.


Elrodfk said...

I enjoyed dissing even today I get satisfaction out of it but pushing a turtle trolley and hitting a thick and pie the front page is another matter but thirty comps come to your aid, the clicker said to me don't worry we've all done it!

Artcadia Wedding Stationery said...

That is my worst nightmare! We have an outbuilding full of printers pie, in buckets, boxes, carrier bags... Alas it will never see a type-case again!!

adamwilson said...

As a designer under 30 pretty much raised on computers, this does seem like a lovely and somewhat satisfying task sorting through all that type. Can't help but think the type designers at the likes of Monotype never got their hands dirty. I'd relish the opportunity.