Sunday, January 03, 2021

Standing type

I lost track. I produce an annual directory. As directories go, it's not large—under 300 pages in 6″ × 9″ format. But I was looking forward to splashing a diagonal sash across the cover bragging that this was the 10th edition, only to have the client point out that we started down this road in 2011, not 2012, so it's actually the 11th edition. Dang. Missed my chance last year.
Most of my clients are self-publishing authors with one or at most two or three books in them. So it warms my cockles to know that I've been providing good service to one customer for eleven years. He's happy, because publishing this book has increased his consulting business several-fold over the years. I'm happy because why wouldn't I be?
But I was thinking about the production process. Here's how we do it. I export Word files from the InDesign file used the previous year. He updates the Word files with tracking on. I copy the tracked changes back into the InDesign file, update this and that, and we're good to go for another year. In terms of physical inventory, this is frictionless and weightless.
But it wasn't always so. The way this kind of catalog work used to be done (think of telephone directories or auto parts catalogs) was with standing type. If you have a vague notion of what a Linotype slug looked like—a bar of metal the thickness of the type's point size, the length of the printed line, and a bit less than an inch high—imagine the size and weight of a single page of a phone book. Now imagine that multiplied by the number of pages in, say, the Chicago White Pages or the Manhattan Yellow Pages (the Red Book, if you remember that far back). Imagine the cost of all that metal held in inventory, plus the space to keep it all within reach. Because as new listings and address changes came into the plant every workday, someone had to pull that page of type and make corrections so that when the date came around each year to print the new directory, the pages were ready to be locked into chases so new stereotypes could be made and mounted on the press.
Standing type tied up many millions of dollars in inventory before electronic typesetting came on the scene in the 1970s. Printers were all too happy to bid it good riddance.
I just thought I'd say a little something about it before the term slips into complete obscurity. Google Image Search has no idea what to do with it. Neither do the multiple dictionaries indexed by But now you know about it.
Happy New Year.

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