Rare Book Summer School Day 2

The story we are printing is Cate Kennedy’s Chiapas, 1965. It is a story about first contact between Westerners and the Lacandon Indians in Chiapas, Mexico. At first, it is lyrical, incantatory, disorienting. The last part of the story reads like whiplash, stops you dead with a sudden blast of shameful recognition and indictment.

There is always fear involved when setting type. Will I have enough sorts?*

We are setting Cate’s story in Van Dijck, a classic book face that I consider my house face. I’m quite confident we’ll have enough sorts, less so spacing. Just as letterpress requires the setting of each letter one by one, the spaces between words are created using small pieces of type metal cast in divisions of an em. An em is a unit of measure relative to type size: a 12pt em is 12pt square, an 18pt em 18pt square. The name “em” comes from the fallacious claim that a capital M is always a perfect square. Spacing narrower than an em is called an en (half an em), 3-em (3 pieces=an em), 4-em (4 pieces=an em) and 5-em (5 pieces=an em.) Quads are multiples of the em; thins (brasses and coppers) are divisions of the em.

In setting type at this size, the 4-em is the most used space between words. I was worried that we may not have enough. By mid-afternoon, the 4-em tin was worryingly empty. I was searching in other job cases, ready to cannibalise when I could. If necessary, we could print all the verso spreads, distribute, then set the recto, but this would be a drag. Finally, I thought to unwrap two packages of unidentified foundry spacing, never before opened. Both were filled with brand-new 12pt 4-em spaces. Huzzah!

*A note on the term “sorts”: Typographers gnash their teeth over the contemporary misuse of the word “font” in place of “typeface.” A typeface is sold as a font, either in metal or as digital files. The font is the collection of sorts that make up the typeface: all the letters, punctuation, ligatures, figures, and diacritic marks designed for the typeface. The font is the collection of parts that make up a typeface, not a term to describe the design of the face itself and the characteristics and features that distinguish it from another face.


Huzzar indeed!

Many of my typecases hold sorts but not spacing, as the person who sold them to me forgot to mention that he kept the spaces separately, and then didn’t sell them to me!

So I feel not only your worry, but your joy. I must check all the weird little unlabelled packets in boxes I’ve been lugging around over the years.

Posted by ampersand duck on 11 February 2010 @ 8am

This brings back great memories; hot it was but we learnt such a lot, laughed and sometimes nearly cried. What a slow but rewarding business.

Posted by Margaret Rees-Jones on 10 February 2011 @ 3pm

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