Friday, May 13, 2016


One of my favorite possessions is a lovely  compartmen-talized tray from a newspaper printer’s type cabinet; each tray is a single wooden drawer from a chest that held a variety of typefaces in a variety of sizes used to set type for both news copy and advertising.
          There used to be separate trays—or cases—for capital letters and regular letters (which is why we call them upper and lower case letters today), but that meant two drawers for each size of a particular font; a combined case like this became popular in the 1800s (this shot shows only two of the three sections of the tray).
Just as the “qwerty” layout of your keyboard is designed to make typing more efficient, so too were the compartments in a type tray designed for the convenience of the typesetter—the most frequently used letters were set in boxes in the center of the tray while the others were located on the edges and in the corners.
Numbers and oddball symbols ($, @, + and %, for instance) were in the top boxes of the compartments, lower case letters were on the left side of the drawer, upper case on the right.
Punctuation compartments were not always designated—many typesetters placed them in their own preferred locations.
 This tray holds an incomplete set of Bodoni bold type—one of the most commonly used typefaces in the 19th and 20th centuries, mainly because it is so easy to read.

Giambattista Bodoni, the designer, was born in Italy in 1740. His father was a printer, so he grew up in the trade; he apprenticed at the Vatican, and later became a well-known typecutter, engraver and printer.
In 1798, he designed this typeface—a font that blended the thicker lines of older typefaces with the finer, thinner ones of newer designs.

Bodoni gains its gracefulness from a balance between those thick and thin strokes of the letters. If designed well, books typeset in Bodoni can produce that same graceful loveliness on an entire page, especially when the letters have some space between them, which keeps the lines smooth and easy to read.
Many of us read schoolbooks set in Bodoni (easy to read, remember?) and its broad face makes for a quick read on posters and advertising boards.

Friday, May 6, 2016


That’s the first thing I thought of when I saw this lovely old shepherd cradling one of his lambs…and although I knew that “by hook or by crook” means “by any way possible,” I had no idea what shepherds actually used crooks for; a crook looked like a pretty worthless implement to me.

Boy, was I wrong.
Turns out, their purpose is threefold: shepherds uses crooks to carry newborn lambs back to their rightful mothers when confusion reigns in the lambing pen (they cannot touch the lambs themselves, or the mothers will reject the babies due to the scent of humans); they use the blunt end of the crook to prod sheep along the way whenever they are driving them; they hook strays around the leg or neck to drag them back into the fold where they belong.

 My trusty 1902 Sears, Roebuck and Company catalog had a shepherd’s hook for sale—a metal one that fit snugly over a pole (you supplied the pole).
The Montana Shepherds’ Crook was “the best and strongest crook that has ever been placed on the market.” It consisted of a pear-shaped loop with rounded curves on the inside to prevent hurting the sheep. Thousands (they say) were in use in the United States.
          A mere seventy-three cents.
And there was, of course, a Bo-Peep Crook, which was the same as a Montana, but lighter.
For the ladies, I guess; for the shepherdesses.

There was more equipment, too: three different styles of shears—the Western, the Eastern, and the Celebrated Burgon & Ball’s (each in three different lengths of blade); two equally disgusting jars of salve (for those “worrisome nicks”); there was fleece detergent and a sheep dip (for “vermin”).

The best item, though, was the Montana Special Sheep Shearing Machine, “…considered one of the best by a great many of the large sheep growers throughout the United States and Australia.” It had a large wheel, mounted on a solid post; an enclosed gear in a fixed frame that ran the cutters.
So, one man turned the wheel, the other sheared the sheep; they got the job done, all right – by hook or by crook!