Tag Archives: Mark Twain

Composing type

Now we have type. How do we put a bunch of type together to print a page?



We cast all the letters we’ll need and sorted them in a type drawer or job drawer. Back in the olden days a printer (or printer’s apprentice or printer’s devil) had this drawer memorized—every letter, every bit of punctuation. https://marktwainhouse.org/about/mark-twain/biography/



We’re ready to compose the type. We get a composing stick—a small hand-held tray with a clamp—and put the words and sentences together upside-down and backwards. Set the clamp to however wide you want the column. The length of a line of type is measured in picas but the height of a column is measured in inches.* Don’t ask. I don’t know why. Between every line of type you put a slice of lead called leading (sounds like bedding). Leading comes in different thicknesses, measured in points. When your type is composed, you slide it out of the composing stick onto a flat stone slab and put a square metal frame called the chase around it. You can add artwork in there, too, like a linoleum block print. To keep it in place inside the chase, we grab some blocks of wood called furniture. These are shorter than the type so they won’t get ink on them. Leave room on 2 sides for quoins. Quoins are metal wedges you can tighten against each other to tighten the type, linocuts and furniture inside the chase. Now that it’s locked up into one whole unit it’s called a form. Okay—we’re ready to print!



https://www.fontfabric.com/blog/gutenberg-first-typeface-original-bible-typography-used/
https://letterpresscommons.com/general-tools-and-supplies/
https://www.bbc.co.uk/ahistoryoftheworld/objects/w4XhrFkvSaKzhHsUAZ2Vzg
Look at this heavenly place! Her composing demo starts at 8:30. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4pg8A0ab6S4
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mmg7yCEphrA

* I’m an old graphic designer. I like to measure in picas when I design something. There are 6 picas in an inch. You can easily divide an inch by halfs, thirds, fourths, sixths and twelfths. Each pica has 12 points.
https://www.caseyprinting.com/blog/points-vs-picas
https://www.fonts.com/content/learning/fontology/level-1/type-anatomy/points-and-picas

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Reading & Writing.

A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court

The Yankee lights up his pipe while holy-grailing

Feudalism was an economic system designed to keep people permanently in their own class, their own caste. A serf had no hope of ever accumulating enough wealth to escape serfdom. Even for a freeman, the likelihood of owning land was small, since all land was owned by the king, nobility or the Church. It’s not easy for someone in the United States, a free-born citizen of a representative republic, to understand feudalism. I learned about feudalism in school but didn’t really get it. A book that helped was Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court. I was in 8th or 9th grade when my dad suggested it to me, so you middle-schoolers/high-schoolers are ripe to enjoy it. As an American citizen, Mark Twain was troubled by the class system that still hung around Europe in his time (Twain’s book, Huckleberry Finn, helped turn people against slavery in the U.S.). He used humor to promote a point of view, to change people’s minds. Twain lived and wrote over a century ago, so (let’s not cancel Mark Twain) please forgive any lapses into unwokedness. A Connecticut Yankee isn’t a happy book, but it is funny. You’ll love it. I enthusiastically recommend it. Click on the link to get started—https://www.gutenberg.org/files/86/86-h/86-h.htm

Steamboating

Robert Fulton was a portrait artist who had the good sense to get out of the art business and into something that made money.

American portrait artist and inventor Robert Fulton was fascinated with the possibilities of steam power. He had acquired some political and financial backing—and an exclusive license to run steamboats on the Hudson River. After designing a steam-driven submarine, he came up with a steamboat design.

“Fulton had immense success with his steamboat Clermont in traveling the 150 miles of the Hudson River from New York City to Albany in just over 30 hours. Fulton recognized the economic potential of using steamboats to move people and goods up and down the Mississippi and in 1811 the New Orleans became the first steamboat on the mighty river thus ushering in a new era of river transportation and a romantic period defined by sidewheelers and sternwheelers.”

Just as we saw with the opening of the Erie Canal, farmers and small businesses suddenly had an affordable way to get their goods to a big market like New Orleans—or from there to the rest of the world.

They built ’em even bigger than this.

If you want the real flavor of steamboating in its heyday, you can read Mark Twain’s Life on the Mississippi here: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/245/245-h/245-h.htm
What a book! Young Sam Clemens is taught to pilot a riverboat by the master, Mr Bixby. He encounters all the characters of that time and place, because literally every class of people rode the riverboat.

You can still take a cruise aboard a steamship today: https://www.steamboatnatchez.com/
or build a scale model of the Clermont: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=et3ZgVyi968
whose gear train really works: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bAVLH23qZcA

History of Steamboats on the Mississippi River


https://www.britannica.com/topic/Charlotte-Dundas
https://www.pbs.org/wgbh/theymadeamerica/whomade/fulton_hi.html
https://www.thoughtco.com/history-of-steamboats-4057901
https://kids.kiddle.co/Steamboat

Back to the beginning of The Western Civ User’s Guide to Time & Space