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Wednesday, January 09, 2008

The Blue Box

My next experience was on the Compugraphic dedicated typesetting machine. This was much more involved. The machine had a rapidly rotating drum, onto which were affixed two font strips, which were simply negatives of the entire typeface including all unusual characters. The operator (that could have been me in the photograph) typed in the entire piece, which was then edited before printing. It made life much easier.
Once the block of type (usually the entire piece) was correct, it was printed out onto photographic paper, which was rolled into a light-proof container. From there the container was inserted into a self-contained darkroom apparatus, and it came out developed and fairly dry. Then the type was, once again, waxed and pasted onto the mechanical. The Mergenthaler Linotype had a machine that was in direct competition to this system. It was more complex and had a system of space that was much more sophisticated. One could "kern" the characters, for example, moving an "A" closer to a "V" so that the outer edges of the characters would not be miles apart. Without kerning, the letters would have a surrounding rectangle that would not allow the next letter any closer.
Tabs were the most difficult part of this work, being highly complex and difficult. In both these systems, the operator had to imagine how the tabs would look in the finished piece, since there was no WISYG (What You See Is What You Get) display at that time. To be a good typesetter, one had to use complicated math involving the translation of inches into picas and points, and to be able to use one's judgement about spacing of tabs so that there would be enough room for all the data and room in between to separate the columns of data.
I became quite proficient at this form of typesetting, which led to jobs at very large banks in New York City, and the New York Stock Exchange. It was challenging, and I was a back room person. No one bothered the typesetter at her job.

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