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About Women 2: Why I Listen To The Women In My Life

Things No One Will Ever Do Again: Set Type (1)

From the time of Gutenberg to the time of Neil Armstrong, good looking printed matter was expensive and laborious, and involved molten lead. The first chink in the armor of the prosperous job printing industry came around the time of Mark Twain (the author of the first commercially published book written on a typewriter).

Typed documents were OK, but screamed amateur; if you were a professional you had printed stationery and business cards. Job printing, like so many other industries, was destroyed by computers (the multi-font Apple Macintosh and its successors) and the Internet (why print something when electrons and email are free?)

In case you ever wondered, quotes and underlining were simply the typewriter way to imitate italic and bold type fonts used in printing.

Among the things we have lost are taste and talent. Now, any schmo with a computer thinks he can design and print a good-looking document; self-publishers think the same of books (which is why there is an entire industry of talented book designers―check the credits at the front of the next paper book you’ll never buy). Fact is, amateurs produce work that looks like crap. But no one can tell anymore: thank you Internet for normalizing bad design.

The whole series: Things No One Will Ever Do Again: Set Type.


Robert E. Malchman

I take perhaps undue satisfaction that I used to design newspapers, resumes, letterhead, business cards, etc., and typeset them (albeit phototypsetting, not hot lead). As a Night Editor and a Production Manager at The Tech, it was one of the very few times where manual labor was a material part of my work. I'd lay out issues based on the Department poop sheets (starting with Ads), and do the paste-up of the photo paper, add stat shots and half-tones, and cut border tape (and had my initial inclination to cut French corners beaten out of me). The writing and editing were the much more important experience for my professional development (my degree says Political Science, but I really majored in the newspaper), but I look back on my time practicing this lost art and skill very fondly.

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