Few Technological Changes in Quoins in 400 Years

  • Since 16th century, simple wedges have been used for locking type
  • Early quoins of wood; date on first metal quoins in use uncertain
  • Patent quoins began to appear during the last half of the 19th century

In the past four centuries, very little tight logical change has been seen in the quoin, a simple item of composing room furniture used in preparing type for the press. The word itself, a variant of coin, has been used by printers since the 16th century. It is been discussed by the writers of printing manuals since Moxon’s treatise, Mechanick Exercises, first appeared in England in 1683.

The purpose of the quoin was explained by Moxon under the heading, “Of Furniture, Quoyns, Scabbord &c.” In this section of the famous manual, Moxon stated, “Quoyns are also Quadrat high and have one of their Sides Bevil’s away to comply with the Bevil of the Side and Footsticks; they are of different Lengths, and different Breadths: The great Quoyns about 3 Inches square, except the Bevil on one side as aforesaid; and these sizes diminished downwards to an Inch and an half in length, and half an Inch in breadth.

Moxon’s Definition of Quoin

“The Office of these Quoyns are to Lock up the Form, viz. to wedge it up (by force of a Mallet and Shooting-stick) so close together, both on the sides and between Head and Foot of the Page, that every Letter very hard against every next Letter, the whole Form may Rise; as shall be showed hereafter. Their farther Office is to make Register at the Press.”

In nearly 275 years, no one has describe the operation of lockup more clearly, other than to modernize Moxon’s English. It is interesting to note the “borrowing” done by each of the well-known printing manuals which came after Mechanick Exercises.

To 19th century manuals were published in London within a one-year period: Typographia, or the Printers Instructor, was written in 1824 by John Johnson, and the other was Typographia by Thomas C. Hansard. Johnson’s book mentions quoins but does not index the term, while Hansard places them in the same category as headsticks, backsticks, footsticks, etc.

The quoins discussed by these writers made of wood. However, Hansard had this to say: “I still make use of wooden ones, and if they are properly used, no substitute is wanted.” It’s difficult to determine the exact date of the introduction of the metal quoin. Thomas MacKellar, author of probably the most widely read American manual of the 19th century, The American Printer, first published in 1866 and subsequently reprinted in 16 editions, stated his preference for the wooden quoin. He offered the opinion that, “The Boxwood quoin will probably continue to hold its place, though not a few printers favor the use of the newly-invented iron articles offered by various inventors. . . .”

The section in The American Printer which describes the locking up operation is lifted almost verbatim from a book published in London in 1842 entitled Encyclopedia of Literary and Typographical Anecdote.

Wood Used for Large Forms

That the wood quoin continued in popularity is evident in the American Dictionary of Printing, published in 1894. This volume suggested that wood quoins be used for very large forms or for forms which were to be transported. A somewhat earlier book, American Encyclopedia of Printing, edited by J. Luther Ringwalt and published in Philadelphia in 1871, also gives preference to the wood quoin, “of hickory, dogwood, or boxwood,” and states that the metal quoins were used chiefly in newspaper work.

Many of the manuals mentioned are still to be found in second-hand bookstores, and a fascinating reading for today’s printers who wish to learn the techniques and practices of the “old boys.” Certainly with the current interest in mid-20th century technology, the opportunity to be a craftsman in its earlier accepted meaning, is rapidly disappearing.

Patent Quoins Appear Regularly

However, once passed the middle period of the last century, patent quoins began to appear quite regularly. There are undoubtedly many practicing printers who have used a variety of these early in their careers. One of these was Webb’s Quoin, which consisted of two bars of steel joined in the center with a screw containing a simple nut. This nut, when turned with an ordinary wrench, causes the steel bars to separate in a spread of from one-quarter to three-quarters of an inch. A somewhat similar device—the Allen Quoin–was even simpler. It contained one bar and a screw with nut, which tightened against the side of the chase.

The type founders’ supply catalogs at the turn-of-the-century began listing the Hempel Quoin, probably the most widely used quoin ever developed. It is certainly as popular as ever today. The Hempel consisted of two steel wedges, each containing a center bar, plus a groove at each end, and teeth into which a key was inserted for tightening.

Improved Variations in Design

The Challenge Hempel quoin is of similar design but with rounded edges to prevent damage to the imposing surface of the press bed. A further variation is the Union Lockable Quoin, a duplicate of the Hempel, but with three notches cut in the central rib for the purpose of adding the Brower Lock, a device to prevent slippage once the quoin has been secured.

The Monarch Hempel is a self-locking model with a spring inserted through the thick end, the purpose of which is to force the center rib of one part against the teeth in the end of the other half, securely locking the quoin.

Still another variation is the Improved Brower Quoin, in which the teeth were sunk in the quoin. The Inland Type Foundry 1905 catalog stated further, “. . . Has central racks and consequently will not throw type off its feet. The key never slips out to damage the type.”

The Riebe Quoin has two additional features, although it is similar in appearance to the Hempel. In this model, the horizontal rib has vertical ribs designed to make the quoin self-locking and register slots are placed at the top of each unit to show point and half-point expansions.

The most recent addition to the long list of wedge quoins is the PMC Warnock Positive Lock Quoin, made of bronze. The feature of this design is the series of round depressions along the center rib, and a ball-bearing at the end of the widest part of each section. When tightened, the ball-bearing rests in one of the depressions, securely holding the quoin in the locked position.

A persistent application of the wage principle is the Challenge Hi-Speed Quoin which has features with advantages and speeding up lockup operations. This quoin has a series of enclosed planes working together and moved by a single key. The various positions are indicated on a scale, making it simple to return to the same position if necessary to open the form. Several sizes from three inches in length to 12 inches are manufactured.

An early attempt to break away from the principal of the wedge resulted in the Wickersham Quoin. This device consists of two bars held together by springs, and contains a central cam turned by a square key. As the cam is turned, the quoin spreads apart and is held rigid. A disadvantage is the fact that at a given point the cam returns to the normal position and the quoin snaps shut.

A combination form of the Wickersham is the Morton Lockup Quoin, in which the small quoin is attached to a steel footstick or sidestick. Some 43 lengths are available, containing from one to five Wickersham quoins.

The principle of the spreading bars is more satisfactory in lockup than that of the wedges because the wedges require much more care in positioning and tightening. A danger in the use of the wedge quoin is in “springing” a chase out of true by the use of too much pressure.

A quoin of English manufacture is the Notting, first offered in the 1923 catalog of ATF, again available from an importing house. This is a steel quoin of two bars with a central screw, which when turned raised a steel wedge, spreading the bars apart to an expansion of 22 points. Since the screw holds the wedge in place, there is no slipping. In addition to single quoins, the Notting is available as a double quoin on a six-inch bar, and a triple quoin on both eight-inch and ten-inch bars.

Of similar construction is another British quoin, the Double Wedge Quoin, made of lightweight metal and available in a range of widths and lengths.

Register quoins have long been used in specialized jobs in the field of color printing, with wood-mounted cuts, although even today some printers use short lead to “shim” the cuts. These quoins are rather narrow and quite small to allow for fitting in a limited space. The simplest is the Rouse Register Quoin which is a thin steel plate with a narrow wheel attached, which when turned with a pin wrench, expands the quoin. The smallest of these expands from 16 to 24 points, and the largest from 36 to 48 points.

The Smith Register Quoin works on the principle of the wedge, as described in the Notting. Another simple device is the Sterling Register Nut, similar to the Rouse quoin, but turned by a wrench rather than a pin. Register quoins are also handy for tight work, such as lockup of imprints within a form.

When the form to be locked up contains large open areas, many printers use the expansion type, M. & W. Patent Job Lock Quoin, made in several sizes. This quoin is particularly useful in precision proof press lockup and is frequently used even on power presses. The quoin consists of a steel frame into which is inserted an end piece with the central screw and two side retaining bars. The quoin is quickly extended and held in place by two springs. Final tightening is done by a pin wrench. The smallest of this model extends from 1½ to 2¼ inches, and the largest from 5 to 8¼ inches.

The last category of quoins is the variety used for locking a small chase upon the bed of a larger press. The Cylinder Press Lock contains a notched steel bar which fits onto a jacket and expands almost double its original length. A final tightening takes place with the standard Hempel key. These quoins are designed to be placed outside the form only.

This article first appeared in “The Composing Room” column of the May 1957 issue of The Inland Printer.


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