July 29

The typographical equivalent of the one-armed paper hanger is undoubtedly the left-handed compositor, and for five centuries the term has been one of derision. “How many readers of The Inland Printer,” asked Sam G. Sloane in 1888, “ever saw a left-handed typesetter? By this I mean a typesetter who picks up the types, places them in the composing stick and spaces out the lines, all with his ‘sinister paw’?”

Apparently the idea was so novel that Sam went out of his way to look for such a person, and reported that he had found one. Born on this day in 1856 on a farm in Coles County, Illinois, was C.S. Glassco, who was to achieve national recognition as a left-handed comp. Glassco lost his right hand in a farm accident when but five years of age. After attending college in Greencastle, Indiana and Ann Arbor, Michigan, he became an apprentice compositor in the office of the Journal in Tuscola, Illinois in 1874. After employment in a number of mid-western weekly newspapers, he returned to Tuscola as the foreman of the Saturday Journal office.

Glassco had developed the ability to set type at an average speed of 7,000 ems per day and had accomplished as much as 13,-500 ems in a ten-hour period, which was above average production for even the right-handed swifts of the period. Most modern compositors would find it beyond their ability to maintain such a speed.

Lacking a good right hand, Glassco held the composing stick in the crook of his right arm and notwithstanding his handicap, managed to compose justified lines of type with apparent ease. He was equally skilled in distribution, holding several lines in his elbow in the same manner as the composing stick. He was particularly proud of the fact that he could handle any length of line as well as a two-handed comp.

Apparently the idea of a left-handed compositor was anathema to most employing printers, as at no time has there been any demand for composing sticks suitable for the lefty, although individuals may have constructed their own. Certainly manufacturers of printer’s tools have never offered such an item for sale. Compositor Glassco managed to get along with the standard stick, and so have—by necessity—the rest of the port-handers. The left-handed composing stick thus remains an elusive article, which almost every composing room apprentice has learned to his chagrin when, during his first days on the job, he was sent to fetch one, along with a paper stretcher and the box of dots for the lowercase “i.”

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