June 29

Compositor William A. Hunter, of Bryan, Ohio no doubt wearying of his continued purchasing of soap, received a patent this day in 1858 which offered some promise of alleviating the problem. The nature of Hunter’s contribution to the history of American ingenuity evolved the construction of a type case with a metallic screen bottom. In this way the case might constantly be kept free of dust, which was to collect on a shelf or drawer underneath the case—to be emptied in all probability by the printer’s devil, already grimy beyond all redemption.

Comp Hunter might better have paid serious attention to the redesign of the entire case, which had changed but little in four centuries, and which over one hundred years later is not at all improved. It was just a year after Hunter’s brainstorm that another typographic originator, one Tom Rooker of New York, was granted a patent for arranging a typecase by placing “at the side of the lower-case its corresponding upper-case, so that the movements of the body and travel of the hand of the compositor may be greatly reduced.”

The Rooker case is the model now universally used, although there are several variants such as the French case, introduced in the 19th century, in which the capital letters were placed in the same case with the lower-case but along the top. In the United States such an arrangement is called a Yankee Job Case, no credit being given to French talent.

Rooker’s type case is undoubtedly the one now called California Job Case. Possibly the idea appeared to be eminently practical to those printers who heard of the discovery of gold in that state and joined the migration to the West Coast but preferred to hold on to their own trade if the nuggets were not immediately forthcoming. Shipping a few fonts of type was a great deal simpler in one case than in two, and of course there were certain features attractive to employing printers who were anxious to reduce their typesetting hour costs.

The fresh young engineers now being attracted to the printing industry in its present state of automation by computer are honestly aghast when they contemplate the type case and learn that it has received so little up-grading in over five hundred years. They find particularly appalling the cap case in which the letters J and U are placed after the Z, simply because these letters had not been devised when the case was invented. Possibly their viewpoint of the technology of printing becomes quite slanted when they are told that the J has been in use since the 17th century and that the U became commonly used prior to 1800.

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