March 9

A slyly inserted item appeared in the New York Tribune under this date in 1868, concerning its rival, the World: “On Wednesday night the compositors of the World quarrelled over a ‘fat take,’ and during the row accidentally pied a ‘saving galley,’ containing the following words: —146 Grants, 122 drunken louts, 40 Greeleys, 6,000 Tribunes, 1 Hiram Sidney, 22 trooly loils, 60 niggers, 38 Beast Butlers, 970 Hiram Ulysseses, 40 Uncle Simpsons, 10 Violated Constitutions, 6 Howling Radicals, 38 Freedmen’s Bureaus, 70 Hang the Heralds (small caps), 1,000 Carpet-baggers, 52 Seymour, the patriot’s; and several similar terms, all of which account for the unexampled decency of the World on Thursday morning.”

Aside from the almost gleeful description of some of the more popular newspaper cliches of the period, the Tribune’s account did uncover one of the practices of newspaper composing rooms in the days when all of the typesetting was done by hand; hence the attempt to save a few moments in the composition of a late “take” by saving the more commonly used phrases or names. Obviously, the “saving-galley” in any newspaper became a reasonably accurate record of the political persuasion and the personal idiosyncrasies of its editor.

While type preserved in this manner offered questionable economies, particularly if the compositor had to leave his frame, stick in hand, to search for the “saving-galley,” the basic idea behind such an attempt to save time was not at all unique, there having been many such equally dubious approaches to speed up the typesetter’s task. It is doubtful, however, if in the easy-going atmosphere of the large newspaper composing rooms there ever could have been popular acceptance of any procedure which the modern industry would term as quality control.

The paternal instinct of many newspaper editors, who themselves had worked at the case in their formative years, plus the brotherhood loyalties of the craft, contributed to a rather lax set of standards which would have been much less acceptable in the more competitive commercial printing establishments. A popular anecdote, descriptive of such ideal working conditions, circulated among newspaper printers as late as a half century ago. It concerns a conversation between two compositors on the New York World, about the year 1910. A tall gangling comp, clutching a sheet of copy, stopped a fellow comp, who was purposefully striding by also accoutred with composing stick, copy, and the inevitable cheekful of chewing tobacco. The first comp shifted his chaw and inquired, “Say, Mac, where’s the 48 Chelt? I’ve been lookin’ for it all morning.”

His fellow comp stopped, and squirted a well-aimed stream into the nearest cuspidor. “Hell,” he said, “I’m damned if I know. I’ve been lookin’ for the 72 Caslon for six months!”

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