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Tuesday 19 April 2011

Typesetting With Typewriters: Literary Digest's 1919 Callitypy Revolution

The Queanbeyan Printing Museum, to which I have donated a number of old typewriters, sits just outside Canberra, in the heart of one of Australia’s earliest inland towns.
It was set up by Lial James Woods, now aged a still sprightly 98 (born November 11, 1913).
Jim was involved in the printing and newspaper industry for 66 years, including 38 years at the now 151-year-old Queanbeyan Age.
Jim at one time owned the Age, as well as many other newspapers dotted around rural New South Wales. During his control of this chain of newspapers, Jim had dealings with the notorious newspaper owner Maxwell Newton (1929-1990), founding editor of the national daily, The Australian, under Rupert Murdoch’s ownership. Jim asked me to come out to the museum one day last year to fix an IBM Selectic.
“I have a bit of an attachment to the IBM,” said Jim. “After I bought some mastheads from Max Newton and moved into the newspapers he had owned, I found to my astonishment that all the typesetting equipment, including the linotype machines, had been removed. I believe they had been dumped out at sea. All I had left to typeset the newspapers on was IBM typewriters, so we did that for a while. No wonder I have fond memories of them.”

I was reminded of Jim’s story when I came across an article about IBM typesetting published in Time magazine on August 23, 1937. The story is interesting enough to run in its entirety:
“The November 15, 1919, issue of the late Literary Digest was a strange looking creation. Due to a compositors' strike, the magazine used typewriters to prepare its columns of editorial matter, photographed the final copy, made line-cuts from the photographs and went to press on schedule. The appearance of the magazine was ragged because the right-hand edge of the typewritten copy could not be evenly aligned. The Literary Digest, at this time, was offering a prize of $100,000 to anybody who would figure out a way to make typewritten copy square up like printed matter.
“This put a bee in the cap of an Annapolis midshipman named Joseph SpielVogel. He left Annapolis and one day, while studying engineering in Newark, New Jersey, he found himself fingering some crepe paper in a 5¢ & 10¢ store. The result was the Vogel-type aligning paper which he put on the market in 1934. It is a finely corrugated paper, ruled so that it can be torn in narrow horizontal strips and cemented to a backing sheet. The typist writes on the corrugated side and, when finished, takes a pair of tweezers, lifts the strips loose, stretches them so that the lines typewritten on them conform to a standard length, presses them back in place on the cemented backing. The typing shows practically no distortion as a result of stretching, unless the strips are pulled to extremes.
“A considerable improvement on printing from a typewritten sheet was made possible last week by International Business Machines Corp. IBM has a new electric typewriter which uses 12-point Roman type and whose carriage automatically advances different spacings to allow each letter in the alphabet the width required by good type design. (Each typewriter letter is the same width.) Thus, capital W gets eight units of space, lower-case i or I only two units. The machine uses a 300ft paper ribbon, which runs through only once, thus keeping the copy uniform in blackness. There is also a stroke control lever which, when advanced, produces bold-face copy. With a new typewriter* and Mr. SpielVogel's aligning paper, copy can be turned out that looks like typeset.
The goal of all inventors interested in the publishing business is a typewriter like IBM's which automatically ‘justifies’ (spaces out) each line while the words are being typed, so that all lines come out even on the right-hand side. It would make IBM's electric typewriter and Mr. SpielVogel's elastic paper as outdated as celluloid collars. Undismayed, inventive Mr. SpielVogel announced last week that he has one called a Typrinter, which will be ready for manufacture as soon as he gets his patents, fills the bill.
“*Not yet on sale, but estimated to be priced around $500.”
The reason I found this article is that I have a copy of that November 15, 1919, typewritten issue of Literary Review, and was interested to find out why it was almost entirely typeset by typewriters. Here are some sample pages:

I don't know about the "Typrinter", but on January 2, 1920, an Australian newspaper, the Brisbane Courier, ran a lengthy article about “Callitypy”. Headed “A COMPOSITORS' STRIKE AND THE SEQUEL”, it said "callitypy" was “an ingenious method” and quoted The New York Times as pointing out that the San Francisco Chronicle had used the process in 1917. Also, “The Long Island Standard and several other newspapers used the method as an emergency measure.”

“Callitypy” was described as a “new way of using the typewriter” in Scientific American in 1903 and Reformers and War: American Progressive Publicists and the First World War by John A. Thompson says it was “hailed as a successor to printing”.


Ryan Adney said...

Robert, how did they do it? Did they count characters per line and evenly distribute extra spaces? I was thinking about a post on justification. This is very interesting.

Robert Messenger said...

Hi Ryan. The Digest does seem to have used a combination of "guess-timation" and what in today's typesetting is called "forced justification"; there are a lot of what are now known as "discretionary hyphens". It is interesting that throughout its typewritten issue, it has highlighted some paragraphs with double line spacing, plus extra spacing between words. The Time article seems to indicate IBM developed portportional spacing in 1937, which Jim Woods would have used with his IBMs. From memory, George Blickensderfer was working on the idea of proportional spacing back in 1887-1893.