Note from NDSU Press Publisher Suzzanne Kelley
Our 2023 Introduction to Publishing class has just returned from its Braddock Expedition. While at The Braddock News Letterpress Museum, located on the grounds of the South Central Threshing Association, NDSU students were tasked with a number of activities under the tutelage of Leah Burke and Allan Burke. The museum collection of fonts is magnificent, replete with multiple cases full of alphabet and punctuation pieces. The fonts are mostly formed of metal, but some are wooden and large. A few of the font styles are italic; some are bold. Each case contains lowercase and uppercase fonts of a single type. Previous classes and volunteers have sorted the type so that there is only one style per case, a detail-oriented task that has taken place over time in order to organize the collection. Now, students and volunteers are tasked with the detective work of identifying the measurement and name of each type style.
There are tools–physical, printed, and digital–to help the students determine the size and style of the type case they are assigned. Beginning with the Type Gauge Multi-Tool, students insert a sample piece of type to determine the height of each font. Font heights are measured as “points,” there being approximately 72 points to an inch. A size 36 font is about one-half inch, and a size 12 (typically used for Word documents) measures at 12/72 of an inch, or, about 1/6 of an inch. (OK, that is enough math.)
A digital resource our font detectives enjoy using is Identifont, one of many free options available for finding font families. Identifont asks questions such as, “Do the characters have serifs?” If the answer is yes, then the next question might be, “What style is the upper-case ‘Q’ tail?”
Each question the students answer leads them to the next narrowing-down clue, much like a Choose-Your-Own-Adventure kind of book. Students can also make use of type-face identification books held in the museum library.
Once the students identify the font style in their type case, they have the great fun of setting type, using their fonts to name the type in their case, and thus building pages for a museum catalog in progress.
Some mistakes were made. It is not easy to set type to “read wrong” and “print right.” (Yes, these are the technical terms.) Here, we see that a first try at typesetting and printing the font identity and size needs a little work.
Fortunately, our mistakes are easily corrected. (Maybe not completely in the first try. Can you see the extant error?)
Check out this brief video, where you’ll see that Anish (in the blue jacket and yellow tee) and Abby keep at the task until everything reads right.
Among other assignments on site this past weekend at The Braddock News Letterpress Museum, all students had their try at identifying fonts, typesetting, and printing. Our hands-on learning experience illustrated how typesetting and printing were done at the turn of the twentieth century and provided a plethora of new-to-the-students terms for the art and process of letterpress publishing. (They also learned about the magic of Gojo.)
We so appreciate our community-university partnership, teaching students (new and) old ways of publishing, while providing aid to the collection management at The Braddock News Letterpress Museum. Special thanks go to Tracy and Paula Moch–who kept us fed and hydrated (and to Johanna for her delicious homemade brownies)–and to Allan and Leah Burke, who kept the training and tasks a’coming! Leah, in all those years of running the newspaper business, you may have missed your calling as a teacher!