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Letter Press Printing

( Originally Published 1883 )



Letter-press Printing.—By this method which is designated " letter-press printing," it is customary to print three or four forms at a time (a form comprising the number of pages on one side of a sheet), and not to wait until the whole book is set, for in this way the same type can be utilized again and again until the work is completed. The cost of electrotyping or stereotyping is thus avoided ; but it must be remembered that it is not possible to print another edition of the work without the entire resetting of the type.

If, on the other hand, no safe estimate can be formed of the number of copies required to meet the probable demand for a new work, then plates had better be made. While by this plan the first cost is greater, it must be borne in mind that the first edition of a work may be much reduced in size if electrotype-plates are used, and then, if the demand requires it, subsequent editions may be printed from the . plates with great promptness. Should the work be of such a nature that, after the issue of the first edition, important changes in the text may be needed, then it is advisable to print from type, as the cost of correcting the plates may often be more than the resetting of the whole material.

In a recent popular novel the author, through inadvertence, used for her characters the names of real persons, and libel suits having on this account been instituted, it became necessary to change almost every proper name in the volume. As these names appeared many times in almost every page the cost of correcting the plates was no trifling matter, while the substituted names, being in some cases shorter than the originals, caused the pages of the corrected edition to present a by no means workman-like appearance.

Authors' Estimates.—It may be said that when authors themselves assume the risk of their work it is very unusual for them to understand the probable demand for their ventures, and they will rarely accept the publishers' suggestions and confine themselves to a limited letter-press edition. They are very apt to prefer to have their books stereotyped, so that there may be no failure to meet the great demand that the public is sure to make. They therefore incur the expense of making plates when it is often the case, as the publisher endeavors to make clear, that the work is not of a nature likely to interest more than a limited number of buyers.

Stereotyping.—There are several methods of stereo-typing :

1. The papier-maché process, now generally used in this country only for newspaper work.

2. The clay process.

3. The plaster process.

These processes merely designate the material used to make the moulds, or clichés, from the type. Upon these clichés type-metal in liquid state is poured. The plaster method is the one usually employed in the United States for the better grade of book work.

Electrotyping is more expensive than stereotyping, but the plates made in this way possess certain advantages over stereotypes, and the process is now much more generally used in America for book work than heretofore. The electrotype-plate is more effective for the better grade of printing, for two reasons :

The face of the type is sharper and cleaner.

2. The surface of the plate being of copper, instead of type-metal, it is much more durable. For books of which large editions are expected to be printed this latter is of great advantage. Wood-cuts are almost always electrotyped, because the delicate lines of the engraving can in this way be much more effectively reproduced than by the rougher methods of stereotyping.

The process of electrotyping may be briefly described as follows :

When the pages of type are properly "locked up " and " planed," i. e., made perfectly level, they are carefully washed and then covered with a layer of soft wax, and subjected to a heavy pressure. This produces a perfect impression of the type or cut in the wax. The wax, having become hard, is now covered with finely pulverized graphite and placed in an electric bath, and in a few hours a coating of copper is deposited upon it. The wax is now separated from this shell of copper, and molten type-metal poured upon the back of the latter until it has reached the proper thickness. The plates, now in their rough state, are then shaved to a uniform thickness, the edges bevelled to facilitate the work of holding them securely on the press, and they are then ready for " working " or printing.

It may be said, in passing, that while in some departments of book-making English manufacturers still excel their American cousins, the work of plate-making is now done much more effectively in the United States than in England ; the improved machinery used here enabling the stereotyper or electrotyper to turn out plates which are uniform and true, and from them the pressman can produce much better work at a less expenditure of labor than from those made by English printers. Indeed, so much extra time is required to make ready " a form of English plates, that it is generally found more economical in printing from them in this country to run them through the shaving machine, that they may be reduced to some degree of uniformity, before they are put upon the press.

When not in use, the plates, which are each a trifle larger than the printed page, and about 3- 16ths of an inch thick, are packed securely in boxes holding from forty-eight to ninety-six plates each, and these boxes are usually stored in fire-proof vaults.

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