Composing stick, 1740-1760
Photo by Peter Harholdt, 2004
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Photo by Peter Harholdt, 2004

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The composing stick is used to compose lines of type. It is held in one hand, while the printer picks individual characters and aligns them.

It is a thin, rectangular sheet of iron, roughly 2 x 8 inches, to one long edge and one short edge of which has been welded a low L-shaped wall, 5/8 inch high. The short wall is solid; the long one is pierced by six holes, each 5/16 inch in diameter. A threaded cylindrical bolt, 1 1/2 inches in diameter, and capable of being moved from one hole to another, holds a double L of iron by means of a pyramidal washer topped by a knob. By moving the iron L, the printer can vary the width of the columns of type being set. This composing stick can accept two columns of type simultaneously. The short end of the stick is cut in a shallow S-curve ending in a rounded corner (possibly to eliminate a sharp point). A small hole is pierced near that rounded end to permit the tool to be hung from a nail or peg.

Note that the underside of the iron sheet, near the hanging hole, is scarred and scratched, suggesting that it was scraped by the nail at which it was being aimed. Terms of Use Credits