Manchester 1824 The University of Manchester - The John Rylands University Library
First Impressions

Composing - how type was set

Making up the pages of type for a book was demanding and skilful work. The compositor had to read the manuscript provided and then set out the type, selecting the letters from wooden trays known as cases. To make the process more efficient capital letters were in the upper case and other letters in the lower case, hence the terms we now use for these distinct letterforms. Type was set in reverse to ensure that what was printed was the mirror image and would therefore be legible. Individual letters were placed in a composing stick, upside down and once several lines had been composed they were slid into a long tray, which was open at one end, and known as a 'galley'. Thin strips of type metal were sometimes placed between the lines of type to separate them - a process known as 'leading'. In early printed books the lines were often set at equal length (justified) to ensure that they fitted into the galley and blank pieces of type were used to fill gaps. When the galley was full it was tied together to keep the letters in place and then locked into a frame called a 'chase'. The chase was then put onto the bed of the press ready to be inked.