Page 12 - April 2015
P. 12

OING THE DISS by Dr Ian Dormor (10502)

                                                     Distribution of type after                        been cannibalised for sorts by comps who found

                                                     printing—commonly referred to in the insufficient characters in the case to enable

                                                     composing room as dissing or doing the            them to complete the job they were working on.

                                                     diss was one of the less glamorous aspects        Upon returning to work after a holiday, not
                                                     of letterpress printing. At least that is         only was the mountain of diss awaiting the
                                                     my recollection of being an apprentice            apprentice somewhat intimidating, but
                                                     compositor in the 1960s, for doing the            invariably in a total mess due to the said process
                                                     diss was something that apprentices were          of picking for sorts. This was particularly irksome
                                                     expected to master early in their careers.        in a firm having a Monotype plant­—particularly
                                                     I suppose its value was that one fairly quickly   when picking for 6pt Gill Sans full points when
                                                     became familiar with typecase layouts and         the caster was standing idle. Why there was
                                                     learning where various materials such as          never a policy of keeping the cases topped up I
                                                     brass rules, leads, quotes and blocks were        never found out.
                                                     kept in the composing room. But for the
                                                                                                       The recent story on BBC television about the
                                                     apprentice the main value of dissing was
                                                                                                       recovery of the Doves Type from the River
                                                     as a way of identifying and memorising
                                                     typefaces. What made the process the most Thames where it had lain since 1917 following
                                                     tedious of tasks was the fact that working in Cobden Sanderson’s decision to deny its use
BBC stroy is covered here:      a jobbing printers, the unlocked forms were for mechanical composition, reminds me of the
                                                                                                       dissing method adopted by some apprentices
                                                     tied up and left on a stone in the corner
                                                                                                       at a large bible printers in Guildford. Over tea
                                                     of the composing room by the machine
                                                     minders often in an inky state or running in one day at Guildford School of Art, where we
                                                     white spirit which made separating individual attended day release classes for our City &
                                                     pieces of type difficult when returning them Guilds in Compositors’ Work, the topic of doing
                                                                                                       the diss came up in conversation. “We don’t
                                                     to the case. Added to this was the often
                                                                                                       bother with all that nonsense” bragged an
                                                     pied state of finished formes as they had
                                                                                                       apprentice comp from the bible printers. “As our

                                                                                                       composing room windows overlook the River

                                                                                                       Wey, we put the type on galleys and shoot it

                                                                                                       into the river below”, along with, I understand,

                                                                                                       leads, reglets, brass rule, page cord, quoins

                                                                                                       and even the odd chase. The legacy of this

                                                                                                       nefarious action may be a veritable treasure

                                                                                                       trove of lead still lying on the river bed, unless

                                                                                                       the Environment Agency has removed it. As this

                                                                                                       all took place over 50 years ago it might have

                                                                                                       gone, but someone discovering all these lost

                                                                                                       sorts in the river in the future might be curious

                                                                                                       as to how they arrived there, especially as the

                                                                                                       buildings are no longer occupied by printers –

                                                                                                       solicitors now go about their business where the

                                                                                                       comps once worked.

                                                     Catalogue Raisonné sample page, Doves Press 1914

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