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The California Typecase
by Lewis A. Pryor (Edited)

With the introduction of the first jobbing or display type faces in the first decade of the 19th century (and within a few years these new faces came onto the market by the hundreds) most printers both in America and in Britain were forced to add more and more of the new letters to their stores of type in order to remain competitive in the jobbing printing business. Printers, hitherto concerned only with book or newspaper types in their shops, and not too many of them, were faced with the problem of storing the numerous new display fonts.

Most new fonts contained only capitals, figures and points, so the traditional upper case served nicely. Its two divisions, each containing 49 boxes, each would lay a font of the new letter, though the boxes must have looked rather over large for the small fonts that the new letters were put up in. A more efficient use of the full size case in accommodating the caps, figures and points; only job fonts came with the devising of the treble case (called triple case in the United States) with its three divisions, each of 49 boxes. But the laying of job or display fonts which contained both upper and lower case letters presented a problem demanding more innovation. To use a full lower and half an upper case (none of these faces contained small capitals) to lay a font which rarely weighed over ten pounds was obviously a waste of case and stand space. Who was the first printer to devise a single case to hold both upper and lower case letters as well as figures, points and spacing material will probably never be known, but it is easy enough to reconstruct the probable reasoning behind the action.

By 1836 the general plan of the job or double case had become standardized in Britain and the U.S. External dimensions were the same as for the traditional upper and lower cases of the country of use. The case was divided into equal thirds by crossbars, the left and center thirds given over to the appropriate lower case lay and the right thirds devoted to 49 equal size boxes for the capital letters and miscellaneous characters. Why the capital side of the new case was put at the right is an unanswered question, for the capital letters were laid in the left side of the traditional upper case both in America and Britain at that time.

But the capital letters side of the job case had a serious shortcoming. Its 49 equal size boxes, each about 1½ by 1¾” inside dimensions in Britain and 1¼ by 2” in the wider American case, were not large enough to hold some of the most frequently used capitals (E, A, N, O, R, S, T) of job fonts of size greater than double pica or 24 point. This deficiency was particularly troublesome in the case of heavy or wide letter faces. Moreover, the top two rows, devoted to signs, accented letters and fractions in the traditional upper case, were largely unused in the job or double case as these characters were seldom if ever included in display letter or job fonts.

The first efforts to improve the cap side of the job case occurred in Britain where the incentive to do so was greater because of the smaller size of cap boxes in the British case. In the Printers’ Register of 6 April 1872, an unsigned article entitled “Scheme for Laying Jobbing Founts” describes a lay “adopted by a London Printing office” involving alteration of the 49 equal size boxes of the half case. The case was rearranged into essentially five rows of equal, and thus larger boxes, but with the top and bottom rows, except for two boxes, being further divided. This resulted in a case with 25 small boxes and 23 large boxes which accommodated all the capitals except J, X and Z, which were placed in the smaller, subdivided boxes.

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Now in California early in 1874, one Ellis Read, recently arrived in San Francisco from Brisbane, Australia, via London, established in San Francisco “Ellis Read’s Printers’ Furnishing Warehouse,” and took on the agency for the Edinburgh type foundry of Miller and Richard. The enterprise was successful almost from the start, apparently due to the superiority of M&R’s types over those already available. There were then in San Francisco one independent type foundry and an agency for the large Chicago foundry of Marder Luse & Co.

Competition to Read’s venture from the outset was intense, if not unscrupulous. His competitors were probably responsible for charges by the U.S. Customs of undervaluation of invoices to evade payment of proper import duty. These charges were eventually completely refuted and all penalties cancelled, but not until after considerable time and money was spent by Read and M&R to prove their innocence.

Apparently a part of the agency from the beginning was Octavius A. Dearing whom Read employed as his salesman and who will be a central character in this narrative. Dearing was born in East Buxton, Maine in 1840 and served his apprenticeship in the office of the Biddeford (Maine) Weekly Journal. In 1862 he served for four months in a Maine Volunteer Cavalry unit during the American Civil War. After his discharge he was appointed Biddeford’s first city librarian and served until 1864, when he went to Boston, and worked as foreman printer. In 1869 he moved to San Francisco, quickly obtaining employment. From 1870 to 1873 he was variously compositor and job department foreman in two of San Francisco’s largest printing offices, A. L. Bancroft & Co. and Cubery & Co.

Dearing seems to have been an aggressive, extroverted and innovative individual. In Boston he had devised an improved lead rack and was granted U.S. Patent No. 135,894 on 18 February 1873. In 1888 he was granted a patent on an “All Brass Galley” sold for several years by some of the country’s largest printers’ suppliers. He was responsible for improvements in typecase stands and a galley corrector’s “monitor.” The perpetual calendar, each day being cast on a separate body, was claimed as his exclusive invention in 1879, and, most central to this narrative, he played an important role in the introduction of what was later to be known as the California Job Case.

By the early 1870s the concern of Messrs. McCorquodale & Co. had become one of the largest printers in Britain. The firm had operations in London, Liverpool, Leeds, Glasgow and Newton-le-Willows, and in 1879 employed 1773 hands, had 537 machines, its own paper mill, mechanics’ shops, chemists’ laboratories and joiners’ shops, [italics mine] and the firm used Miller & Richard’s type “almost entirely.”

The Printers’ Register began the serialization of John Southward’s “Practical Printing” in 1874 and the two installments of Chapter IV on type cases appeared in the November and December 1875 issues. Southward repeats the 1872 improvement in the half case with the identical lay diagram and describes it as having been “adopted by Messrs. McCorquodale.” He also describes and illustrates an improved double case with only five rows of boxes in the upper case division. Southward states, “… the uppercase division consists of five rows of boxes instead of seven; more space is thus allowed for the capitals – fractions and accented letters being excluded,” and it too was “… used by Messrs. McCorquodale & Co.”

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Considering Miller & Richard’s dominant position in the British type founding industry, McCorquodale’s heavy use of M&R’s types and Southward’s continuing deep interest in all aspects of the British typographical scene it is reasonable to assume that there was a considerable on-going communication among the three. McCorquodale’s improvement in the half case and double case must have occurred at least a couple of years before being reported by Southward in the Printers’ Register, possibly as early as 1870, and it is not unreasonable to assume that M&R soon learned of the McCorquodale innovation very soon after it was adopted – after all, much of the type going into McCorquodale’s cases was made by M&R. So when Miller & Richard began their negotiations with Read to prepare for his opening the firm’s agency in San Francisco they had every incentive to advise him of any new British developments in printer’s materials that might attract favorable attention from hoped for customers in San Francisco. An improvement in the double or job case would certainly fall in that category. The American version of McCorquodale’s improvement of the double case was introduced in San Francisco very soon after Read opened his agency. The author believes that Read learned of the new case while in London before embarking for California, rather than learning of it after starting his agency in San Francisco.

Just how and from whom Read learned of the improved case is impossible to say, but Miller & Richard had the strongest incentive to get the information to him. The young, experienced and innovative journeyman printer, Dearing, when told of the new case by Read must have immediately perceived its advantages and enthusiastically assisted in the business of getting the Americanized version of it available for sale in the San Francisco agency.

At this same time Dearing probably also conceived the idea of the Dearing Two-Thirds Job Case. For it took the 35 cap box feature of the McCorquodale revision of the English double case and applied it to the existing American two thirds cap case.

January 1876 was the date of the first issue of Type and Graver, house organ of Ellis Read’s Printers’ Furnishings Warehouse, San Francisco. If further issues were published they are lost, for the copy of Number 1 in the St. Bride Printing Library seems to be the only one extant. Several columns are given to detailed and laudatory descriptions of “Our Specialties” including the Dearing two-third size job case, the Dearing lead rack, rule rack, etc. Chicago’s S. Simons Co., a major manufacturer of printers’ wood goods, advertised “will furnish the Dearing two-thirds case and our own style of job case [italics mine]. This latter can only refer to what is now known as the California job case, and is the earliest reference to it found by the author.

Beginning with the August 1877 issue of the Pacific Printer, and above a formal copyright declaration in his own name, Dearing wrote a long series, concluding in the July 1880 issue, entitled “The Art of Printing.” Most of the material was taken verbatim from Southward’s serialization of “Practical Printing” which appeared earlier in The Printers’ Register, London. While Dearing declared at the outset of his series that. “We do not claim to present an entirely original article – the magnitude of the subiect forbids it; indeed, we confess that we shall use the scissors as freely as the pen,” his brazen assurance and impudence in entering it for copyright are good measures of the man’s aggressive character.

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Chapter V, Type Cases, of the “Art of Printing” appeared in the Pacific Printer of January 1878 and paralleled Chapter IV of Southward’s “Practical Printing.” Dearing followed Southward verbatim (except in the matter of dimensions) until the paragraph on double cases, which Dearing, in keeping with then current U.S. usage, called italic cases. His last sentence is critical to this study. It reads, “A variation of this case, introduced by our foundry [italics mine] is made by rejecting the 14 useless upper case boxes and making 28 of the 35 remaining boxes proportionally longer, for the capital letters. This style is designated as a job case.”

Here is a clear description of the California job case, and it should be noted that Dearing made no claim that he nor any one else with the Miller & Richard San Francisco agency devised or invented it. He asserted only that his firm introduced the new case, whereas the items which were of his or the firm’s devising were clearly and forcefully so credited, a practice that is constantly followed in the firm’s promotional material, written in large part by Dearing himself.

Laudatory references followed in succeeding issues to the Dearing two-thirds case and to other “specialties of the house,” but no further reference to the new full size job case. But in 1884 the firm, now styled Palmer and Rey, no longer agents for Miller & Richard, and operating their own foundry, published their “Second Specimen Book.” In it is a wood cut illustration of the California job case and is so titled. This is probably the earliest extant pictorial representation of the case.

In 1885 Palmer & Rey published with Dearing credited as author, a 35-page pamphlet entitled “Printing for Profit, Illustrating the Dearing Specialities in Printing Office Furniture.” On page 6 is the same wood cut illustration of the California full size job case that appeared in their 1884 Specimen Book titled, “Our job case.” The accompanying text reads in part, “…made by knocking out fourteen useless boxes from the old italic case and putting in a little common sense… This case will hold a double font of even large sizes of type… the best full size case in the world.”

Here again Dearing takes no credit either for himself or his firm for devising the improvement in the old italic case, something he did with regard to all the other “Dearing specialties” described in the same pamphlet.

Palmer & Rey’s “Specimen Book, fourth edition,” 1889, uses the same cut to illustrate the case and it is titled “California Job Case.” It was also available in three-quarter size. Here the Dearing case is called the “California Two-Third Case.”

In the Palmer & Rey “Illustrated Price List” of 1892, (actually their fifth specimen book) a new cut of the case appears, a zinc line engraving, and the caption includes the statement, “Has been in constant use on the Pacific Coast for nearly 20 years.” This would seem to confirm the case’s first being offered in 1874 when Read started his agency operation and took on Dearing as his salesman.

Though the new case found immediate acceptance and good sales right from the start on the Pacific Slope, it was not until nearly 20 years later that it became generally available in the eastern U.S.A. The Hamilton Manufacturing Co., of Two Rivers, Wisconsin, listed (but did not illustrate) a “California Job Case, full size” in their catalogue dated 1 January 1890. At the time Hamilton was in the process of taking over S. Simons & Co., who were the first to make the case for Read, so included in their own catalogue everything in the Simons line that the thought would sell.

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With the formation in 1891-92 of the American Type Founders Co., a trust which merged 23 of the largest U.S type foundries including Palmer & Rey, Hamilton became its principal wood goods supplier. Very soon thereafter Hamilton adopted the policy of sending out their case racks and cabinets which called for full size cases, fitted out with California job cases unless the customer specifically requested another style.

Perhaps the new case’s final triumph was epitomized in an article extolling its virtues which appeared in the July 1892 issue of The Specimen, house organ of Marder, Luse & Co., of Chicago, one of the largest members of the new A.T.F. organization. It was the Pacific Coast Branch of this same firm which most vigorously opposed the upstart Miller & Richard agency in San Francisco in the mid-1970s.

The Dearing two thirds job case, already defined here, and a short lived variant of the American lower case called the California lower case together caused considerable confusion in previous efforts to trace the history of the California job case. George Harding, writing in the Kemble Occasional No. 3, (San Francisco) March 1967, on the subject of the “California Case,” quotes an 1899 allusion to the “California Case of 1867” which was obviously a reference to the California job case.

Harding must be given credit however for initiating the first serious research into the origins of the California Job Case. The author’s inquiry was instigated by reading George Harding’s study, and this paper owes much to his continued encouragement and valuable assistance.

In conclusion, a brief resume of the further careers of the principals in this account should be of interest. Ellis Read went to Mexico City after giving up his interests in San Francisco, entered the printers’ supply business there, and published Tipographia Mexicana and the Mexican Trade Journal for some years starting in 1878.

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Octavius Dearing continued with Palmer and Rey, editing the Pacific Printer, until it ceased publication soon after the firm’s merger into the American Type Founders. In 1895 he moved to Portland, Oregon, to manage the ATF office there (the erstwhile Palmer & Rey branch). In 1903, and aged 63, he left the Portland position and for about seven months, managed and edited the Corvallis, Oregon, Gazette-Times, then a small, struggling country weekly. While in Corvallis he wrote and published a 24-page pamphlet, “The Origin of Freemasonry.” Later in 1904 he sought the warmer. drier climate of Southern Oregon where near Yoncalla he bought a small “fruit and poultry ranch,” a common retirement practice in those pre-Social Security days, and applied for a veteran’s pension.

Apparently separated from his wife and only child. who had returned to the San Francisco Bay area. and seriously ill, he entered, upon his own request, the Old Soldiers’ Home in Roseburg, Oregon, 29 November 1907. He died there the following 14 December, and was given Masonic last rites in Portland four days later. The two obituaries located by the author mention only his Civil War service and that he “…was one of the most prominent Masons in the State.” His estate was estimated only $500 including both real and personal property.

The gloria mundi of Octavius A. Dearing was made the more transitory by the energies of Mergenthaler, Lanston and Ludlow.

Editor’s Note

Who devised the California Typecase layout? Lewis A. Pryor, once a printer-member of the National Amateur Press Association, researched printing archives from Britain and this country. His “paper,” as he termed his study, was published in 1971 in the Journal of the Printing Historical Society, issue 7, London. I would have preferred to publish it in its entirety, but it would consume about 18 Campane pages, too much of a stretch for this small journal. Jim Doolittle, on one of his European journeys, was kind enough to make a copy from the original printing. Mr. Pryor, who published A Priori, disappeared from the NAPA in 1976 when he resigned his membership (without mention of a reason). It would have been better had he done the editing. Space limits prevented the reproduction of illustrations of the various typecases of the times, and also specifications of these cases. (I should say, as the professionals do, check the Internet for our Web page for the details, but we are not yet that sophisticated.)

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Campane has been published since 1941 in the interest of the National Amateur Press Association (est. 1876), the pastime of amateur journalism and hobby printing (electronic and letterpress) by Harold Segal, Philadelphia, PA 19115-4503.

Critiques, articles and anecdotes about writing or printing or research into the history of the hobby are solicited. Manuscripts should be typed double-spaced and should be at least 1000 words. Contributions may be sent by e-mail to the address above.

This issue has been composed on a computer utilizing digitized Baskerville 353. Copies have been printed on a H-P LaserJet 5L.

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