Wednesday, August 5, 2009

"Cracker " Half-font Cases

These are home made cases. They are probably about sixty years old, possibly seventy. These cases were donated to the Pioneer Settlement some years ago, complete with home-made cabinet. There are approximately 75 cases filling two tall cabinets, plus a smaller table top cabinets which contain sets of quads and spaces for 6 thru 48 pt. sizes.You might be able to see those cabinets in some of the photos on this blog taken in the Pioneer Settlement Print Shop.

Now, these cases are not particularly pretty. They are purely utilitarian. They are made of tempered Masonite. So, what's so special about these cases that I am using them for a Blog story? They are unique. And very typical for a small shop in Florida's past where resources were limited and you got by on what you had on hand.

When we got these cases, there were also some standard California Job cases and two cabinets to contain them. These, added to my own donation of my 1870 Hamilton cabinets and cases add up to our literally swimming in cases. So why keep these small Masonite cases?

For one thing, they are in very nearly mint shape. The other, wooden cases came from the same shop, which I believe to be the old Orlando Sentinel Star's Daytona office's print shop. The wooden cases are in . . . decent shape, but some are pretty rough.By and large, a number of the wooden cases really need to be scrapped. Florida is not a kind place for storage in an un-air conditioned environment. And yet these cases of Masonite have weathered years of dampness, heat, and this without even the slightest signs of damage.

Gracious knows they were used. You can tell from the slides in the cabinet. You can tell from the type itself. In fact, the "Club Card"'s open faced font came from these cases.

I posted queries about these cases, and I got back an interesting response: Masonite contains an oil. This oil is expressed in the processing and pressing of the wall board. It can resist water and dampness to a fair degree, especially on the polished faces of the board. This was why these cases did not rot, while the other wood  cases were a bit more prone.

The lay of the case (the order of the slots) are not hap-hazard, either. There is a logic to them, which became evident as I composed from them. In fact, these cases were very easy to compose and distribute from and to. For a small shop, they prove ideal with their fourteen inch square width and length.

There is really no joinery involved. The pieces were glued into place with standard wood glue, or hide glue. They are very strong.

I did a search of the case lay-out to see if a standard case lay was followed, but nothing seemed to match. Each case is very uniform, upper, lower, figures.

These are the upper and lower case cases. They are entirely square, entirely Masonite. The actual case space is thirteen by fourteen inches, leaving an inch in front to serve as a case pull. Because they follow a uniform, if unidentified order of lay, I've taken to calling them "Cracker" cases. Florida Cracker Cases. Granted the uniformity of the case lay may not extend beyond the confines of my shop, nonetheless there is a logic. And a quaintness.

So, why not build my own "Cracker Cases" from tempered Masonite?

After I took measures of all slots, I took the Masonite that I purchased and cut out three fourteen inch squares. Then I cut several strips one inch thick. These, in turn, were cut on the mitre saw to specific lengths of 2.5 and 1.5 inches. After cutting the pieces, I began to glue the corners of the outside "frame", thirteen by fourteen inches. This was then glued to the 14 x 14" board, finished side up.

Starting from the front of the case, I inserted first thehorizontal lengths, then glued in the vertical slots. I cut square wooden "jigs" the size needed for each slot type, size and width. These served as guides for proper width and straightness. First one row, then the next, then the next, on up to the last row. You can see in the images the corner clamps and pipe clamps. The wood glue actually dried pretty fast. When completed, the case dried overnight.

Here she is with clamps removed. You can compare to the actual cases. This one will be the upper case and figure case. Next, seen underneath, is the lower case.

That's it, the latest project. All I need to do is make about 75 of these (hee) over the next year or so. I plan
to do a lot of typesetting for my Letterpress work. In fact, I already have a request for two orders of the "Club Cards" from my last posting. If anyone is interested in these cards, drop me a line for details at:

I'm ordering up a fresh batch of Crane Lettera!