A Joke for the Old Typesetter
Posted by Margaret Sprague on 02/25/2013
“Here lies Olaf Mansson
He was found by Professor Hansen
In with Janson”
I doubt that three people in the world would get that joke now, but it was definitely funny to those of us in Typography 101 back in the middle ages when I was in college.
My favorite professor, Glenn Hansen, demanded that we discern the slight differences between designs of each font. And he demanded that we respect those letters of lead.
Caslon and Janson have such similar shapes that letter-width is about the only quick clue to their difference. This meant that when you broke down your printing form after finishing a job, you had to replace each individual lead letter in the correct font drawer. A careless compositor could dump Calson in the Janson drawer. That carelessness could cause errors in composing a later job, for the letters from two fonts would not fit next to each other in proper relation. Readability and purity of design would suffer.
In February 33 years ago, I incorporated, and used a typographical term “Two Ems” for the name of the company.
I had started the company as a publisher and I was buying a large amount of printing. But as there were very few women buying printing in those days, I found that printers (who were then almost exclusively male) tended to talk down to me. Therefore, I chose the name Two Ems to indicate that I understood the printing industry.
Now, at our front counter almost every day someone asks, “What is an Em?”
Webster defines: “In printing, the square of any size of type, used as a unit of measure.” Two ems set at the beginning of a paragraph was the industry standard for indentation for many years.
Or, at our front counter the question will be, “Why is the business named Two Ems?” Answer: "Because I have two Ms in my name."
Or, a visitor will call us “three ems,” which happens very often. Response: “3M is bigger than Two Ems” and, “3M is in Minnesota, Two Ems is in Connecticut.”
Two Ems still has an antique type drawer with samples of lead letters such as Professor Hansen taught me to set, as well as a few lines of lead output from a linotype machine. But now Two Ems is a digital printing company that uses digital machinery, professional software and classic papers to produce your job, without an ounce of lead.