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Typographers (repost, I tried to post it yesterday didn't see it)


John Ahlstrom <[log in to unmask]>


TYPO-L Discussion of Type and Typographic Design <[log in to unmask]>


Tue, 21 Apr 1998 09:00:12 -0700





text/plain (119 lines)

New York Times
 April 20, 1998

            Typographers' Group Falls to Computer Age

            By LISA NAPOLI

                NEW YORK -- All the trappings of a trade association
meeting -- the rubber chicken lunch,
                 the passing of family photos, the quibbling about
business -- could not mask the real
                 reason 70 people gathered last Wednesday in the back of
Frank's Restaurant in the
            Chelsea section of Manhattan. The neighborhood used to be
home to many of the city's
            typesetters and book binders.

            "This is like an Irish wake," observed John Trieste, the
executive director of the Typographers
            Association of New York, which marked the end of 87 years
with an upbeat farewell party.

            The once-complicated craft of setting type has been made
obsolete over the last decade and a
            half by the personal computer and inexpensive software
packages, and membership had
            dwindled from 180 typesetting shops to just 14 companies by
the end.

            Many of those who gathered to mourn the end of this era in
printing history have embraced the
            technology that forced their industry to change. Mark
Darlow, age 57, who now sells digital
            graphic equipment for the company that bought out his family
printing business two years ago,
            remembers seeing one of the first laser printers in the
early 1980s, and reporting on it to his
            fellow typographers at a meeting of the group on Long

            When he told them the machine reduced their work to a simple
push of a button, he recalled,
            "They told me I was crazy."

            Low-cost computers may have put the power of the press in
the hands of the people, but the
            distinction between practitioner and expert is vast, said
the typographers, who pride themselves
            on the nuance of typeface and design. "The critic Beatrice
Warde wrote that type should be
            invisible, that the reader shouldn't notice it," said Steve
Kennedy, who now designs books on
            computers and is proud of his personal library of materials
about the study of type.

            Seamless printing jobs, with neat, carefully spaced letters
and with layout so pleasing to the eye
            that it is not even noticed, are what is important to these
professionals -- as opposed to the
            look-at-me efforts of font-happy amateurs.

            Though many of the old pros have adapted and even thrived
with the new technologies, many
            also reminisced about the days of so-called hot type, when
pages were set in lead type on
            Linotype machines, hammered into place in giant 40-pound
blocks, and formed into plates for
            the press by molten lead. (The New York Times printed its
last edition in hot type in 1978.)

            Leandros Papathansiou, one of the last printers in the city
to use this technique, missed the
            lunch in order to do a rush typesetting job on his 1948
Linotype machines. Finding manpower
            to operate the machines is difficult, he said, but he is
still not ready to invest in computer
            machinery -- nor does he find it necessary. On the three
floors of his printing and binding
            facility in midtown, Papathansiou has not a single computer.
His customers, mostly art galleries
            and small presses, including his own Pella Press, which
serves a Greek audience, use his
            services for short printing runs of art books, literature
and journals.

            Jack Powers, a second-generation printer who is now a
computer consultant with his own site
            on the World Wide Web, understands why Papathansiou might
have trouble letting go of what
            is now squarely the printing industry's past.

            "I have the notion that typography was one of the first
industries destroyed by the computer
            revolution," he said. "Accountants are still with us, though
now wired. Secretaries still hang on,
            despite voice mail and e-mail. But typographers who lived by
technology have now died by

            But Annette Sullivan, who convened the luncheon as the
group's final president, refused to

            "It's not a sad day," said Ms. Sullivan, who is in her 70s
but still working as a freelance
            typographer, though now at computer keyboard instead of a
Linotype machine. "It's a happy
            day when you see what we've accomplished. Our industry's
been around 5,000 years. We
            don't have to dig into stone anymore. We can just sit at a

            Lisa Napoli at [log in to unmask] welcomes your comments and

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