Pied Type Doesn’t Have a Flaky Crust

Job Case Photo by Heather on Flickr

The title of this post comes from my novel “Jock Stewart and the Missing Sea of Fire.” For better or worse, it’s a play on words. In this case, “pied” has nothing to do with the apple and cherry pies grandma used to make.

The term “pied type” refers to handset type that’s been dropped on the floor, scattering in a mess.

Handset type was stored by font in a California Job Case, a removable drawer in a cabinet. The letters were arranged in the case in order of their frequency of use. Printers created words, one letter at a time in a composing stick–a small hand-held tray which the typesetter viewed upside down. (The Linotype did this automatically, one line at a time–quite a time savings)

When the typesetter finished a column or part of a column, he tied the type tightly together with string and then transferred it to a form to be mounted on the press. If he dropped it, he said he had pied his type. “Pi” or “Pie” type refers to mixed up stuff whether it’s a dropped block of type or pieces of the wrong font mixed up in a job case.

Handset type was still prevalent enough in the late 1960s that my journalism course work included a printing class in which we were all trained to set type this way. Years later, I would still find some printers–especially those doing formal invitations on small platen presses–to be setting type in a stick and letting lose with a lot of profanity whenever the type got pied.