Origin of type high?

Hey all I was discussing with a colleague the history of the measurement that we know as ‘type high’ and determining that it has always been .918 ” but does anyone know why that specific size was chosen? and was it chosen by gutenberg? did it relate to a body part, like foot being a foot, or elbow-to-wrist…i guess type high could be knuckle to knuckle on my pinkie finger,
any know this very specific piece of dorky printing history?

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I believe it was the height of a shilling on its edge.

The American point and the Didot (European) point are slightly different, resulting in a height-to-paper in America and the British Empire of .918, and in Continental Europe and some other parts of the world of .928. To be used in American presses, European foundry type has to have its feet machined off to get rid of that extra hundredth of an inch.

Here’s a useful reference: http://www.bpsnet.org.uk/history/03.pdf

Our printing trade is so rich in history! Imagine about thirty-five type founders all casting type with different body sizes and different heights. Then the American Point System was devised and agreed upon in 1886 by the United States Type Founders’ Association. Eighty-three picas became equal to thirty-five centimeters, then dividing the pica into twelve equal parts, (points). Thirty-five centimeters then also became a standard for type-high (height-to-paper). By this plan fifteen type-heights (.918) were made to equal thirty-five centimeters. The old standard was eleven-twelfths or .9166 of an inch. The difference of 20/10000 or 1/500 part of an inch may seem trivial but it was enough to drive many pressmen of the day to consume large quantities of booze! The preceeding was in part from Theodore Low De Vinne’s (c) 1899, “Plain Printing Types,” Oswald Publishing Co., New York, 1914. As Paul Harvey would say: “And Now You Know The Rest of The Story!”

Stan is correct according to other references I have, but the history is a bit richer still….

Moore’s Universal Assistant, a book printed for those headed to the American Wild West in 1880, lists “type high” to be “15/16ths of an English Inch, less a small amount”. Of course he fails to say what the difference in an English inch and an American Inch might be…. or how small the “small amount” is supposed to be….. or why you’d need to know that in a Wild West Town anyway…. but hey, it’s a cool book! He also describes how to shoot Grizzly Bears, fight off Commaches, repair a Steam Locomotive, pickle eggs for travel, and make wine out of raisins (it is reported to be as good as the best English Champaigne!)….. all handy things to know!

Winking Cat Press…pickled eggs and raisin wine must be a great combination, especially traveling to the Wild West. Stagecoach rather than horseback, I’d hope! Probably would also give you great strength to fight off Comanches and keep grizzly bears far away! I’ll be sure to get a copy of that book afore I head out West, or anywhere else for that matter!!!

Nice account.
I agree, they needed a lot of booze back then.