Salt and Type??

Hi all,

I’ve just acquired a large lot of old cases of type. I’m finding lots (lots!) of salt packets tucked into the cases here and there. The first few, I thought it might be like the cigarette butts and toothpicks I also find—residue of a compositor decades back. However, there are enough salt packets (think table-salt in a diner) that I started to wonder if this was some lore I wasn’t aware of. Can anyone shed light on this? I’m just curious; nothing serious. Prevention of moisture build-up? Protection against vermin? Type superstition? Or was my compositor just a salt-fiend way back when?

Interested to hear more, and thanks, as always, for this community!

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Growing up in a letterpress shop, my grandfather and his guys mentions something about type fleas. Another bit of folklore I’m sure… at least around our shop! But really, it seems like this sparks a memory of those little white and red salt packets in my mind.

Possibly a precursor to the later construction of Type cases with plastic (mould injection) liners that made it much easier to set from, i.e. if the salt packet was tucked into the corners of the compartment(s) the thin spaces/letters were less likely to creep into the corners, maybe.

Injection moulded case liners, would accommodate slightly less per compartment but made for faster setting, think l/c (l) full point (.) comma (,) exclamation mark (!) etc., etc., last one in the compartment, salt packet, in the bottom.?

Robert F. Not Folklore, frequently, fact, i.e. new composing room apprentice, (inc. the Author mid 50,s) would be directed to inspect galley of spacing material, fanned out like the Croupier, fans out a deck of cards, but doused with water, looking for *TYPE LICE* of course the column was stood upright rapidly, and the apprentice, received an instant eye bath, but that was just the start of the >rite of passage< for new apprentices, given a little time and where and when possible, the Journey-man, perpetrator would sometimes find His Snuff had been substituted for coffee, etc. So we believe. !

Duplicate apology.

Crisps used to come with little packets of salt, so you could add to suit your own taste. In any UK pub in the 1950s there was a large glass jar of ‘Smiths crisps’ in cellophane bags on the bar each with a little tiny blue bag of salt within. And these were a commonplace found in anyones ‘snap tin’
For transatlantic friends UK crisps = ‘potato chips’ and ‘snap’ means workers lunch
I wonder if your compositors had a packet every day and didnt like the salt?
Question: was the case of a very small size, i.e. the top one in the random? or at least one down.

Thanks, all. The idea that this might be one compositor’s solution to type slipping beneath the case dividers is interesting. Most were in fact located in the smaller compartments of the California case in smaller point sizes (12 pt on down); it’s odd that it happened to be -salt- so often—perhaps in fact residue of the compositor’s lunch habits. I’ve removed (and disposed of) the salt packets, but with a little more insight into what happened in the shop probably half a century ago now. (Speaking of, they frequently used the lower-case “a” to hold cigarette ash, too—but I think I’m safe in assuming this is just a bad habit, and no typesetting lore associated with this unpleasant quirk!). Thanks, as always!